At a public forum that attracted upwards of 100 people to the Bellevue Avenue library branch Sunday afternoon, candidates running for town council in the May 8 election spoke about everything from what some believe to be the declining quality of Montclair High School to the abundance of supervisors at the Montclair Police Department.
One by one, candidates spoke briefly before the standing-room-only crowd—as many in the audience took copious notes—and explained why they were running for office. In total, 13 candidates were on hand to introduce themselves. The only mayoral candidate who was present was Karen Turner as the two other mayoral candidates—Harvey Susswein and Robert Jackson—had previous engagements.
Each candidate was given four minutes to speak. In general, several of them were more specific about their plans than they have been in the past. Below is a summary of what each had to say.
Bob Russo, candidate for councilor-at-large on the Montclair 2012 slate: I teach urban administration at Montclair State University. My students sometimes ask me why there can't just be a 'Montbloomridge' town. But I tell them that's not going to happen. But we can do more to share services with other towns. We have a fire services contract with Glen Ridge. The contract brings in less revenue now than it used to but this is the way we need to go. Surrounding towns like Verona and other smaller towns could use Montclair's services. I want to practice what I teach. People talk about outsourcing. I'm not for doing that. I'm for selling our services to other towns.
Walter Springer, candidate for second ward councilor on the For Montclair slate: I've lived here 22 years. On day one, I would have performance evaluations done for anyone having anything to do with this town. We need to know what we're paying for and who is doing what. We also need to strengthen the high school. Everyone loves the elementary schools and the middle schools but we start losing people when it comes to the high school. No one is saying that. It's the pink elephant in the room. I would also re-invest in the Capital Finance Committee. That is one group we need to listen to. We need to tap into volunteer groups. I was PTA president for two years at Mount Hebron. Overall, I've been a volunteer for 10 years.
Deputy Mayor Kathryn Weller-Demming, candidate for councilor-at-large: I've been here for 33 years or, as you can probably guess, my whole life. People talk a lot about people being forced to leave Montclair because of taxes and costs. That's a long-standing problem. Most of us want to stay. We've gotten a lot done in the last four years. We've been very aggressive when it comes to debt. We made many difficult choices. The most difficult was cutting funding to the library. But this year we were able to restore funding. My [theme] is Paying It Forward and that's what I want to do.
Peter Zorich, candidate for councilor-at-large on the Real Progress Montclair slate: I have two kids in the public schools ... at Hillside and Glenfield. I've worked as a TV news producer for the last 20 years. I now have a media consulting company. I've been dismayed by the crushing taxes. Taxes have doubled in the last 10 years. I don't want anyone to have to move out of this town because of taxes.
Selma Avdicevic, candidate for second ward councilor: When you look around here, we have high taxes, we have so-so schools. We have debt. The biggest problem is how we manage our money. I have spent 10 years in real estate management. I used to work for Leona Helmsley. I have a master's in real estate finance. I know a couple of things about debt. And I know how to manage a business. We need to peel back the layers and look at how we manage our money.
Robin Schlager, candidate for second ward councilor on the Montclair 2012 slate: I've lived here 20 years. We have two kids that went through the public school system. I don't think this is a so-so school system. I think it's an excellent school system. Of course, there could always be improvements. I've been PTA president at both Nishuane and Hillside. I'm an associate director for the MFEE, which raises money for our schools. I sit on the July 4th committee. I know how to raise money [from private sources]. The Rand Park in the second ward is crying out for help.
LeeAnn Carlson, candidate for councilor-at-large on the Real Progress Montclair slate: We moved here nine years ago. I became concerned that Montclair was becoming increasingly unaffordable. I was a founding member of the Concerned Ciizens of Montclair group. That's where I met Karen [Turner]. I'm an engineer by training. I was a brand manager for IBM. In the past my job has been to look for inefficiencies at companies. My daughter is a freshman at Montclair High School and I now have the time and I believe the skills to help Montclair.
Bill Hurlock, candidate for first ward councilor on the For Montclair slate: I've lived in the first ward 13 years. My daughter is at Glenfield and my son is at Northeast. My wife was president of the Northeast PTA. I'm proud to have two kids in public schools. What I've heard again and again from people is that as soon as their kids are out of high school they will be out of Montclair. I don't want to hear this anymore. We have to worry about the quality of life here [in addition to the financial situation]. We have graffiti on the back of Northeast School for the first time I can remember. I want to start holding meetings in the first ward and what could possibly be a better place than in this beautiful library building. I'm an attorney by trade but please don't hold that against me. I'm an adjunct professor now at Seton Hall Law School.
Chris Swenson, candidate for third ward councilor on the Real Progress Montclair slate: I graduated from Yale. I worked for Sen. Bill Bradley. I went to Wall Street and worked as an investment banker. I ran a number of small companies. I have a broad business background. I've lived here 19 years. I'm probably mostly known for founding the Montclair Baseball and Softball Club. I served on the revenue and budget committees for the Board of Education. We discovered there was actually an $11 million surplus last year. I think that some of what we did with the school board we can do for the town.
Karen Turner, mayoral candidate on the Real Progress Montclair slate: We moved here 17 years ago. My husband went to Nishuane, Mount Hebron, and Montclair High School. I was a public school kid. I worked at KPMG. I love this community but then I started looking at the numbers. From 2000 to 2012 our debt has increased 198 percent. Taxes for schools and the municipality have increased by 93 percent. We've seen a decrease in services. We've spent the last two years researching how these increases have happened and what we could do to free up more money so that our services aren't diminished. We would put an easy-to-read budget on the township website. If you look at the fire department, there are two non-management positions to every one management position.
Jeff Jacobson, candidate for third ward councilor on the For Montclair slate: We arrived here five years ago. Previously I worked for the city of Philadelphia. We outsourced trash transfer ... resulted in over $100 million in savings for the city. The good news is that the candidates are all saying that taxes are too high. For Montclair has ideas about introducing competition in government services. Look at the police department. There are 33 supervisors supervising about 79 officers and detectives. This is not an attack on anyone. But we need more officers on patrol. Our slate has been very specific and not everyone else has been. We're not going to cut the Bellevue branch funding. What's happening with the decrease in funding to the Montclair Community Pre-K is a disgrace.
First Ward Councilor Rich Murnick, running for re-election on the Montclair 2012 slate: I live on Gordonhurst. My office is at 210 Bellevue Avenue. I go to St. Cassian church. I eat nearly every meal at Dai Kichi or Jackie's or the Charbroil. When I say I'm local, I can't get any more local. I can tell you this. I will not vote for the [currently proposed municipal] budget unless the funds for the library and the [Montclair Community] Pre-K are in there. We want this [Bellevue] library branch to stay open Monday to Friday. Montclair State University could come in and use part of this for a museum for art displays and that would be okay. But we need to keep this as a library. It's an important institution.
Patricia Hurt, candidate for councilor-at-large: I've been a resident here 50 years. I taught at MSU. I graduated from Montclair High School. I was a prosecutor with Essex County. I'm a people person. We are faced with very diffficult times and we need leadership that's not afraid to make decisions. The police is a sacred cow. Fire and libraries are sacred cows. Education is a sacred cow. We need to make sure every dollar that goes to the county comes back to Montclair. Every county road ... when it snows we need to make sure the county will be there to maintain it. Few of us know what our county dollars are doing. I'm an ordinary girl trying to do an extraordinary thing.