These non-confrontational appearances provided a glimpse of who these candidates are and their positions on critical issues.
Councilman Chris Gadsden is running with mayoral hopeful Bill Matsikoudis. He is challenged by Mira Prinz-Arey, running with Mayor Steven Fulop, and independent Jessica Hellinger.
Ward B, commonly called The West Side, runs generally from just south and west of Journal Square on the north to just north of Country Village and New Jersy City University on the south. The ward runs along the Hackensack River to the west and includes a significant part of a new Honeywell/Jersey City development project called Bayside. Its eastern border is Bergen Avenue.
With a total population of about 40,000, Ward B is one of the most ethnic and racially diverse wards in the city, with a population that is 30 percent white, 30 percent African American, 18 percent Asian and about 16 percent listed as “other.”
The ward also has a significant disparity in wealth, with the poorest neighborhoods and highest crime areas located near the southern portion.
Gadsden was elected Ward B councilman in a special election last November to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Councilman Chico Ramchal.
A lifelong resident of Jersey City, Gadsden attended local schools and universities, before becoming a teacher in the Jersey City public schools. He is currently vice principal at Lincoln High School.
He said he has been very active in community life and is a member of the NAACP and National Action Network.
“I’m an advocate for those who don’t have a voice,” he said. “I’m also civic-minded and believe in a life dedicated to others. I want to assure the least of us get something out of the deal.”
Although only a councilman for a year, Gadsden said he was instrumental in helping to draft the city’s “No Knock” law, which restricts door to door soliciting and legislation that would require the city to dedicate a portion of tax abatement money on housing construction to the local school district.
Prinz-Arey works for the non-profit Rising Tide Captial, which funds young entrepreneurs. She said her husband is from Jersey City and she relocated to Jersey City to the family home.
“I have a background in service,” she said, noting that she got involved in the local neighborhood association when she first came to the city. She also got involved with a food co-op, the Jersey City Parks Coalition, and the West Side Alliance.
She said she’s involved with the Liberty Humane Animal Shelter, and served as Democratic committee person for two terms. She is also co-founder of the West Side Arts and Music group.
She said as an organizer she helped develop a pocket park and helped with two city wide clean ups. She has written policy for the city’s department of Health and Human Resources. She was also involved in helping draft the memo of understanding between the city and the Jersey City Parks Coalition that allowed residents more say in park upgrades and redevelopment.
Hellinger is a lifelong resident of Jersey City. For the last 20 years, she has run a real estate and mortgage brokerage.
“For the last 10 years I’ve been working in Jersey City to help people keep their homes,” she said, referring to the aftermath of the mortgage crisis of 2008.
“I’m very civic minded, and do a lot of community outreach,” she said.
Hellinger has been involved with a number of groups, in particular those that help to feed the homeless and groups that help provide school supplies to needy students.
“If someone needs me, I’ll lend support,” she said.
Parking is a huge problem in Ward B
As with other parts of the city, parking and traffic are huge issues in Ward B and are expected to get worse when massive new development projects are completed. Ramchal, when Ward B councilman, introduced a number of innovative solutions, such as allowing homeowners to park additional cars in front of their own driveways overnight. But the city council rejected these proposals. The candidates running were asked what solutions they might propose.
Hellinger said the city needs to review old handicapped parking spaces. She said many people have moved or passed away, and the spaces still exist.
“We need to get these off the books,” she said. “We also have some people parking so as to hold more than one spot. We need more enforcement later in the evening, on side streets as well as the main streets.”
Gadsden noted that Ward B has three parking zones, two of which accommodate two colleges. He also said commuters, who come to Jersey City to take the Hudson Bergen Light Rail, do not park in the lots provided by NJ Transit, but use the street.
“We need more permit parking in that area,” he said. “We also need to look at what property the city owns to established municipal parking.”
Gadsden is also critical of the development policies that allow projects to provide parking for only half the residential units constructed, saying that each project should provide parking for each unit.
Prinz-Arey said the city not only needs to review expired handicapped parking, but also do an audit of illegal curb cuts that reduce on-street parking. Some of the new cookie cutter housing creates these curb cuts that are not approved by the city. But the solution, she said, may well be in expanding public transportation options.
“I know buses are difficult with traffic, but there is a transit study that could bring in rapid buses, and we should consider building some kind of tram.”
Affordable housing and abatements?
Gadsden and Prinz-Arey agreed that tax abatements still have a role to play in development in Ward B, but they need to benefit the community.
“I’m concerned about employment and the developers complying with agreements they made to hire locally,” Gadsden said. “The developers agree to provide jobs but they are rarely in compliance.”
He also stressed the need for projects to provide affordable housing, and that such abatements provide revenue to the schools.
He said one of the problems with hiring minorities is that the unions themselves do not have enough people of color or women. So when a project hires union labor, it doesn’t represent the makeup of Jersey City.
Prinz-Arey credited the Fulop administration with doing much to attract development that includes affordable housing. But she agrees abatements need to be examined.
“Jersey City still has some challenges including contaminated soil,” she said, but also stressed need to fund schools and build affordable housing. “We have to look at abatement in a case by case basis.”
Hellinger said 20 and 30 year abatements are too long, and believes that the city no longer needs abatements to entice developers to build in Jersey City.
“We are not a deprived city,” she said. “I don’t believe tax abatements have a life in Jersey City.”
Eviction problems in Ward B?
Hellinger said the city needs to do more about helping people to find homes. She made the distinction between people seeking to become small home owners, and investors seeking to gobble up property.
“If I’m elected, I would see what programs we already have,” she said. “I don’t think we need a whole department, but we need to see what affordable units are available, how many people are on the list to get affordable housing and who qualifies. There is a department that is supposed to be doing it, but nobody has the information and it’s not transparent, and we need to audit to see what they are doing.”
Gadsden said he believes the city needs to revise its rent control and to protect renters from management companies that try to push people out in order to raise rents. He said new development needs to have 20 percent of units as affordable.
Eviction rates in Jersey City, he said, are astronomical.
Prinz-Arey also agreed with the 20 percent mark, but said these should be also tied to any variance issues. She said the city needs to develop work force affordable housing for police and firefighters in order to allow them to remain living in Jersey City.
What’s your vision for the new Gold Coast?
Jersey City is seeing a number of significant projects being developed in Ward B. Among the largest is the Bayfront property located on Route 440 near the Hackensack River. This is expected to bring as many as 8,400 new residential units as well as massive retail property. Each of the candidates was asked if they would like to see a Newport-like development for the site or something else.
Prinz-Arey said she would like to see mixed-use development along the western coast of the city that would include open space, something similar to what is being developed at Kearny Point elsewhere in Hudson County. She said the property should also provide opportunities for small business owners.
Gadsden also proposed affordable housing that includes workforce development as well as housing for seniors and people with moderate income as well as opportunities for small business.
“We should use the Bayonne waterfront as a mode that gives something to all segments of the population,” he said. “I don’t want this to be River Road in Weehawken.”
Hellinger supported workforce development that also includes teachers, and the commercial space should also be affordable.”
Crime is an issue
While violent crime is not as big an issue in Ward B as in other parts of Jersey City, there are pockets of crime in the south end of the ward. The council may well have to determine what kind of police strategies might be deployed.
Gadsden said he supports a cure violence model that involves local residents inside the community, providing training and resources that would help deal with the causes.
“We need to know the reason for crime inside the area,” he said. “Another component treats violence like a mental health issue. A lot of residents living in high violence areas are often suffering from post traumatic street disorder and such. They need additional counseling.”
He said there has to be a community approach to address violence in Jersey City. Some models funded by the city operate inside housing projects. But he said hopefully the for next couple programs the city may secure grant funding
“We need more block associations and watches, so residents can be empowered to take back their neighborhoods,” he said.
Part of the answer may be to embrace cultures and get more people involved in the community.
Hellinger said there needs to be more interaction with the churches, which can provide space where people can gather.
“I’ve heard from people that there are no community centers or places to meet, but I believe churches can supply space for a number of groups, and that people should be made aware of them,” she said.
Gadsden said a lot of people talk about providing recreation for youth, and believes that the ten percent of abatements should go towards paying to allow schools to remain open to neighborhoods after classes cease.
Prinz-Arey said arts and culture are very important and that there is a lot of talent.
She said there is talk about developing a community center, but also noted that many of the senior centers might be used in off hours to benefit community needs.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.