Radical Orange pulls no punches at forum

Photo by Chris Sykes Orange East Ward Councilman and 2016 mayoral candidate Kerry Coley, left, answers a question from the audience on Monday, April 25, at the Radical Orange mayoral forum as his opponents, former Zoning Board member Janice Morrell, center, and Mayor Dwayne Warren, third from left, observe, along with a moderator, right.

Photo by Chris Sykes
Orange East Ward Councilman and 2016 mayoral candidate Kerry Coley, left, answers a question from the audience on Monday, April 25, at the Radical Orange mayoral forum as his opponents, former Zoning Board member Janice Morrell, center, and Mayor Dwayne Warren, third from left, observe, along with a moderator, right.

ORANGE, NJ — Former Orange Mayor and recent West Orange mayoral candidate Eldridge Hawkins Jr. attended the Radical Orange mayoral forum at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Essex County on Cleveland Street on Monday, April 25, that featured Mayor Dwayne Warren, who is running for a second term of office, as Hawkins was in 2012, when he was defeated by Warren.

East Ward Councilman Kerry Coley and Janice Morrell, who are trying to unseat Warren in the nonpartisan municipal election on Tuesday, May 10, also participated in the forum. Hawkins said there are no sour grapes lingering from his upset to Warren in 2012; he just came to the forum because he still has an interest in Orange.

“I’m not running for office, but a lot of residents have reached out to me, trying to get my opinion on the candidates that are running for office at this time and, while I haven’t given any formal endorsements up to this point, if I’m doing so or considering levying an opinion on the race, I thought it was my responsibility to come out firsthand and evaluate all the candidates one by one and give them all a fair shot,” said Hawkins on Monday, April 25.

“I’m not a resident of Orange, but I do still do business here. I came out to the race to get a good feel for the candidates themselves; see what they had to say, their positions and their platforms, so that if I made the decision to share my thoughts on the race, I could make an informed decision.”

Hawkins acknowledged the perception he was an “outsider,” not a true Orange resident, during his term in office, but he said that was not the case when he served from 2008 to 2012, nor is it now.

“I love this city and the truth of the matter is that the city of Orange gave me my start in politics,” said Hawkins. “So no matter where I go in life, whether it’s to another political office, higher heights in business or public service, Orange was my source. Orange was my foundation. The people of Orange believed in me. We did a lot of things, in terms of dropping crime over 22 percent; bringing in over $100 million in public-private investment; laying the foundation and groundwork for some of the things that are happening now. So I’m proud of what we accomplished and I’m grateful for the opportunity that the city of Orange gave me and I’ll never forget that.”

Hawkins said attending the Radical Orange mayoral forum was the only way to accurately respond to the requests for his opinion that he received from former constituents.

One of those constituents, South Ward resident Karen Wells, said she was glad she attended the forum, but hadn’t heard anything relevant to the current situation regarding economic development in Orange, as she’d hoped.

“My question is this: Why does Orange offer developers (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) at all when they come in here to develop?” asked Wells on Monday, April 25. “These are million-dollar developers. They come in here, you develop, you pay full taxes. If you don’t want to, you go somewhere else. Believe me, there’s others in line.

“Here you are, 2.2 square miles with four train stations and you’re offering PILOT’s?”

Wells remarks were echoed in a question asked by another audience member regarding what the candidates would do to stabilize taxes in the city, if elected. Warren said economic development and redevelopment were the keys to cutting taxes in Orange and reducing the burden on taxpayers. He touted his record of achievement in those areas during his time in office, and pointed to the new combined mixed-use commercial and residential buildings that have sprung up across the city in that time.

Morrell described Warren’s economic development and construction record as “Mickey Mouse” and pointed to all of the PILOT’s, otherwise known as “tax breaks,” mentioned by Wells mentioned. She said what Orange needs is a new master plan and that’s what she would focus on, if elected.

Coley said he believes PILOT’s are bad for Orange, too, but he said focusing on fiscal management and the annual city budget process would be the route he’d take to achieve tax stabilization as mayor.

The question of the night, however, came from the youthful members of the Radical Orange group that organized the forum: What would the candidates do to engage the city’s youth population and bring them into the process of governing the city, regardless of age?

But the Radical Orange members — Patricia Rogers, Briana Hankerson, Brittany Craig, Naeema Campbell, Courtney Sweat and Khemani Gibson — all in their 20s — agreed they were disappointed by the responses from all of the mayoral candidates.

“You have to put it in perspective,” said Hankerson on Monday, April 25. “To them, we are kids. So if they treat us as kids, we might as well use the youth-driven thing to get them to actually listen to us, because the other kids look up to us. Why not use that word?”

Rogers said: “If you’re younger than 40, we’re here to work with you.”

“That was their opportunity to say: ‘We want to listen; We want to know what you have. You have created this platform, you have information; how can we use it?” said Campbell. “But some of the candidates didn’t really capture that. They didn’t invite us in.”

Gibson said that was par for the course in Orange politics, when it comes to engaging young voters.

“That says a lot about how things have been done in Orange traditionally,” said Gibson. “Traditionally, people talked a big game about wanting to involve the youth, but then, the next day, they’re nowhere to be found. It’s not even like two weeks later; the next day, they could see you on the street and walk right by you. It’s fake. It’s pretending to be something you’re not.

“And I think the beauty of this debate was, we forced them into the spotlight and actually commit and say what they thought about us also, to see where the problems lay. No one actually interrogated them or forced them to answer these questions before.”

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