Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner recently sailed to victory in the May 10 municipal election, continuing his service to the township than began in 1990.
Entering his ninth term, Turner described upcoming initiatives to the Hudson Reporter. He said it was reaffirming to not face any challengers.
“Who knows what factors go into people not running,” Turner said. “But I think it’s an affirmation that people, or most people at least, believe that the town’s moving in the right direction. We just went through some difficult two years.”
Despite the trials and tribulations of COVID-19, Turner is proud of the township’s response and thinks residents agree.
“I think people are pleased with our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with testing and vaccinations,” Turner said. “We’ve been able to keep our municipal services going like all other towns around us. I think there’s a realization too that it’s not easy and it’s time consuming.”
And while everyone might not agree with the Turner or the township on everything, such as their rejection of the proposed protected bike lane on Boulevard East, Turner said he tries to work with everyone.
“While we run across people that have problems or don’t like something, we try to deal with them,” Turner said. “We can’t always agree with everybody, but we try and deal with it the best way we can. And I think there’s an appreciation for that.”
This was the first time early voting was available in a municipal election in Weehawken. However, only 64 early votes were cast.
Turner said it shouldn’t be considered a case study on early voting in the township, considering the nature of the days early voting was available. The poor conditions and holiday weekend may have contributed to the low turnout for early voting.
“It’s not a good test case because it was a lousy weekend,” Turner said. “Friday it was rainy, cold, damp, and windy. Saturday, it was even rainier, damp, and windy. Then Sunday was Mother’s Day. So it’s not a really good test.”
However, Turner expects early voting to be utilized by more residents in future elections.
“I think there will be other opportunities, since early voting is part of the system now, to have a better test of it. But when you’re uncontested and you have really lousy weather, people are not going to come out to vote early. Tuesday was a nice day, so people came out and voted on that day.”
Plans in the pipeline
Turner touted a number of projects the township is going to move forward with in his upcoming term. The first he mentioned was an overhaul of Park Avenue.
“We’ve applied for a federal grant, I don’t know if we’re going to get it or not, to start improvements to Park Avenue,” Turner said. “The first thing we’re going to do is all our traffic lights. They are all antiquated on Park Avneue. There is a joint Union City-Weehawken road. The traffic lights are all antiquated. It’s getting harder and harder to find parts to fix them. So we’ve applied for a grant to start refurbishing Park Avenue with new traffic lights. Then we’ll go from there to sidewalks, curbs, and paving.”
Another thing Turner looks to accomplish in his next term is the completion of the municipal waterfront recreation complex.
“We’re going to have some form of an ice skating rink,” Turner said. “I don’t think it will be as elaborate as we first proposed because that cost much more money than we had available.“
Other aspects of the complex include a bridge connecting the waterfront walkways over a lagoon, among other things.
“Then we have other amenities on the side and a bridge connecting one side of the lagoon to the other,” Turner said. “We have funds for a bridge that’s connected to that.”
He continued: “The ice skating rink is a bit reduced. We have to fix the rip rap around it, so we got a lot of construction work to do around the pool complex, but that’s a major goal.”
Those are the final touches on the complex, otherwise, Turner noted. He touted the project as being a gem on the Hudson River.
“That will complete over 15 acres of contiguous passive and active recreation, which is the biggest waterfront park recreation site in Hudson County other than Liberty State Park,” Turner said. “It’s a mammoth undertaking.”
Electrifying the fleet
One of the other initiatives Turner is eyeing is the adoption of electric vehicle parking spaces to support the electrification of the municipal fleet, including for the Police Department, the Department of Public Works, and other such vehicles.
“One of our big new initiatives is going to be getting electric charging stations where we can, electrifying more of our fleet for municipal vehicles, police, and the DPW,” Turner said. “We’re looking to buy some electric vehicles for the Parking Authority. That’s a major initiative, switching over from the diesel to electric. And it’s expensive, but everything from police cars to traffic enforcement to DPW to garbage trucks, you get everything electric and there’s grants out there to do it, so we’re going to make a major initiative of electrifying our fleet and also providing electric charging stations throughout the township.”
For residents, Turner said that means working with redevelopers to include electric vehicle parking spaces in their new projects.
“As construction takes place, we have a private construction project in front of the Waterfront Park and we’re going to work with the developer to put in place some charging stations down there, which would be a big help,” Turner said.
And according to Turner, the initiative is already somewhat in motion with the acquisition of electric and gasoline hybrid vehicles.
“We’ve purchased our first police vehicles that are hybrid,” Turner said. “At least with the hybrid, you’re getting 40 to 50 miles a gallon, as opposed to a regular police car which probably gets 15 or 18 miles a gallon at best.”
Other upcoming initiatives
“Refurbishing Park Avenue, finishing the recreation complex, and electrifying the fleet and providing charging stations are the larger initiatives,” Turner said. “The smaller ones are our playgrounds need some repairs and revamping, doing some intersection improvements where we can do them. That’s some ongoing stuff that’s been postponed for two years.”
Turner also said he looks to start the refurbishing of a lot of playgrounds, which was not possible over the last two years due to COVID-19. He also noted the township recently renovated Weehawken Stadium, too.
“We just put artificial turf after 12 years,” Turner said. “New artificial turf will be at Weehawken Stadium. So we’re applying for a number of grants for a lot of things.”
The new police annex is another thing stalled by COVID-19 that the township is looking to complete.
“There’s a police annex we’re going to open up and it’s held up because we can’t get the computer chips to make everything work,” Turner said. “So we’re waiting on the computer chips to come in.
Turner said he was excited to get things moving again with the council.
“We’ve made a lot of progress. When most of us first got elected, we had 10 acres of recreation and park space. We now have over 50 acres. We’ve created new parks and playgrounds throughout the township. We mandated the waterfront walkway even before the state mandated it… One of the other things we want to do is continue the cooperative relations with the school system. We have a great school system and we work together on everything. The town complements what the school system does.”
Guiding the township, steadfast and steady
Moving into the future, Turner seeks to keep the progress up in Weehawken as the world continues to navigate through the pandemic. He and his council slate will be sworn in on July 1.
Turner concluded: “It’s all part of the country catching up to everything that was stalled for two years under COVID-19.”
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.