WEST ORANGE, NJ— Councilman Joe Krakoviak said in a recent speech that prior to his run for township council in 2010 he had never intended to run for public office. In fact, he said that he’d “disliked politics and politicians.” Now, as he runs for mayor, he says he is still unhappy with how politics are run in West Orange and that “we can do better.”
Councilman Krakoviak’s said in a recent interview with TAP that his political beginnings—as well as his current political philosophy—are rooted in his quest for transparency. The founder of the West Orange Grassroots blog (westorangegrassroots.org), Krakoviak has consistently posted about the inner workings of the township council and expressed his displeasure with he perceives to be a lack of information from the mayor and council and also the spending projects they have chosen to support.
Often the lone dissenting vote on spending projects, Mr. Krakoviak seems to have few friends on the council or in the mayor’s office, but he contends that is because Mayor Parisi and his supporters on the council have not been rigorous enough in deciding which projects are “must haves” and which are “nice to haves” and that they refuse to compromise.
“If you look at the give and take between the governing body and the chief administrative officer in most municipalities,” said Krakoviak, “there is a give and take. But, there is no give and take in West Orange. The other four council members vote 99% of the time with the mayor. So what you have now is lots of 4-1 votes where I’m the only that says, ‘The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes."
Krakoviak said that he hopes to eliminate what he sees as wasteful spending that is unduly burdening tax payers in the township.
“Immediately after becoming mayor I will stop presenting these wasteful spending projects to the council,” he said, “There is no way in the world we should be spending $60,000 to improve the sight line on the third base side of the high school baseball field. We shouldn’t be writing a check for $550,000 to Llewellyn Park property owners when we don’t have to. We shouldn’t be spending $300,000 to upgrade the kiddy pool at Ginny Duenkel pool.”
Krakoviak said he believes that as mayor he will be able to divert, or eliminate, wasteful spending plans before they ever reach the council and that by eliminating the council’s option to pass such legislation, he can curb the practice somewhat.
The largest waste of tax payer resources, according to Councilman Krakoviak, and one that each of the mayoral candidates, with the exception of Mayor Parisi, has labeled an albatross around the town’s neck: The Edison Battery Factory and the halted downtown redevelopment.
Prism Capital has stated in the past they would begin construction on the hundreds of apartments they hope to build on the site, but now that several township residents have sued to stop the town from paying for some of the infrastructure improvements at the site, any proposed start date is mere speculation.
Councilman Krakoviak said the solution is to enforce the contractual clause at the town’s disposal that labels failure to pay property taxes as a cause for default. He believes that the town can legally remove Prism as the designated downtown redeveloper and can then open bidding for a new redeveloper.
“It’s really important not to use the litigation as a cover for the failure of Prism to either move forward or to pay their property taxes,” said Krakoviak. “They have been delinquent on their property taxes more often than they haven’t. If you look at the 2006 redevelopment agreement, it’s very clear that delinquency in property taxes is an event of default. What’s really going on here is that Prism is defaulting on the 2006 agreement; it’s not the town. Where the council majority and the mayor are failing in their responsibility, which is to acknowledge that failure to comply with the 2006 agreement and to enforce the provisions of that agreement.”
He added that once Prism is removed, the township could look for a new downtown redevelopment partner.
“The redevelopment law allows for just this occasion,” said Krakoviak, “where a designated redeveloper is unable to fulfill the obligations under the redevelopment agreement. What the law allows for is if the designated redeveloper does not fulfill its obligations under the law and under the contract, the governing body gets rid of them and starts the process all over.”
By jumpstarting redevlopment, Krakoviak said he would be able to tackle another major problem in town: the township’s diminishing tax base, which he says has shrunk by $300 million over the last several years as families and businesses have left.
“We need to get downtown redevelopment right,” said Krakoviak, “What we accomplish with the downtown redevelopment is going to be a major factor in the town’s success for the next thirty years.
“The idea is to identify all of our opportunities, all of our assets, all of our deficits, and fix the deficits that we identify and then make a concerted marketing effort to get the right kind of tenants into these properties.”
Councilman Krakoviak said that not having a full-time town planner is hurting the township’s prospects for rejuvenating what he said is prime real estate.
“This is a wonderful amalgam of properties less than fifteen miles from downtown Manhattan,” he said, “one-and-a-half to two blocks off of a main exit off of an interstate. This is an ideal property.”
Even if Councilman Krakoviak is elected mayor, he admits that property taxes—the seemingly largest gripe among West Orange voters—would still be at the mercy of outside forces.
“The opportunity is there to make a significant dent,” he said of the taxes, “but the municipal government has virtually nothing to do with the school taxes and the county taxes. That’s not something that the mayor or the council can have much influence over.”
Still, he is optimistic that there is room for immediate and impactful change.
“I’ve been on the council for four years,” he said, “I’ve seen how the sausage is made and I’m convinced that we can do much better.”