Bayonne voters will go to the polls in May to elect a mayor and city council. As the election year nears, the season is in full swing as three candidates have announced runs for city council on the slate of former Assemblyman and mayoral candidate Jason O’Donnell. Meanwhile, City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski this week became the first to announce a bid for city council re-election on the slate of incumbent Mayor James Davis, who announced his re-election bid in October.
Most of the incumbent candidates who ran in 2014 on Davis’s ticket are expected to run again in 2018. Both campaigns have opted to announce candidates one-by-one instead of all at once, like former Mayor Mark Smith did in 2010 for his council candidates. So far this year, O’Donnell has selected three active community players for city council to anchor his mayoral ticket. His campaign plans to announce two candidates in 2018.
Daniel Ward, Director of the Social Studies and Library/Media Science Programs at the Bayonne School District, will run for the at-large seat along with Melissa Enriquez-Rada, a Bayonne real estate agent and president of the Rotary Club of Bayonne who announced her candidacy this week.
Kevin Kuhl, owner of the East Side bar, Kuhl’s Tavern, will run for Second Wardcouncil seat, currently occupied by Councilman Sal Gullace. Current at-large city council seats are held by former Hudson County Sheriff, Juan Perez, and computer programmer, Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski.
Issues shaping up
Cost of living, school funding, and policies that encourage real estate development are core issues in the city. The O’Donnell campaign has focused early on what he and his slate of candidates consider to be an overuse of real estate development incentives like tax abatements and payments in-lieu-of taxes (PILOTS), particularly in residential buildings. Those taxes that city governments forego to encourage development ordinarily help fund the local school district, which is already skating on thin ice financially. Mainstay concerns of residents, such as waste management, parking, traffic, and social programs, will be highlighted as well.
State officials and researchers agree that sky-high property taxes, now exacerbated by a Republican tax bill that will raise many Bayonne households’ taxes, have crippled the ability of cities across the state to make up for state funding cuts while paying for a plethora of other city expenses.
The strategy of the Davis administration has been to aggressivelyuse tax abatements and long-term PILOTs, which they say are needed to spark a boom of development while demand is high and interest rates are low. Over the long term, they expect to issue fewer tax breaks and for developers to demand fewer of them as the city’s stock of empty land dwindles.To help make up for lost school funding revenue, the city council mandated last year that five percent of PILOT revenue payments to the city be allocated to the Bayonne School District. For some on the O’Donnell ticket, that’s not enough.
“If you’re telling me we’re going to wait 30 years to achieve financial sustainability, I don’t think that’s something you can tell overburdened taxpayers,” O’Donnell told The Bayonne Community News in October.
Cost of living, school funding, and policies that encourage real estate development are core issues in the city.
O’Donnell slate weighs in
Daniel Ward, a lifelong educator and council candidate, said, “I’m not opposed to abatements and development,” a sentiment shared by most involved in the debate. “What I am opposed to is 30-year abatements that only give five percent [of the revenue] to the district.” He also proposes putting more trashcans around the city to prevent litter that clogs up the sewer system.
Ward is a proponent of “smart growth,” an approach to development that encourages development in existing communities that adopts a diverse range of building types and uses with various transit options. He said that he’d like the city to require developers to build more than just the development, such as community-shared spaces. Without better planning, he said, “that could end up in hodgepodge development.”
Melissa Enriquez-Rada expressed similar sentiments. “As a realtor, I’m for redevelopment. I think it’s exciting, but I’d like for them to do something more for our community.”
“Handing out tax breaks for these rich, out-of-town developers has not only created constant construction and insane traffic everywhere, it costs taxpayers long term and has done nothing to fix the lack of parking Bayonne residents have to deal with every day throughout the city,” said Kevin Kuhl, in a press release.
Recent government data shows the increased cost of living in Bayonne and the region over the last decade has mostly been in housing – both renting and owning. And those housing costs are becoming a higher percentage of household incomes. For young families starting out, the cost of childcare is piled on top of that. Bayonne, however, has recently introduced full-time pre-k, albeit on a lottery basis.
Parks and beautification remain important topics, but are not shaping up to be a dividing line, because city parks have improved dramatically across the city during Davis’ tenure. Some crimes have been on the rise, such as car break-ins, a point O’Donnell focused on when he announced his candidacy in October.
“I’m incredibly honored to have the caliber of people we have on our ticket so far,” O’Donnell said. “They all bring different perspectives, but one quality they all share is their commitment to serve their community, and they’ve all done so in different ways without fanfare.”
“I look forward to a spirited campaign in 2018 and talking about our vision for the city,” he said. “I think our vision will be well received.”
The Davis team
Last week, Bayonne City Business Administrator Joseph DeMarco stepped down to manage Mayor Davis’s re-election campaign. Former Bayonne City Councilman Bob Costanza also joined the Davis campaign.
In her tenure, Ashe-Nadrowskihas been a proactive administrator of the Davis Administration’s priorities, presiding over a council that encourages dense development along transit corridors, new businesses on Broadway, community engagement, urbanist design, and park improvements.
“Ashe-Nadrowski has been an instrumental partner to Mayor Davis’s administration, spearheading economic redevelopment initiatives that are attracting millions in new investments in Bayonne and setting the city on the path to a brighter future,” read a press release from Mayor Davis’s campaign.
Ashe-Nadrowski, who graduated from Bayonne High School and NJCU where she earned a degree in computer programming, is optimistic about Bayonne’s financial future, despite the tax incentives that opponents say will cripple the city financially. “We can’t allow the progress our city is making to be stopped, and that’s why it’s so important for all Bayonne residents to come together and re-elect Mayor Davis and his team,” she said.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.