Ahead of Bayonne municipal election, candidates tell tales of two cities

Ashe-Nadrowski and Brown see Bayonne's future brighter with change while Davis seeks to stay on course

The May 10 municipal election moves closer each day, and with that, the candidates in the race continue to clash in the final hours of their respective campaigns.

The mayoral hopefuls are Mayor James Davis, challenged by City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski, and doctor and lawyer Mitchell Brown.

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Running on Davis’ council slate are First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll, Second Ward City Council candidate and financial professional Jacqueline Weimmer, Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez, and City Council At-Large candidate and retired police officer Loyad Booker.

On Ashe-Nadrowski’s council ticket are First Ward City Council candidate and small business owner Julie Sanchez Lynch, Second Ward City Council candidate and real estate professional George Vinc, Third Ward City Council candidate and Board of Education President Maria Valado, and City Council At-Large candidates Executive Director of the Bayonne Police Athletic League “KT” Kim Torello and Board of Education Trustee Jodi Casais.

Brown is not running with a council slate. Council candidates running independently of a ticket for City Council At-Large seats are businesswoman and TEDxBayonne organizer Carissa Lintao and Board of Education Trustee Denis Wilbeck. Peter Franco is also running for the Third Ward City Council seat.

‘The best of times and the worst of times’

Davis’ vision of a metamorphosed Bayonne versus the perceptions of the current state of the city by both Ashe-Nadrowski and Brown couldn’t be more different.

Throughout the contest, there have been two clear narratives. On one side, Davis is touting his last eight years in office as transformative to Bayonne. On the other hand, there is Ashe-Nadrowski and Brown who both feel a change in leadership is necessary to benefit Bayonne’s future.

Davis is proud of his past two terms in office and looks to continue his perceived success in revitalizing the city for another four years. He touts the residential and commercial redevelopment he has brought to the city to address recurring budget shortfalls, his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, improvements to parks and the expansion of recreation programs under his administration, and support of the police department.

Ashe-Nadrowski believes her first term with Davis was a success, but his administration has since gone downhill. It was two or so years after her second re-election with Davis in 2018 that she began to feel a rift with the administration, and subsequently began breaking away from Davis on key issues, from eminent domain to redevelopment plans. Since then, Ashe-Nadrowski has alleged City Hall is broken, with a number lawsuits and other complaints she says are indicative of a toxic culture, and no longer serves constituents. She says she is the best one to fix it and give residents back a seat at the table.

Brown also thinks that City Hall is broken, and argues he is the remedy. He has disagreed with the Davis Administration for a while now, having unsuccessfully run against the incumbent mayor in 2018. Brown has taken issue with the way Bayonne is being run, from the Finance Department to the Police Department and, if elected, intends to put a magnifying glass on the issues he says are plaguing the city, from an allegedly bloated municipal payroll to what he describes as a top-heavy police force.

While Ashe-Nadrowski and Brown seek to appeal to the discontent some voters may feel with the changes that have occurred under Davis, the incumbent mayor argues that the shift fostered by his administration in Bayonne has bettered the city overall.

Mayor Davis announced that LA Fitness broke ground at MOTBY at the end of April. Photo courtesy of Davis.

Davis’ vision of a transformed Bayonne

Davis has ushered redevelopment to areas of Bayonne that he says needed new life. Abandoned properties and vacant lots found better uses as commercial, residential, and mixed-use buildings, although usually taller than the neighborhoods surrounding them. Along with the newer, typically more luxurious redevelopments, newer and younger residents began moving into the city, among other changes that took place as Davis used redevelopment to solve Bayonne’s monetary ordeals.

Davis has brought a number of big commercial entities into the city too via redevelopment, from Starbucks, to Costco and Lidl. He has said this is part of his plan to attract commercial redevelopment after residential redevelopment is booming in Bayonne.

The redevelopment boom was going steady when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But that did not deter any redevelopment. Davis touts his administration’s response from the era of the stay-at-home order to testing and then vaccination as well as small business grants. Though some businesses closed due to COVID-19, Davis stands by his efforts, stating the city did “everything it could.”

While he has conceded crime is on the rise in Bayonne, Davis, a former police officer, has noted that rising crime has been an issue everywhere. And his administration has been supportive of the police department throughout both his first two terms, having overseen the hiring of approximately 94 new officers among other necessary upgrades to the force.

In terms of recreation and parks, Davis has touted the overall revamp to the city’s parks over the past eight years, something he said hadn’t been done for many years prior, including updates to Fitzpatrick Park, Collins Park, and Morris Park, among others. And he noted the Division of Recreation has maintained popular programs such as Buddy Baseball and introduced new ones like Youth Boxing.

Davis has also had his fair share of controversy throughout his second term. More recently, scandals that he caught flak for intensified first with backing away from Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti and replacing him with current Assemblyman William SampsonHis streak continued with the nixing of Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace from his ticket and replacement by Weimmer. However, Sampson and Weimmer have been advocates for Davis on the campaign trail at fundraisers and other events.

Using eminent domain to secure the land of Bayonne Medical Center for BMC Hospital, LLC has been a controversial subject, in addition to multiple lawsuits against Davis for “sexting” by former city employee Stacie Percella and “gender discrimination” by Business Administrator Melissa Mathews. A number of redevelopment plans have come under fire by residents and his opponents. The only new policy Davis has proposed was to pause most residential redevelopment pending a study of the impact redevelopment has had on the city, an interesting choice for an independent running on his past record.

Ashe-Nadrowski speaks with a resident following a “Senior Dinner” in late April. Photo courtesy of Ashe-Nadrowski.

Ashe-Nadrowski looks to seize an opportunity

Sensing a moment when even Davis knows voters wanted a change of pace, Ashe-Nadrowski has thrust herself into the race and is really Davis’ biggest competitor. She has made her claim that City Hall is broken a key tenet of her campaign, but has also been addressing more than just the scandalous headlines and perceived culture shift at City Hall.

Other issues raised by Ashe-Nadrowski and her candidates have revolved around garbage and recycling collection, the city’s sole, out-of-operation wind turbine, ferry service to New York City that is still to come near MOTBY, the under-construction pedestrian bridge at 25th Street, parking, and rising crime, among others. Ashe-Nadrowski has been constantly releasing plans for what she would do as mayor to address many of these issues, each week on the offensive, and has been meeting with voters in community meetings and fundraisers among other events.

On the topic of responsible redevelopment, Ashe-Nadrowski’s plans call for more resident input sooner in the process, more redeveloper give-backs to the community, and ensuring redevelopers contribute to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. In terms of affordability, Ashe-Nadrowski’s plan entails putting residents first in negotiations, especially with redevelopers, constructing workforce housing, and establishing an Office of Small Business Advocacy and Support.

To tackle rising crime, Ashe-Nadrowski wants to recognize and address the root issues of crime and address them, institute better crisis intervention by partnering the police department with local non-profit organizations, and “getting back to basics” by supporting community policing. She also has a plan for quality of life issues, such as adding parking by constructing parking garages, rebidding the garbage collection contract for a new contractor, and a consistent analysis of roadways, among other proposals.

These plans have been laid out as part of her “Solution Sunday” series, which also includes her proposals for “Transparency and Open Government,”  and “Schools” among other possible solutions the problems Bayonne faces. She has also proposed an ordinance seeking further public input on ordinances and another ordinance and two resolutions seeking to get a better deal for the land sale of a MOTBY redevelopment, however both were rejected by the council.

Ashe-Nadrowski paints a warm, rosy picture of life possible in the city under her administration if elected, but faces push back from her opponents for being a major part of the Davis Administration until now.

While Ashe-Nadrowski stands by her first term with Davis, both Davis and Brown have hit her over changing her position from being an advocate for the current regime and voting for its initiatives to a perceived adversary against its proposals. However, she insists that it was Davis who turned his back on her, prompting her run for mayor seeking to steer the city back in the right direction, not the other way around.

Regardless, Ashe-Nadrowski’s run against Davis has been something akin to a miniature civil war on the peninsula. The city, its wards, even neighborhoods, individual blocks, neighbors, and families themselves have been divided by the polarizing election, although nowhere near the level of intensity as the 2016 presidential election. But change is in the air, and Davis faces more than just his current council president in the mayoral race.

Brown speaks at a previous mayoral debate. Photo courtesy of Brown.

Is Brown too little, too late?

Brown is also focusing his campaign around restoring transparency and integrity at City Hall. He feels the same as Ashe-Nadrowski but includes her in the problem and looks to start fresh under his administration.

On redevelopment, his ideas revolve around making redevelopers contribute to a community fund, contribute to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, make payments on financial agreements they are a part of, and secure better give-backs to the community from redevelopers. On affordable housing, in addition to ensuring redevelopers contribute to the aforementioned fund, he plans to cut the budget and reallocate spending to the construction of affordable housing, and utilize state and federal funding programs to advance projects in Bayonne.

Another part of Brown’s campaign involves fixing Broadway, which he calls “blighted.” To solve the empty storefronts and vacant lots, Brown is calling for targeted residential redevelopment on Broadway to attract commercial businesses. more parking, making the licensing process easier, and pursuing state and federal funding programs. Brown is also running on improving transportation issues in Bayonne. He is looking to deliver on the ferry service in the works to New York City, as well as adding shuttle service between senior housing and shopping, make bike paths and secure a bike sharing program, fix sidewalks, and get the planned pedestrian bridges over Route 440 to the finish line.

Other issues for Brown include reviewing the municipal payroll, claiming it makes up too much of the budget and needs to be cut. He also wants to realign the ratio of higher-ups in the police department, alleging it is top-heavy. But Brown faces an uphill battle for the office of mayor.

Brown only really started campaigning in the latter half of April. Though he ran in 2018, he still suffers from lower name recognition than Davis and Ashe-Nadrowski, even with his appearance at the first mayoral debate. However, his sitting on the sidelines apart from the mudslinging over support by political action committees and campaign donations is something he hopes resonates with voters. But it all just may be too little, like his self-described “shoestring, dental floss campaign.”

The campaigns continue their pursuit of the municipal offices in Bayonne as Election Day and early voting approaches. The ultimate question is: will voters choose more of the same with Davis or opt for some degree of change with either Ashe-Nadrowski or Brown? The results on May 10 will be telling for the future of Bayonne either way.

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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