April 20, 2024
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Teaneck Candidates Gather at Forum

Seven of the eight candidates running for four seats on the Teaneck town council met on April 24 for a forum to discuss their thoughts on leadership and management for Teaneck.

Adam Gussen, Yitz Stern, Elie Katz, and Lizette Parker are running for reelection while being challenged by Eric Brauer, Alexander Rashin, Alan Sohn, and Jason Castle. Parker was not in attendance; a statement was read on her behalf. (The moderator, Barbara King, read Parker’s statement which noted her eight years of service on council and her commitment to continue providing “respectful and responsive service to Teaneck residents.”)

Opening statements by Deputy Mayor Gussen, Katz, and Stern also noted their years of experience on council. “Please remember that experience counts,” Stern said in both his opening and closing statements.

The experience held by the incumbents is not necessarily a good thing according to Rashin, Sohn, and Castle. The current council is a “failing council” according to Rashin and “too often treats residents as a piggy bank” according to Sohn.  “Ask yourself if over the past four years you’ve actually seen problems solved in Teaneck, Castle said. “I don’t have the experience of making meaningless choices that raise your taxes,” he added.

Attendees were given the opportunity to write questions on cards for the candidates which were then read off by the moderator. One question concerned development in Teaneck. Rashin favors the development of a small scale Silicone Valley and the use of the Alfred Avenue area for a big commercial retailer like Walmart. Sohn and Castle, who are running together, agreed that taxes need to be lowered before any development can occur in Teaneck because, as is, no business will want to come to Teaneck. Katz noted that development is needed because revenue is needed. Gussen added that the only type of development he wants to see in Teaneck is commercial. Stern suggested that developers be allowed in with proposals for plans that could then be discussed.

Brauer, who is vice chair of the town planning board, noted that the town has a Master Plan that residents developed together in 2007. The plan calls for development on the Alfred Avenue and Stop & Shop areas and Brauer intends to stand by that plan and make sure it is followed in all areas.

Candidates were also asked whether they would cut services and what areas they would like to see enhanced. Stern offered up a flat no in regards to cutting services while Sohn and Katz both said they didn’t want to see cuts, just wiser and more creative spending to make the most of what the town has. Castle said the town wastes too much and Teaneck needs to cut waste, not services. Brauer said the town’s operating expenses are too high. Gussen would like to look into shared services across towns to minimize administrative costs. Rashin would like to cut the town’s work force and offset that with increased usage of technology. Gussen specifically would like to stop paying the town’s fire department and switch to a volunteer basis. Of the 70 municipalities in Bergen, he said, only six pay their firefighters. Brauer disagreed with Gussen about a shift in the fire department.

In terms of additional funding for some areas, Brauer and Katz both agreed that their needed to be more housing and programming for seniors. Katz and Stern both also want additional funding for youth programs. Sohn would like more funding going toward emergency services. He specifically talked about the Richard Rodda Community Center, the only shelter in town: “It’s our only ark, but can’t quite fit people in two by two.”

Some responses dealing with enhancements and improvements dealt not with the town, but with the council itself. Castle would like to see more accountability on the council; Rashin wants both more back and forth in meetings and “more competent people on council”; Brauer would like to see more long-term planning; Sohn wants budgeting issues to be dealt with in a more timely manner; Gussen wants increased focus on comparing and identifying best practices across the state.

All the candidates were asked why they didn’t vote for a reassessment in 2012 if they were on council and what they would have done if they had been on council. The incumbents present all said the reassessment would have been extremely costly. Castle, Sohn, and Rashin all said that they would have done the reassessment.

Another question dealt with parking, a major concern for Teaneck residents in light of both the large number of commuters who park in Teaneck and the difficulty driving down a street this past winter. Castle, Brauer, and Rashin all said they would be in favor of instituting alternate side parking to help keep streets clear in the event of snow.

Moving off local streets to Route 4, one question raised was that of the potential billboard. Sohn, Castle, and Rashin were all strongly against it; the word ugly came up again and again in their respective statements. Brauer, Gussen, Stern, and Katz would all consider a billboard if the revenue it would bring in would be significant. “I like our green belt,” Katz said. “But I like our residents a lot more.”

One of the final questions asked candidates to discuss the non-partisan nature of the town council and the idea of term limits. All seven candidates in attendance like the fact that the elections are non-partisan. Stern and Katz both said they probably wouldn’t run if elections were partisan; Gussen said, “There is no Republican way to fill a pothole, no Democratic way to plow a street.”

Sohn and Castle both said that, though they like the non-partisan system, it doesn’t work as well as it should. They reminded attendees that Katz and Stern, as Democrats, publically backed Governor Christie in his reelection campaign.

Elections will be held on Tuesday, May 13. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. – 8 p.m.

By Aliza Chasan

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