Forum Draws Large Crowd
About 150 people crowded the Anne Louise Davis Room at the Plainfield Public Library for the forum sponsored by Women for Progress in Plainfield. Though advertised as a mayoral forum with one unopposed 4th Ward candidate also speaking, two Assembly incumbents and their challengers turned up and 4th Ward candidate Bridget Rivers did not.
Those seeking a four-year mayoral term are incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, Republican James Pivnichny and independent Deborah Dowe. Assembly candidates Linda Stender and Jerry Green are seeking re-election for two-year terms representing District 22 and face challenges from former Mayor Marty Marks of Scotch Plains and Bo Vastine, also of Scotch Plains.
Moderator Martha Royster firmly kept speakers in line, several times consulting the audience for a show of hands on questions they wanted answered.
On taxes, Robinson-Briggs talked about development and said the governing body needs to “get on board to have projects get on board.” In a related question on cutting City Hall expenses, she said the city is not filling vacancies and will be meeting with unions on halting raises to “flatline across the board.” But she said the city’s 550 employees are “human beings with families that need to be supported.”
Pivnichny said he would cut jobs from the top, not the bottom, and noted a city tax increase was averted by deferring pension payments.
“This made the numbers look good this year,” he said, but added the funds will have to be paid back with interest in coming years.
Dowe pointed to tax breaks given over the past decade and said she wanted to expand business and manufacturing in the city, which lost 1,100 jobs with the closing of Muhlenberg. She would seek to cut city expenses through shared services with the school district and the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority.
On what she would do in the Assembly for senior tax relief, Stender named a number of state programs that assist seniors with property taxes, drug costs and utility expenses. Green said state funds help seniors stay in their homes, claiming the state put $150 million in the budget “that George Bush cut out.”
Marks said not only seniors, but young couples are losing their homes and causing a “mass exodus from the state.”
“The overall tax climate is killing them,” he said.
Marks called for elimination of corruption and duplicative county governments to reduce taxes.
“Obviously, this is about looking forward, but with the record of our opponents, I don’t think we can afford one more day of them,” Vastine said.
As for giving seniors rebates, he said, “It’s their money.”
Vastine also cited corruption and overspending as causes of high taxes.
Mayoral and Assembly incumbents took some heat for the August 2008 closing of Muhlenberg, which left an estimated 200,000 Central Jerseyans without a local acute care facility Vastine said Green formerly held a $50,000 consultant position with Muhlenberg parent Solaris Health Systems. Dowe noted her long involvement with activists who fought to save, and then to restore the hospital.
On education, candidates sparred over a new school funding formula that Green voted for, replacing the designation of the state’s 31 neediest districts for so-called Abbott funding. Aid is now spread among more districts with needy students. Marks said the state stills sends $100 million into Plainfield, but “It is not finding its way into the classroom.”
Marks said 60 percent of Plainfield high school students “did not graduate through normal means.”
Green charged, “The Republicans don’t even want the city to have Abbott money,” and told how he challenged GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie for alleging waste in school spending.
Other topics included how to improve the city’s West End and the issue of gay marriage, which Vastine recently called on his blog a “red herring” in the campaign. Vastine noted that President Barack Obama himself does not support gay marriage. Green said if re-elected, “I will support gay marriage.”
Another forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Plainfield, will be held at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at Emerson School, 305 Emerson Ave. It will feature mayoral and Assembly candidates and will be conducted in accordance with LWV guidelines.
The general election is Nov. 3. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. To vote, be sure to register by Oct. 13.