Outgoing Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti spoke with the Bayonne Community News recently, and reflected on the past six years of his life as a member of the state General Assembly.
Until Dec. 31, he still represents the 31st Legislative District which encompasses Bayonne and parts of Jersey City. But Chiaravalloti became involved in Bayonne politics as a teenager, and was first elected to the assembly in 2016. Throughout his tenure, one of the pieces of legislation he is most proud to have been a part of is the bill that reworked the school funding formula.
“For Bayonne, one of the most impactful bills is the change in the school funding formula,” Chiaravalloti said. “Bayonne went from one of the least funded school districts in the state to now actually being adequately funded. It was those dollars and that state aid that then allowed the Board of Education to initiate longer multi-year contracts with their unions, the teachers’ in particular. Those contracts allow you to retain teachers, which in the long run improves the schools. The funding formula for education was a game changer for our school district.”
Another piece of legislation he is also proud to have worked on now allows children-run lemonade stands without a permit.
“Working with my son on the lemonade stand bill meant a lot,” he said. “I was able to teach my son a civics lesson and the patience that it takes to work a bill.”
Chiaravalloti also touted securing funding for transportation projects including the yet-to-be-constructed pedestrian bridges over Route 440, helping establish a free COVID-19 testing site at the Bayonne Community Museum amid the height of the pandemic, working to bring unemployment benefits to thousands of people, dealing issues with the Department of Motor Vehicles and even helping people secure replacement medals for their veteran relatives, among other issues.
“My approach in the legislature has always been split into two buckets,” he said. “The first one is more practical: how do I deliver for constituents, how do you benefit them, how do you improve their lives? The second bucket is more local public policy initiatives. And I’ve enjoyed success in both buckets. I’m proud of what we accomplished over six years. It’s not just legislation though, I take pride in the effort of my staff in serving the constituents because the reality is that most work is done at that level.”
Leadership role in Trenton
By 2020, he was appointed Majority Whip. The leadership role is responsible for gathering votes on legislation from other assembly members for his party, the Democratic Party, in the assembly. Chiaravalloti thanked Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin for selecting him for the position, comparing the experience to the song “The Room Where It Happens” from the Broadway musical Hamilton.
“I was in the room when all the major pieces of legislation were signed, including the recently passed tax incentive program, which I think has the ability to really benefit Hudson County as a whole,” he said. “It also allowed me to have relationships with every member of the legislature, especially Democrats but also a lot of Republicans, talking to them about the specific bills and what their concerns were. That was something that contributed to the success in passing more pieces of legislation this session than in any two-year period previously.”
This included the recently secured state funding necessary to make the Essex-Hudson Greenway a reality. Chiaravalloti said the greenway is one of the things he was able to help see through in his position that will have a long-lasting effect.
“When you talk about successes, this month we had a huge announcement that doesn’t directly impact Bayonne, but impacts Hudson County,” he said. “We secured funding to acquire a nine-mile stretch of rail line that connects Montclair to Jersey City. That has ramifications for generations.”
Ousted by Mayor Davis
Chiaravalloti was set to run for another term seemingly unopposed. That is, until Mayor James Davis booted him from the county “line” on the ballot, instead announcing then-crane operator William Sampson as the new candidate for his seat with backing from the Hudson County Democratic Organization. Chiaravalloti said he was never given a reason.
“The reality is, I have never been told why,” he said. “Up until then, I thought I had a very positive and close relationship with the guy. There was no argument. There was no disagreement that I was aware of. Honestly, I was told point blank that I didn’t need to be provided with a reason because ‘He’s the mayor. He gets to choose.’”
To Chiaravalloti, the move is indicative of a bigger problem than just an unstated beef between Davis and him. He said the problem lies in the idea of the county “line” itself.
“That marks a fundamental problem with the system that we have,” he said. “This is not a criticism of any individual. The reality is that, in our state and in our country, gerrymandering provides very safe districts in November. And the ‘line’ provides fairly safe districts in June. And that prevents any sort of dialogue. I spoke about this openly and I think that’s a problem going forward. I think we need to talk about how the ‘line’ is chosen, whether we need to even have ‘lines,’ and how do we foster discussion and debate among qualified candidates.”
Chiaravalloti continued: “I really don’t have any emotional response to it at this point. It is what it is. My tenure is coming to an end at the end of the year, and I’ll move on and continue to stay involved in the community.”
Always staying involved
While he said he will not be running for office again in the foreseeable future, Chiaravalloti is staying involved in Bayonne politics.
“I am definitely staying engaged,” he said. “I have a lot of friends and I will continue to be helpful to them. As far as me running for public office, that is not even a consideration right now. I don’t feel the need to run and get a title to contribute. I think I could be helpful to people and contribute to public discourse without an elected title.”
While it’s more about the impact than the title for Chiaravalloti, he does not take his time in the assembly for granted.
“I really appreciate and I am thankful to the residents of Bayonne and Jersey City,” he said. “It was a great honor. It’s also very public and takes you away from your family. I enjoyed it, but I’m in no rush to do it again. I’ll continue to work on the issues I care about in the coming years. As far as running, we’ll see what the plan is. But right now, I don’t have one.”
In closing, Chiaravalloti encouraged more people to get involved: “I think running for office and being politically engaged is something that we need more of. We need to debate the issues that our community faces. And I look to be a part of that community and part of that debate as a citizen. There really is no greater honor in my book than being told through the ballot box by your neighbors that they trust you to do a job for them. And I hope that people believe I served them well. People in Bayonne know they can always call or ring the bel and if I can be helpful I will be.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.