The Bayonne mayor’s State of the City address is usually delivered in June. But during an election year, holding the mayor’s biggest annual speech before the May 8 election was a campaign coup. Mayor James Davis delivered the address on April 19 at Villa Maria with sponsorship from the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce.
The speech was shorter and more measured than last year’s in which he read bullet points on a note card. This year’s was a prepared, written address. Last year’s theme was “I am Bayonne.”This year’s tone was more forward-looking.
Davis’s task this election season is to prove to Bayonne residents that the city is better off that it was four years ago.
Then, the city was in “decay,” Davis said in his speech, while jokingly observing thatempty lots are still known to residents for the businesses that occupied them decades ago. “At Doolan’s gas station, a tree literally grew through the roof,” he said.
“Four years later, as I stand before you, our city is in a state of growth.”
Davis measuresBayonne’s recent growth against the years of economic recoveryfollowing the recession of the late 2000s and early 2010s when asset prices collapsed along with countless development deals across the region.
Now, he points to real estate development as a positive indicator of returning economic health and set a goal to reduce the structural deficit from its current $18 million to $8 million by the end of his next term. He’s already helped reduce the structural deficit by issuing payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreementsto developers that create direct streams of revenue for the city over 15-30-year time frames. One of Davis’s opponents, Jason O’Donnell, opposes this practice.
Is Bayonne better off than it was four years ago?
Movement at MOTBY
Most of those developments are on the former Military Ocean Terminal Base and within walking distance of light rail stations.
“We have real, tangible progress at the Military Ocean Terminal, not just drawings gathering dust in some drawer,” said Davis. MOTBY, which the mayor called the “field of broken promises,” has long captured Bayonne’s imagination.And a drawer of those blueprints really exists. One of those renderings is a theme parkproposed by none other than members of the Michael Jackson family.Many development projects broke ground this year and a recent bid went out for a ferry operator on MOTBY.
“We haven’t just talked about a plan,” Davis said. “We executed one.”
Davis also prides himself on his efforts to create a culture of community and shared responsibility through facilitating more city-sponsored festivals and events, such as the Hometown Fair and the Earth Day cleanup.
“We are all invested in the City of Bayonne,” he said.
The elephant in the room
Mayoral candidate and former Assemblyman and Director of Public Safety, Jason O’Donnell, is highly critical of Davis’s useof PILOT revenue to help the city achieve structural health. O’Donnell argues that because PILOTs only pay five percent of the payments to the school district while serving to increase Bayonne’s population, the school district’s resources will be further limited and could foresee higher property taxes to come.
“The only real suspense [in the speech] is whether there will be a line explaining why the State of the City [address] is less than three weeks before Election Day when it was delivered in June the past two years,” said O’Donnell in a press release.
“It’s hard to take anything Jimmy Davis says seriously knowing that he and his Team promised four years ago that they would not give out abatements if elected and then gave out forty of those long-term tax breaks to their wealthy special interest friends immediately after winning.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com.