Candidates vying for the Ward C seat on the City Council got their chance to lay out their vision at a forum held at the Loew’s Landmark Theatre on Sept. 27. Located in and around Journal Square, Ward C was generally seen as the declining heart of Jersey City, though it has historically served as a major shopping district.
In past elections, its redevelopment has been seen as symbolic of the successes and failures of previous administrations. Now with the first of a series of new developments already complete, Ward C faces new issues, such as overcrowded public transportation and the need for affordable housing, along with some of its historic issues such as homelessness and crime.
While residents appear to welcome change, they also appear to be seeking a candidate that can control the changes that will take place, and preserve some of the historic neighborhood.
Ward C is more than Journal Square, the candidates say, even if the transportation center promises to be the next biggest economic driver in the city, especially as space becomes more and more limited downtown. The ward is also more than the three different big money projects in the works, including what would be the tallest building in Jersey City.
As the PATH train’s capacity increases by minor increments, residents worry that it won’t be able to keep up with development in both Harrison and Journal Square, where hundreds of residents will soon be joining the morning commute.
There’s also a question of open space. Besides Pershing Field, where the mayor recently held a ribbon-cutting for the newly-renovated pool, Ward C has the least amount of open space.
With a total population of just over 41,000, Ward C may see a massive increase in new residents with the construction of new residential towers, altering its traditional character as a Caucasian and blue-collar community. The most recent census data shows that 39 percent of its population is white, 10 percent African America, and 24 percent Asian. Crossing these racial definitions, 32 percent of the Ward C population is considered Hispanic.
Running for the seat on the Nov. 7 ballot are incumbent Richard Boggiano, challenged by Rekha Nandwani, John Hanussack, and Janet Chevres. Chevres had a scheduling conflict and could not attend the Sept. 27 forum.
Nandwani, an Indian American, serves as a Hudson County Democratic committeewoman for Jersey City’s Ward C-1. She is also the president of her neighborhood association and a steering committee member within the New Jersey Democratic State Committee’s South Asian American Caucus. She ran in 2013 for Ward C council on a slate headed by then-Mayor Jerramiah Healy.
“I’ve lived in Jersey City for 18 years,” she said. “The reason I’m running is because I’m passionate about Jersey City and there are residents whose concerns have not been heard over the last eight to ten years. They came to me and requested that I run for city council.” she said.
She said she feels the city can do a better job in policing, development and other issues central to Ward C.
Boggiano was a dark horse in 2013 when he pulled an upset victory. A retired city police officer, Boggiano headed the Journal Square’s Hilltop Neighborhood Association. He says is a staunch proponent of government transparency and has been a very vocal critic of the Fulop Administration.
He lays claim to a laundry list of successes against Fulop initiatives, including helping Jersey City Medical Center to retain the city’s ambulance contract, leading the fight against a Port Authority takeover of the Greenville rail yards for a trash transfer operation, doing away with red light traffic cameras that he claims were dangerous, and the development of the city’s first comprehensive noise ordinance.
“I fought to get the police department back up to 950 officers,” he said, though he admits retirements had a significant impact on the size of the force.
He unsuccessfully fought for a more local bike sharing program, when the Fulop Administration tied in with New York City’s Citibike program instead.
John Hanussak is running on Mayor Steven Fulop’s ticket.
Hanussak was born Massachusetts but has spent the majority of his life in Jersey City. He has been active in the community and was on the Liberty Humane Society Board and served in the administration’s Resident Response Center.
Hanussak said became involved in tackling issues that affect his neighborhood: parking, trash, closing streets, drug dealers on the corner, and such. He was on the Fulop ticket in 2013, and later Fulop hired him to the city’s Rapid Response Team.
His campaign paints broad strokes, from enforcing property maintenance laws to reducing impact of large development on small home owners. He is a proponent of alternate transportation that includes bicycles and shared car services.
Hanussak said he has two boys, one of whom is in the local school. He worked as PSE&G supervisor during Superstorm Sandy in various community relations positions.
“I believe there is an answer to every issue,” he said. “It’s a matter of working together to get to those solutions.”
A long time resident of the Journal Square area, Chevres ran on Mayor Healy’s campaign in 2013. She is running on the ticket of mayoral candidate Bill Matsikoudis, the Healy’s administration’s former corporation counsel.
A member of various community organizations and Parent-Teacher Organizations, Chevres was born in Puerto Rico. She came to Hudson County at a young age, first living in Hoboken and then moving to Jersey City about 30 years ago. She is a proponent of local people having access to jobs that are generated by new development.
She has volunteered for a number of organizations in Jersey City, and served as president of the parent teacher organizations for PS. No. 6 and later Middle School No. 7. She served as vice president of the PTO at Dickinson High School, and vice president of Beacon of Light Block Association.
When she ran with Healy, she professed herself to be “an independent” and that while she thought Healy had been effective, she believed there were still areas that needed improvement.
If elected what would be your top priorities?
Hanussak said Ward C needs to organize more block associations. He said neighborhoods such as those in downtown Jersey City have organized groups that successfully lobby for changes they need.
He said he is concerned with public safety, especially pedestrian safety, and the need for more green space.
“I think green space is a big challenge, but think if we cooperate with the administration we might see what opportunities come up,” he said.
Boggiano said he would like to see the Loew’s Theatre restored. He would also like to see more quality restaurants opening in Journal Square.
“For the last five years, I’ve been trying to get a deal for a supermarket like Trader Joes to come in here,” he said.
Along with Hanussack, Boggiano said he would like to see more green space as well and said there are opportunities to leverage these as a requirement for new development approval.
Nandwani said Ward C needs a traffic study, especially with all the new development that is being proposed for Journal Square.
“We also need to ask developers to invest in the city, to improve infrastructure, provide green space, and things for senior citizens,” she said. “Our seniors are consistently being priced out.”
She, too, took credit for lobbying for a supermarket, saying that she helped organize a petition of residents’ signatures.
Should the Journal Square redevelopment plan be amended?
Passed by the council in 2010, the purpose of the Journal Square 2006 Redevelopment Plan was to foster redevelopment in the city’s central business district by providing for transit-oriented development of new housing, offices, commercial and public open spaces within walking distance to the square.
Boggiano said the plan must be changed to avoid tearing down houses to build skyscrapers.
“You shouldn’t have a 22 story building behind two family homes,” he said. The area needs affordable housing, he said, and this should be reflected in changes in the plan.
“My main priority is to take care of seniors and build more senior housing.”
Nandwani said development must give back to the community and that one way to fund new senior housing is to tie it to approvals for the large projects.
Hanussak also agreed the plan should be reexamined, especially in regards to parking requirements.
Parking, of course, is extremely difficult in this part of the city, and Hanussak said development that does not provide parking creates more problems for the area.
“The mayor has talked about new parking decks, “he said. “Citibike helps. We also need public transit, and other modes of alternative transportation.”
Nandwani agreed that developers must provide parking even for rental units. She said the city needs to build more public parking facilities and open these up at night for local residents.
Boggiano said Ward C needs residential parking only and enforcement against commuters who park here and then take the PATH to jobs in New York City.
“We need to address this,” Boggiano said. “For four years, we’ve done nothing about parking or traffic.”
He said as an opposition councilman, he was unable to get the votes on the council needed.
“Come to City Hall and you can see who has been fighting Michael Yun and myself,” Boggiano said. “They don’t want to listen. Most of people in City Hall don’t live in Jersey City. We need Jersey City residents in City Hall; people who are in charge of the parking should be from Jersey City. Jersey City residents have to start taking control of all these major departments in the city.”
Homelessness is still a problem in Journal Square
Despite efforts by Hudson County and Jersey City government, the homeless still see Journal Square as a place to live.
“This is a human problem,” Nandwani said. “Journal Square is a safe space for them. We need to come up with funding and resources – perhaps a public private partnership – to open a new shelter. Many people aren’t comfortable in the existing shelters. Perhaps we can tap a developer to prove funding for a homeless shelter. The county has a homeless fund; the city should have one, too.”
Hanussak said homelessness is a tough problem to deal with.
“Some folks don’t want to be helped,” he said. “Some aren’t mentally fit to make decisions. We can continue to reach out to meet their needs. We’ve done some work. We need to do more to convince them that help is available.”
Boggiano, however, was critical of the efforts to far, saying the Port Authority, the SID, churches and others have talked a lot.
“For a while, the Port Authority was giving the homeless free rides here to get meals,” Boggiano said. “This was to get them out of the terminal in New York. Once here, many never went back.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.