If politics makes strange bedfellows, the mayor of Englewood and the Assemblywoman for the 37th Legislative District have taken that to new heights. Frank Huttle III, Englewood’s mayor, and his wife, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, are the power couple who are looking forward to a new era in politics in Bergen County.
“The election of Jim Tedesco is a plus plus for Englewood and Bergen County,” the mayor mused. “I’m looking forward to a period of working together to benefit all the people without the tension of constant bickering that we’ve seen over the last several years.”
Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle is aiming her activity a bit above the municipal level and is focusing in on bi-state action aimed at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to move it in a direction she believes will provide major benefit for both states with less drama.
The couple mixes a very busy political life with business obligations. He is an attorney and a specialist in tax law while the Assemblywoman is a licensed funeral director.
How does a journalist nail down both of them for a conversation? Simple. They make use of modern technology, place a cell phone on speaker, and carry on a discussion while they are stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Pointing to the fact that North Jersey, and Bergen County in particular, are practically a wasteland for mass transit, Mayor Huttle says he is looking forward to the establishment of a light-rail line that will run from North Bergen to Englewood.
Both Huttles noted that transportation issues are of particular importance for the Jewish (especially Orthodox) communities.
“We are talking pure economics here,” Mayor Huttle said. “So many of our residents live in Englewood and work in New York City. The convenience of having the ability to use a light-rail system for commuting would make their lives so much easier.
“As it now stands they have to either drive into New York or take the bus. That’s no easy task, especially in bad weather or when there is a major function in the city. Traffic quickly becomes a nightmare. Observant Jews coming home on Friday afternoon, especially in the short winter days, can face a major concern as darkness approaches and the prohibition against driving as the Sabbath approaches can place them in a very uncomfortable situation.”
“This isn’t a win-win just for Englewood,” he says. “The entire region will benefit. With a parking lot in the terminus in Englewood, residents from Fort Lee to Elmwood Park will be able to leave their vehicles and transit through Jersey City to jobs in Hudson County and New York.
“That’s quite an impetus to drive an economic machine,” he continued. “The current County Administrator (Kathleen Donovan) had a disconnect when it came to county and municipal cooperation. There was little to no interest in establishing a light-rail line. We also had to pick up the tab for the costs of maintaining county roads.”
Huttle noted the cost of salt for ice-slicked roads and said that his city took the brunt of the costs for making them safe for drivers without reimbursement from the county. “I don’t have to tell you how expensive that could be,” he said. This situation translates not just to Englewood, but to Teaneck, Paramus, Hackensack, and virtually every municipality in Bergen County, he noted.
Both Huttles are looking forward to a new era of cooperation starting Jan. 1, 2015 when Tedesco, a current member of the Freeholder board, takes the reins of the top county office.
“I had to fight for three years for funds to mitigate flooding from the Overpeck Creek, a job the county should have been handling,” Mayor Huttle said. “There was no infrastructure assistance. This expenditure by local governments is an ‘invisible tax’ and runs into the millions of dollars.
It’s not about spending money, but the quality of life for residents. They need public transportation for jobs and to oil the economic machinery.”
Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle is aiming in a much broader direction, albeit one that will affect residents well beyond her own legislative district. After the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal involving the George Washington Bridge, she is working on legislation that will make the behemoth that is the Port Authority more transparent and answerable to the people.
“This is certainly an economic issue for the Jewish community,” Assemblywoman Huttle added. “As tolls increase it takes a tremendous bite out of daily living costs. There are so many in the Orthodox sectors of Englewood, Teaneck, Fair Lawn, and other municipalities who may have no choice but to drive over the bridge in order to get to work or open their businesses. The ever-increasing tolls become a major business expense.
“Keeping the Port Authority’s feet to the fire in accountability is critical as well,” she said. “So-called ‘traffic studies’ that cause record traffic jams force people to leave hours early so as to be in time for work. If you observe passing traffic at the toll booths it immediately becomes evident as to how many of the Orthodox Jewish community that it affects.”
She has sponsored a bill in the lower house focused on opening up the near-secret bi-state agency. State Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Fair Lawn) has introduced a companion bill in the upper house. Similar bills have been introduced in the New York legislature and they have passed all the legislative venues.
“Now we have to wait and see if the governors of both states will sign the bills,” she said. “With this legislation in place, tolls could not go up unless there is accountability. There would have to be public hearings on any toll increases.”
Within two years tolls on the Hudson River crossings for an automobile will top $15. Certain trucks will have gone from $66 in 2012 to $126 by 2016. Many people are of the impression that Govs. Christie and Cuomo had cut a deal for the increase of tolls so that they could tap the till for pet projects far removed from the core purpose of the agency: to provide for transportation.
The Port Authority proposed a bill to increase tolls dramatically. Christie and Cuomo objected and the increases were dropped to a mildly obscene level. The prevailing opinion in many quarters was that this had been decided by the governors so that it would appear as though they fought to decrease the tolls.
“Tolls should be used for transportation and not such projects as the Metropolitan Art Museum,” she said. “We need safeguards to protect residents. Now it’s up to both governors to step up to the plate and sign the bills in New Jersey and New York.”
By Bob Nesoff