Jim Tedesco has been busy this past year, serving on the Freeholder Board and as a candidate for Bergen County Executive. The last time he got a full night of sleep: “February,” he said in a phone interview. But with just a few days to go until the November 4th election, Tedesco shows no signs of slowing down. “It’s time for the final push,” he said.
Tedesco began his political career as a Paramus councilman and later served as the mayor of the town from 2003 to 2010. It was during that time that he worked closely with leaders in the Jewish community to improve the educational services of students in the area. At Yavneh Academy, he helped to bring the D.A.R.E program to the school. When Frisch moved to Century Road, after decades on their Route 4 campus, he moved the project along and then participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony. “It is a beautiful school,” Tedesco said.
More challenging though was to get the Noam elementary school up and running. There were some safety concerns about young children walking near the main road, but, he and others “worked to make sure safety barriers were erected to keep everyone safe.”
Another security concern was the relocation of the UJA building from River Edge to its current home in Paramus. “We had to bring in homeland security and local police” to address the concerns. When the building officially opened, Tedesco was honored again as a member of the ribbon cutting ceremony.
“He has done as much as anyone for the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Steven Burg, the Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a Democratic County Committee member. “He will work tirelessly for Bergen County and our community.”
Since he has entered Bergen County-wide politics, Tedesco has quickly made a name for himself. In the wake of the Bridgegate scandal Tedesco was one of the first officials to call for an investigation. “I wrote an eight-point plan to bring transparency,” he said. “Now Assemblymen Tim Eustace and Joe Lagana have taken core pieces of the plan for their own bill.”
With regards to the dramatic increases in GWB tolls over the last 5 years, which were approved by the Christie administration, Tedesco “hopes for the seeable future” that the prices remain the same. He also drew attention to the ongoing investigations into the misuse of funds at the Port Authority. “We shouldn’t be building buildings with toll money.” Tedesco said. “It should be used exclusively for road infrastructure and maintenance. The Port Authority has lost sight of that.” In the last few days, he has reiterated his pledge to work on improving transparency at the Port Authority.
As the economy continues to steadily improve, Tedesco knows that the county budget will likely see increased revenue. Some of it he would spend on new services: investment in infrastructure, educational programming, better public transportation and always improving social services. But Tedesco also knows that relief for the highly-taxed residents of the county should be a top concern. He is proud to have “voted on the first budget without tax increases in 20 years,” and to have done so “without reducing services.” Tedesco hopes that the growing economy will allow him to continue this approach of keeping taxes low but also having the flexibility to spend on what is needed. “It’s a balance,” he said.
One budgetary item Tedesco does hope to increase spending for is special education. “As we diagnose more students with particular disabilities,” Tedesco said, “it becomes necessary to harness our technology for more targeted responses to ensure that all students reach their potential.” This plan could even expand to yeshivot and other private schools as well. “I would like to see some sort of public-private partnership” that can best utilize targeted resources.
“My whole life has been about public service,” Tedesco said about the last few decades, “as a firefighter, as a baseball coach to my kids, as mayor of Paramus and now as a freeholder.” He is also pragmatic, identifying this as the fundamental difference between himself and his opponent. “I prefer to sit down and come up with a compromise,” Tedesco said about his governing style, “even if we’re both not happy about it.” If the election is split, and he wins the County Executive position while Republicans regain control of the Freeholder Board, he will “absolutely sit down and work with” them.
And there is no question that he will to do so, and work hard to reach a conclusion that is the best for the citizens of Bergen County–even if it means he won’t get a full night of sleep.
Zachary Schrieber is a reporter for Tablet Magazine. He can reached at [email protected] or on twitter @zschrieber.
By Zachary Schrieber