WEST ORANGE, NJ – Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide who will serve on the Township Council.
The candidates currently vying for the three open seats are incumbents Sal Anderton, Joe Krakoviak and Patricia Spango. Jake Freivald, Jerry Guarino, Rodolfo Rodriguez and Clare Silvestri are also running.
Born and raised in West Orange, Anderton said he has always wanted to give back to his community. Anderton, who is just finishing up his first term on the council, said he enjoyed it very much and hopes to continue serving the community into the future.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Anderton said.
He has been involved in many organizations and groups in the community including the PAL and served as the Planning Board attorney. However, finding time to practice law, be with his family and serve on the council can be challenging, he said.
“It’s not easy to do, but I love it,” he said. “The boys say I spend way too much time at town hall.”
Looking to the future, the number one priority for the council is stabilizing property taxes, he said. Over the past five years, West Orange was ranked number one in Essex County with the lowest property taxes. Anderton also said it is imperative to maintain the high quality service the police and fire departments provide and to redevelop downtown.
“I think it’s important for us to reinvest in the neighborhood,” Anderton said.
As a member of Team Krakoviak, Frievald said he feels and his running mates – Joe Krakoviak and Claire Silvestri – have a great chance of being elected because Krakoviak has gained the trust of many residents over the past 18 months.
“I am cautiously optimistic, but I don’t like to count my chickens before they hatch,” he said.
Frievald, a 14-year resident of West Orange, got involved in the town five years ago, but really got his foot in the door when he was Krakoviak’s campaign manager in 2010. As a former Marine who served in Saudi Arabia and currently a marketing vice president for a software company, Frievald said he is all about hard work and doing the best job he can. Frievald said the two biggest issues facing the community are communication between the council and residents and high property taxes.
West Orange is a great town that people should be living in, not moving out of him, he said.
“We have to get the right kind of people into those council seats,” Frievald said.
In 2010 while campaigning, Frievald said several people told him they could not afford to live in West Orange anymore because of the taxes.
“I feel like we’re driving people out who made West Orange what it is,” Frievald said.
If elected, Frievald said he will need to pull off a major balancing act between his home and work life because of his nine kids. While he admits it will take a lot of effort to succeed at both, he has the support of his wife to run for council, he said.
“I have a good wife,” he said.
He said he is still uncertain about the much-debated Edison redevelopment project. While it would help the town, he said, he thinks the current plan needs to be revised because there are too many risks being taken.
Thirty-year West Orange resident Jerry Guarino is running for council for a second time. Guarino, who is a senior financial analyst for a retail company, has an extensive business background and is immensely involved in the community. Being on council he would allow him to make a difference in the community.
“You can’t complain about your community unless you’re involved,” Guarino said.
Guarino has been the chairman of the Main Street Development Corporation, a member of the PTA and the treasurer of the West Orange Mountain Top League. The town needs to focus on coming together a as a community, redeveloping, saving money and sharing services, Guarino said.
“I feel the town still is going in the wrong direction,” he said. “We keep putting the burden on the homeowner.”
The important thing is to stay positive, he emphasized. The council needs to help move the town in the right direction and make West Orange a more business-friendly town. With a long business background, he feels his knowledge and expertise will be an asset to the council and community.
There is a great deal of open space that needs to be developed, especially on Main Street, he said. West Orange is an amazing beautiful town that has a lot to offer, but people need to want to make a change and a difference, he said, adding that he is one of those people.
“You have to think like a business person,” he said. “If I get elected, no one is going to tell me how to vote.”
The council should not be about people just wanting to be re-elected. The council needs to talk to its residents and create a clear form of communication. After almost winning last time, he feels his chances this are better now.
Krakoviak hopes to bring change to the West Orange community if re-elected on May 8. After losing in May 2010, he ran again November of that year and has been on council since.
While Krakoviak is a nine-year resident of the town, his wife is a life-long resident. However, being involved in politics is not something he ever saw himself doing, he said. As a former financial journalist, he simply didn’t trust politicians. He jokingly told The Alternative Press that as someone who didn’t trust politicians for years, he isn’t sure if he can trust himself. However, his view on politics changed when he started WestOrangegrassroots.com
“I approached it much more as a journalist than a politician,” he said.
The website started off covering the redevelopment of the downtown and all of the feedback was positive, but the majority of the people told him to run for council. He continues to maintain the site and uses it to tell the community what he council is doing.
“I tried to be as objective as possible, even after redevelopment,” Krakoviak said.
He said he has mixed feelings about his time on council, because it has been rewarding, but at the same time extremely frustrating, he said. While he has been able to revive transparency in the community, he has been unsuccessful in curbing spending, he said. Krakoviak said at every council meeting, every vote is always 4-1.
Krakoviak said he felt in order to truly make a change in the community he needed to run with a team of people that shared his views and ideas. So, after a long search he chose the perfect people for the job, he said.
“The three of us agree principle on what’s important,” he said. “It was not easy convincing anyone to run with me, including my wife.”
Silvestri is very active in the community and volunteers at her church, Girl Scouts and PTA. Frievald is an articulate, analytical, electrical engineer from Cornell, who brings a business perspective to the campaign, Krakoviak said.
His goals if elected are fiscal responsibility, making good decisions for the town, stopping wasteful spending, addressing taxes and starting two-way communication with the public. The public needs to know what’s going with the council and vice versa, he said. He is also not in favor of the Edison redevelopment project, because it does not benefit the town in the long run.
For the past 15 years, Rodriguez has been involved in the West Orange community. Rodriguez, who ran for town council once before, is giving it a second try as he hopes to bring positive change to the town.
Rodriguez is a nutritionist manger, director of food services for a company in Union and he and his wife own a restaurant in town, Fogan Latino. He was also voted best the food service director in the country in 2005. If there is one thing that needs to be fixed in West Orange, it is the downtown, he said.
“We need to do something to bring it back to life,” he said. “If business was better, then taxes wouldn’t be raised every year.”
He knows his town and the people very well, he told The Alternative Press. One of his goals is to eliminate “minuscule elections” like the upcoming council election because they should be held in November, he said. Furthermore, Rodriguez said the town council should be a volunteer job because people should want to do it and have the desire to help.
“If I win, I win; if I don’t, I don’t,” he said. “I want to make a difference.”
He is also completely against the Edison redevelopment project and wants taxpayers to decide if they want it.
For Silvestri, being active in West Orange is part of her blood. Silvestri grew up in town, and after living away for a short time, moved back in 2003 with her husband.
While her husband has been on council since 2010, she is excited to have the opportunity to join him in this election.
“If I get elected I’d be thrilled to represent the people of West Orange,” Silvestri said.
Her love of community and volunteerism dates back to her parents who instilled those values into her when she was young, she said. While her father was never on council, he did unsuccessfully run 50 years ago.
“My parents have always been great role models,” she said.
Over the past two years, she has supported Krakoviak during his time on council, but more importantly attended several council meetings and became heavily informed about what is going on in the town. But, she still never expected he would ask her to run with him, Silvestri said. While she has mixed feelings about running, Silvestri said she is excited.
“If I’m elected, it’s going to be a lot of work because that’s what the job requires,” she said.
She said the biggest problem in the community is the taxes and the amount of residents leaving West Orange. After walking through the town campaigning, Silvestri said there were far too many For Sale signs on homes. West Orange used to be about “affordability” and it no longer is, she said.
She is also in favor of redeveloping downtown, but does not approve of the Edison project. It is going in the wrong direction, needs to be revised and looked at again, she said.
“I don’t believe the taxpayers should be backing any of the financing for the project,” Silvestri said.
Town Council President Patricia Spango, has been involved in the community her entire life. As a lifelong resident of West Orange, Spango said there’s nowhere else she would want to be. She has served on council since 2008 and cherished every moment of it, she said.
“I love being part of the decision making of the town,” Spango said.
Being active in the community is extremely important to her. She was involved in the PTA, the Mountain Top Baseball League and the Zoning Board. Spango, who has owned the Starlight restaurant for 51 years, has seen the ups and downs in the community, but is ultimately committed to seeing West Orange move in a positive direction.
After walking through town and listening to the voices of the people, Spango acknowledged the residents’ biggest concerns is property taxes. But the council did reduce spending this year to as low as it was in 2008. But, ultimately the biggest issue in West Orange is the redevelopment of downtown. While she is in favor of it, many residents sit on both sides of the issue and it will play a major role in the growth of the town, she said.
“I think it’s important,” she said. “As goes Main Street, there goes West Orange.”