Over the last several years, including through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and one of the worst storms ever to hit the area, we have had the opportunity to watch Mayor Andy Skibitsky, First Ward Councilman Sam Della Fera and their council colleagues in action. Their achievements are well known and one would think speak for themselves. This election cycle, however, a highly coordinated opposition has formed bent on belittling their many accomplishments and, in a few instances, our wonderful town too. But when you contrast the reality of Mayor Skibitsky’s and Councilman Della Fera’s performance with their political opponents’ portrayal of them, for me, the choice is clear. Andy and Sam have earned my vote and I am grateful that they are willing to take on another term, continuing to build on their achievements in the creative and energized way they always have.
Examples of their accomplishments include: Making Westfield more attractive to restaurants (and diners) by changing outdated liquor laws; securing over $6 million in government grants; initiating, back in July 2016, the Downtown Task Force to look at the issues afflicting downtown America (of which Westfield is no exception) and offering creative solutions; managing Westfield’s finances to ensure property taxes are as low as possible and achieving and maintaining a AAA bond rating and budget surplus; making tremendous strides with New Jersey Transit on the one seat ride; and improving town parking by creating over 120 new parking spaces, increasing free parking hours and much more.
It’s no wonder that disinterested and unbiased sources like USA Today, Gannett New Jersey, and New Jersey Monthly continue to give Westfield the highest accolades as among the best places to live, shop and raise a family. New Jersey Monthly not only renewed its ranking of Westfield among the top 100 towns (based on home values, property taxes, lifestyle and school performance), but moved Westfield up from 62 two years ago to 34 this year. And let’s not forget Mayor Skibitsky’s invitation from the hurricane preparedness conference in Georgia to be keynote speaker for his Superstorm Sandy leadership. It takes dynamic town management to achieve the underlying accomplishments that win this type of recognition. So much for the empty rhetoric about stale and stagnant leadership.
In contrast, some of Mayor Skibitsky’s and Councilman Della Fera’s opponents attempt to paint a very different picture of Westfield; a picture, in some instances, more reminiscent of a scene from the The Walking Dead than the Westfield I’ve known for nearly 20 years. One person recently described Westfield as such a malignancy that the question is no longer whether Westfield itself can be saved but whether it’s too late to prevent our diseased town from destroying the surrounding area. It’s almost humorous, but with the stewardship of our town at stake, it’s not.
More troubling than post-apocalyptic portraits of our beloved town, however, are the election year attacks on Andy and Sam for securing a AAA bond rating and budget surplus which save our town hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments – money more productively used for other municipal priorities. This is not to say there is no room to debate the pros and cons of spending down the surplus. But, to the extent there is legitimate room for discussion, the remedy is certainly not to punish those responsible for the surplus and AAA rating by kicking them out of office. Rather, it’s to reward them with another term and discuss – in the reflective atmosphere of a non-election year – whether we may want to nibble at our surplus and how that might impact our credit rating and interest payments. The recent criticism of these enviable accomplishments, however, smacks of campaign-slick coordination designed to turn a clear “positive” into a “negative.”
Andy’s opponents have also suggested that Westfield has become too complicated to accommodate a mayor who has to balance a career with her/his mayoral responsibilities. In other words, Westfield has outgrown a part-time mayor, requiring, now, a full-time one. This argument is problematic for at least two reasons. First, Andy has proven it wrong by the fantastic job he’s done as our volunteer mayor who balances a career. Second, and perhaps more troubling, is that it would mean, going forward, only those who can afford to live in Westfield and retire early or otherwise not work, would be eligible to be mayor of Westfield. Westfield neither needs, nor (I hope) wants, Town Hall to be off limits to so many of its capable residents.
Finally, many applaud Andy for the outstanding job he has done but claim that it’s just time for a change or speculate that, despite years of a job incredibly well-done, he “may” become complacent with another term. We should, in other words, despite the clear record of dedicated, dynamic and successful leadership, vote for change for change’s sake. I have personally never subscribed to that belief. If something is working and working well, we should embrace it, not squander it.
To vote for Andy and Sam is to continue to build upon a proven track record of positive achievement, creative thinking, and clear success. To vote them out of office is to gamble with Westfield’s future. I see no reason to make that risky bet.
Andrew M. Wasserman
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