I’m no stranger to the business end of life in Westfield and was part of the system for decades. Years ago, as a registered Republican, I was actually offered the position of first ward councilman, which the party gets to appoint when a councilperson retires early. I was a founding member of Westfield MainStreet, and the first chairman of the Downtown Westfield Corporation. I served in that position for multiple years, and was on of the committee when we received the 2004 award recognizing Westfield as one of America’s finest downtowns. That plaque, awarded by the National Historic Trust and the National MainStreet program, still hangs on the wall at the corner of East Broad & Elm today.
A lot has changed since then. Our community and, specifically, our downtown shopping district, have fallen on hard times — but not to hear Mayor Andy tell it. Under his decade and a half reign, this is business as usual.
I’m sorry, but that simply isn’t good enough.
The proof of this is clearly visible in your municipal tax bill, which has increased 67 percent since Andy was appointed in 2005. You see it in the decline in services provided by the town, and the empty storefronts that have been collecting dust downtown for months and, in some cases, years. Perhaps you’ve dealt with the expense, difficulty and adversarial nature of trying to get simple projects approved through our town’s Planning Board and Board of Adjustment. Our town’s master plan lacks a clear, productive vision for the community’s future and has not been significantly revised despite the challenging economic landscape.
And yet our current mayor (inexplicably labeling himself the “choice for change” in his latest mail piece) wants four more years to do the job. The Choice for Change? Are we expected to forget who has been in charge for the last 12?
The current administration’s failure to provide unified, hands-on management, or place timelines on projects and budget items has, at best, stalled Westfield’s growth and, at worst, initiated a backward slide. We need a leader who will partner with us to make our town more attractive to businesses and, at the same time, more resident friendly.
Mayor Andy has refused on multiple occasions an offer by the Downtown Westfield Corporation to host and help manage an initiative to develop and implement recommendations to improve our downtown. He has his own Downtown Task Force, created because he felt the heat and had to cover his re-election run. Andy’s task force has delivered only small, piecemeal recommendations that neither set a path, nor offer a solution for downtown’s backslide.
Likewise, Mayor Andy has put off and refused to allow either discussion or professional input regarding parking and its management over the last 12 years. The subject has been completely off limits. Even his Task Force puts off the parking issue to be addressed at some undefined “future date.” Four more years of not talking about our problems? No thank you. We deserve a leader that hears our voice. Andy’s not listening.
So, who does he listen to? Well, he’s received funding from Republican State government officials (as personal donations), corporate donations and large sums from the Westfield Republican party chair. State Senator Tom Kean’s committee transferred $8,200 to Andy’s campaign in a single deposit. According to public records, over $85,000 has been placed into the coffers of the Mayor’s re-election campaign. Why does the three term incumbent Mayor of a town the size of Westfield need such a war chest to keep his job? Because smoke and mirrors PR is expensive. It costs a lot of money to try and re-brand the status quo as change. But we know the truth. The status quo is insufficient, and the time for “business as usual” is past. We would be naïve indeed to expect change from the incumbent in this election.
Candidates Shelley Brindle for mayor and Habgood, Contract, Mackey and Dardia for council seats offer this important needed change that our community sorely requires.