Ashe-Nadrowski and Brown tackle key issues in Bayonne mayoral debate

Incumbent Mayor James Davis was a no-show, and was instead at an event in Jersey City

Two of the three Bayonne mayoral candidates discussed the most pertinent issues affecting Bayonne in a mayoral debate, just weeks away from the May 10 municipal election.

City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski and lawyer and doctor Mitchell Brown sparred over ideas and traded political blows in the civil exchange at Nicholas Oresko Community School on April 26.

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Mayor James Davis did not attend, stating he did not agree to this debate and was instead at an event in Jersey City.

The debate was hosted by Hudson County View and moderated by HCV’s John Heinis. Residents could attend in person or watch the debate remotely through an online livestream or on local television on BAY-TV.

Responsible redevelopment and affordable housing

The first topic discussed was what responsible redevelopment means for each candidate. Ashe-Nadrowski said that redevelopment recently has been tilted toward the redeveloper, which she wants to change, and has called for more public input from the start and has outlined a plan as part of her “Solution Sunday” series.

Ashe-Nadrowski said that if elected mayor, she would increase the required amount of notice from 200 feet to 1,000 feet when it comes to redevelopers notifying neighbors about projects, and also called for more onsite and offsite givebacks to the community.

Brown slammed what he called shady redevelopment deals that the city has made, blaming both Davis and Ashe-Nadrowski. He said redevelopers were given tax abatements while not giving anything back to the community, nor even paying out on said financial agreements.

According to Brown, Broadway is “blighted” with vacant lots and storefronts because redevelopment focuses on the areas on the outskirts of the city, and he called for it to shift to the heart of the city “where voters live.”

In response, Ashe-Nadrowski said that the tax abatements and payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreements were a necessary tool used by the other municipalities other than Bayonne to attract redevelopment. She said while those financial agreements were key to attracting redevelopers, now is the time to ask them for more. And according to Ashe-Nadrowski, the council passes the ordinance for the PILOTs, but it is the job of the administration, and thus Davis, to collect the payments.

Brown repeated his point that redevelopers need to contribute to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. He said there are federal and state programs that the Davis administration is not competent enough to secure that a Brown administration would be able to.

Brown also blamed the lack of affordable housing on the “inflated” budget, criticizing the amount of money spent on the municipal payroll instead of things like homeless shelters. As a result of the lack of affordable housing, there is an increase in homelessness in the city.

In response, Ashe-Nadrowski noted she has a plan for affordability. She said Bayonne has become less affordable, and pledged to provide workforce housing for new essential employees such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters. She added that the city needs to ask for more from developers, as well as looking to state and federal funding options to remedy the issue.

She also hit Davis over the Bayonne Housing Authority allegedly “sitting on $22 million dollars” for a new building which she said he was going to get built in 2018 and still has not.

Public safety and crime

When it comes to public safety issues and crime, Ashe-Nadrowski touted her plan which she has also presented as part of her “Solution Sunday” series. She said it’s important to tackle the underlying issues of crime, provide for crisis intervention, and “get back to basics.” Ashe-Nadrowski said crime stems from various socio-economic issues, mental health issues, housing inequities, and education deficiencies, among other issues, and her solution is to partner with non-profit groups to mitigate crime before it happens. She also called for an expansion of community policing to bridge the gap between the community and the police.

Brown said that Bayonne has had the same problems for the past eight years, with crime on the rise and a lack of police presence on the street. If elected mayor, Brown said he would actually deliver community policing through realignment of the force, instead of police only being at construction sites.

He also said that the city spends the most on police “of any municipality in the country” and that the department is currently top-heavy and needs adjustment: “There are more chiefs than Indians.” In terms of other public safety issues, Brown advocating for fixing roads and adding more pedestrian bridges over Route 440, stating the more people have died crossing that street than by crime or fire in the city.

“Nothing that was promised eight years ago has been delivered,” Brown said on public safety issues. “Nothing promised today will be delivered unless there is a change in leadership.”

Ashe-Nadrowski countered the council did their part for the funding of the pedestrian bridges over Route 440 via bond ordinance and that it is held up at the administrative level. She added that when it comes to staffing of police, she would defer to law enforcement experts and if need be, would rather cut funding elsewhere than to cut public safety.

“City Hall is broken,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “The mayor is not doing his part.”

Brown rebutted that the council has some control to go against Davis, and that Ashe-Nadrowski was part of the mayor’s team until recently. In turn, Ashe-Nadrowski said that the fracture happened within the past few years and that’s why she is running for mayor, because there is poor communication between the council and City Hall. She added that she is one of the five person city council which is only the legislative branch and can only bond for the project, not carry it out as the administration does.

Bayonne Medical Center

Both parties also expressed their opposition over the city’s current maneuver amid the battle over the operations of Bayonne Medical Center between Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus and BMC Hospital, LLC, founded by the principals of surgery center chain Surgicore.

Brown hit the Davis administration for allowing CarePoint Health, the current operator of the hospital, to “syphon money” through a shell company management scheme while the hospital became “rundown” resulting in the present scenario. He said the city could have provided oversight by having the mayor appoint a member to the board of trustees at Bayonne Medical Center, which he said would have full access to financial documents, and did not, thus enabling it.

Brown added that Davis supported other health care systems entering the city, such as the RWJBarnabas Health satellite emergency department which “is sucking the life out of the hospital.” He also noted that CarePoint likely wouldn’t become a non-profit.

Ashe-Nadrowski said she was unaware about the mayoral appointee on the hospital board, but agreed that CarePoint would likely not become a non-profit. She noted her opposition to Davis and his plan to support BMC Hospital, LLC as the next operator of the hospital by utilizing the eminent domain process on the land of the hospital owned by Hudson Regional Hospital. Ashe-Nadrowski said this was a problem between two private entities that should not burden taxpayers.

Brown said “the mayor’s insane plan” to take the hospital by eminent domain would put the taxpayers on the hook if the hospital closed, which he said is a possibility given the competition he said Davis and Ashe-Nadrowski have brought in.

Ashe-Nadrowski condemned the “fear-mongering” that the hospital would close and denied that the city needed to bond to save it and allow BMC Hospital, LLC to purchase the operations. She said the hospital will remain as such per a council ordinance making the land zoning a hospital district. Ashe-Nadrowski also said that the RWJBarnabas building was before the Davis administration but that it was a “good building” and residents deserve choices when it comes to health care.

Pay-to-play reforms, and green initiatives

In response to a question by Heinis, both candidates said that they are committed to enact pay-to-play reforms in Bayonne if elected, akin to such laws in place in Jersey City and Hoboken.

“I’m committed to that,” Ashe-Nadrowski said, noting that she is running a “homegrown, small donor campaign.” She added that pay-to-play favors the incumbent, and took another jab at Davis by saying that applications “should not be getting on the [Planning Board] agenda because they gave a donation to somebody’s campaign,” a reference to the Boraie redevelopment, regarding which she has been seeking to get a better deal than one proposed by Wasseem Boraie, who donated $25,000 to a now-defunct political action committee to re-elect Davis.

Brown committed to reforms as well, noting that he was using only his own money on his “shoestring, dental floss campaign.” He said Davis won’t enact any such reforms: “If you elect Jimmy Davis, that’s a hopeless situation.”

When it comes to going green and environmental reforms and initiatives, both candidates at the debate had their own ideas. Brown said that he would look to the budget to provide for such things, again hitting Davis for the high amount of the budget that goes to the municipal payroll. He said there was no money to address flooding, to support green programs, that there were no payments being collected from developers that could go toward these initiatives, and that there was no competence at City Hall.

“It’s a disaster at City Hall,” Brown said.

Ashe-Nadrowski, who also sits on the Planning Board, said that there has been some addressing of that by requiring new construction to use more absorbent surfaces. She said that the storm water management improvements at Fitzpatrick Park were a start but were not enough, and chided Davis for not doing the same at Collins Park due to poor communication between departments.

Ashe-Nadrowski said she previously went out of her way to make sure Suez was doing their part to keep drains clear and help prevent flooding. She said that the city was doing work included in Suez’s contract and the city was double-paying, calling her efforts a “deep dive” into the contract to make sure the company is paying their fair share.

Water contract and school funding

Inked under former Mayor Mark Smith’s administration, the candidates also discussed how to approach the city’s current water contract with Suez Water, now known as Veolia. Ashe-Nadrowski said that she had also been looking at that as part of the “deep dive” which discovered that it could cost up to $300 million to buy out the contract.

Davis had previously hit her over considering the idea, to which Ashe-Nadrowski called the contract the “worst deal ever” but wants to try to make more bearable for taxpayers by looking to other options for rate stabilization.

“Insanity is doing nothing while residents suffer from high water bills,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “Other towns have done it. If you don’t do anything, you get nothing done. We have to try and I’m willing to fight for it.”

Brown said that the contract is a contract, and that the best thing would have been to avoid the situation by getting better deals in the first place.

Another topic of discussion was funding for the school district. Brown called for PILOT payments to be collected, part of which goes to the district, again claiming the Davis administration is currently not. He said that schools cost money and that funding can come from the tax base but isn’t due to tax abatements or the money being used elsewhere in the budget for municipal payroll.

Ashe-Nadrowski said she has released her plan to address schools issues as part of her “Solution Sunday” series. She said that the city can’t settle with redevelopers when it comes the school district, and that they need to pay their fair share which could support school renovations and the construction of new facilities. Ashe-Nadrowski also called for regular meetings between the City Council, the Board of Education, the mayor and the Business Administrator, and other related officials for communication and collaborative purposes. 

‘City Hall is broken’

Throughout the debate, both candidates described how to fix the “broken City Hall” that both Brown and Ashe-Nadrowski said has formed under Davis.

Ashe-Nadrowski reiterated her issues with the lack of transparency and communication, as well as respect. She added that another aspect of the brokenness of City Hall is technology, which she said she was well-versed in, given her background as a database engineer. Ashe-Nadrowski said much of City Hall is analog, and proposed digitizing a number of things to make peoples’ lives easier and give employees the tools they need to succeed. According to Ashe-Nadrowski employees need to be trained more. She proposed the city realize the non-existent Ethics Board, which she said was enshrined in the city’s constitution.

Brown said that communication is important, and there is currently a lack of that and transparency from Davis and Ashe-Nadrowski over the past eight years. He called for the restoration of both communication and transparency to help bring back ethical and competent behavior at City Hall.

In closing, Brown said that due to Davis’s lack of appearance, he feels the mayor “doesn’t think its important to let people know his positions” and that “he can’t or doesn’t want to answer certain questions.” He said that Davis and Ashe-Nadrowski have had their turn, and that he would do better if elected.

Ashe-Nadrowski echoed her ideas to move Bayonne forward, and said all her plans are available on her website at sharonforbayonne.com. She encouraged everyone to visit her website, or even call her using a new hotline she will answer herself.

The debate closed with the candidates shaking hands after the roughly one-hour exchange.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com. 

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