In the race for First Ward seat on the Westfield Town Council, Republican Robert Benacchio faces Democrat Jim Boyes. A candidates' forum is slated for Monday, Oct. 21, at the Municipal Building, 425 East Broad St. Voters go to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.
Name: Robert Benacchio
How long you’ve lived in Westfield? 11 years.
Party affiliation: Republican
What are your qualifications for office? I value people over politics. It’s why I dedicate my time to others by coaching and serving on the Board of Adjustment. As a commercial and employment attorney, I’ve solved companies’ operational and personnel concerns, and mediated costly litigation and business disputes. My experience in commercial real estate will help Downtown. Through coaching, I know our families’ concerns about fields. Finally, as the only candidate with Board of Adjustment experience, I’m uniquely qualified to implement Master Plan recommendations.
What would your top priorities be if elected to the Town Council?
Downtown: To fill an ever-increasing number of empty storefronts and promote businesses, we must ease financial and regulatory burdens on tenants and owners, modernize existing parking, and create a patron-centered Downtown.
Fields: I should not be coaching my daughter’s home soccer games in Edison, nor should we pay taxes for fields our leagues can’t access. A Tamaques Park plan to modernize fields, create parking and preserve open space was shelved two years ago, and we still have no replacement. I’ll incorporate that plan into the overall Master Plan and start it now. Let’s play home games at home.
Security: To address Ward 1’s increase in vehicle thefts and attempted home invasions, I’ll build a functioning neighborhood watch that provides residents with timely alerts, proactively delivers information through neighbor networks, and reports infrastructure concerns.
What do think the town should be doing to be fiscally responsible? The Town must remember that its money is yours and treat it that way. We must budget like our families: allocating first for what we must do, next for what we need to do, and last for what we’d like to do. While our last municipal tax increase was zero, we increased spending by decreasing our surplus. That is unsustainable. We must keep a responsible reserve against the unforeseen. Anything else should be used for necessary capital expenses or returned, particularly to seniors.
How would you work to benefit the business climate in Westfield? We’ve spent two years waiting for a Downtown plan that isn’t complete and will take years to implement once done. We must change our timeline for action from political to business. Let’s waive town taxes passed through to tenants for the first year of their lease to incentivize renting and offset start-up costs, then build a referral network of tenants and home-based businesses to create connections between tenant and resident. We’ll modernize existing parking by creating weather-protected spots that use solar power for lighting, charging stations, and sensors to indicate when a spot is empty. Shoppers will then use an app to find parking without circling and receive Downtown deals.
Is there anything else you would like the readers to know? I tell it like it is and work to make it right. I’m lucky to live in a safe town where my kids will meet the best friends they will ever have. I’m running to be sure your family feels the same.
Name: Jim Boyes
How long you’ve lived in Westfield? 30 years
Party affiliation: Democrat
What are your qualifications for office? I served on the Mayor’s Parking Advisory Committee in 2001, am currently on the Town’s reinvigorated Green Team, and volunteer with Ward 1 Community Connect. With an engineering degree from UMass Amherst, I built a career managing risk to strengthen communities just like ours for the long-term. Additionally, I volunteer for the Raritan Valley Mayors Alliance, fighting for peak one seat rides and better service for commuters like me.
What would your top priorities be if elected to the Town Council? I look forward to supporting a long-term vision for Westfield that revitalizes our Downtown and reflects our priorities: fiscal responsibility, smart growth, sustainability, and quality of life. We need to ensure our community is viable for all ages, and continue being responsive to our residents’ needs. This includes:
- Getting our fair share of Union County investment and grants for parks and infrastructure
- Advocating for environmentally sustainable initiatives in the Master Plan
- Addressing property owner concerns about flooding, Historic Preservation and parking
What do you think the town should be doing to be fiscally responsible? Expand on the fiscal discipline expertly led by Councilwoman Habgood, who is also Finance Chair, and Mayor Brindle. So far, they achieved a 0% municipal tax increase for the first time, maintained Town’s AAA bond rating, stabilized $9.5 million of surplus. All while delivering the basic services and infrastructure maintenance residents should expect from Town—like the unprecedented 20 miles of road paving.
How would you work to benefit the business climate in Westfield? Westfield is undergoing it’s first community-driven Master Plan process, which makes Downtown revitalization and parking solutions a top priority. In reviewing the Master Plan survey feedback, and speaking with residents throughout Ward 1, it’s clear our neighbors want more entertainment establishments, restaurants, and enjoyed Quimby Street being turned into a pedestrian plaza for community events. The initial Master Plan feedback and recommendations are presented here.
As was done to make way for rooftop dining, microbreweries, and sustainable development, I would further review existing ordinances to ensure agility in meeting our modern and evolving community needs. Having served on the Mayor’s Parking Advisory Committee in 2001, I recognize that the absence of a parking solution is not just an inconvenience, but a deterrent to economic growth. With that in mind, I will aggressively push for the most logical solutions for Westfield to meet our parking needs.
Is there anything else you would like the readers to know? My wife Maria and I restored an old Victorian house here in Westfield, taking it from a neglected duplex to its original splendor as a single family home. It’s where we raised our three kids, and we plan to remain here for years to come. In fact, we continue working on it to this day!