Irvington Strong Incumbents square off against independent challengers

Photo by Chris Sykes South Ward Municipal Council candidate Al-Tariq Shabazz, center, speaks to the audience at the Irvington NAACP unit's Candidates Night Forum on Thursday, April 7, as North Ward Councilman David Lyons, left, and Candy Southerland, the daughter of his erstwhile opponent Cathy Southerland, right, listen.
Photo by Chris Sykes
South Ward Municipal Council candidate Al-Tariq Shabazz, center, speaks to the audience at the Irvington NAACP unit’s Candidates Night Forum on Thursday, April 7, as North Ward Councilman David Lyons, left, and Candy Southerland, the daughter of his erstwhile opponent Cathy Southerland, right, listen.

IRVINGTON, NJ — When Irvington residents go to the polls Tuesday, May 10, to choose who will fill the four available ward seats on the Municipal Council, they will be choosing between three independent challengers and the four incumbents backed by Mayor Tony Vauss and Team Irvington Strong.

Team Irvington Strong is backing North Ward Councilman David Lyons, South Ward Councilwoman Sandy Jones, East Ward Councilman Paul Inman and West Ward Councilman Vern Cox.

Inman is running unopposed. The other three incumbents each face a single challenger. Lyons is being challenged by Kathy Southerland; Jones is being challenged by former 2014 at large council candidate Al-Tariq Shabazz; and Cox is facing Irvington NAACP and Rotary Club President Merrick Harris.

Vauss said he hopes the relative lack of challengers, compared to the crowded field in 2014, is a good sign for this year’s races. He said it would have been nice if the Team Irvington Strong candidates were running for re-election uncontested, as in the Board of Education election Tuesday, April 19. That slate of incumbents, including Richard Williams, Joe Sylvain and Luis Antilus, was backed by Team Irvington Strong.

“Hopefully, I think it means that people appreciate the work that we’re doing and that they see that they really have people out here trying to make Irvington better,” said Vauss on Saturday, March 5. “I think the council members that are up for re-election have done such a tremendous job and I think you judge a person’s character by the work that he or she does and they’ve done some tremendous work over the past two years and we’re just looking forward to the challenge.”

Shabazz said the problem in Irvington is that too many people march to the beat of the mayor’s drum. He said he’s running for the South Ward council seat because the town needs some diversity of thought.

“That’s what we see from the incumbents at this debate; it’s that they don’t have an agenda,” Shabazz said on Thursday, April 7. “They continuously talked about the mayor’s agenda, but they didn’t say how they are representing their constituents and things that their constituents told them that they want addressed. The council must be independent of the mayor’s office. That’s why they have separate elections, right? You can vote for the council; you can vote for the mayor.”

Shabazz said the municipal election on Tuesday, May 10, is about voting for the council, not the mayor, and he believes he has a good chance to unseat Jones.

“We want to know what agenda has the council developed when they talked to the residents in their ward, not simply carrying out the political agenda of the mayor. That’s not what this is about. You work with him, not for him,” said Shabazz. “They’ve got their voting block, so we understand that the majority of people are not engaged here. Out of 8,400 registered voters here, you win this election with about 500 votes. So you can’t tell me that there’s participation. That’s less than 10 percent.”

Shabazz said voter participation in Irvington is a farce, but he said he plans to use that to his advantage.

“In the last election, I got 1,105 votes,” said Shabazz. “My name was in the middle of the ballot, B-16 un-bracketed, and we still did what we do because we knocked on doors; we talked to people. So now this is a much smaller area to cover, so I think we have a very good chance.”

Harris said he’s counting on his ties to the Irvington community and his record of service on the Board of Education and with organizations such as the NAACP and the Rotary Club to bring him victory on May 10. He said he’s running “pretty much as an independent, without a big machine backing me.”

“Firstly, the main issue is they still haven’t been able to hold the council accountable for the budget,” said Harris on Tuesday, March 29. “They still can’t come up with a budget at the beginning of the year like they are supposed to do, since we moved to a calendar year budget schedule. It’s the same problem that I had with the previous administration. It seems like they don’t come up with a budget until the end of the year and, by that time, it’s too late, because all of the money is spent.”

Harris said his frustration with the township’s budget process hasn’t blinded him to the many good things Vauss, Cox and the other current council members have done since 2014. But he said there’s still room for improvement and he believes he is the right man to get the jobs done that need to be done in the next four years.

“Although there have been some improvements in town, they need to continue and I think we can do that, once the administration gets it finances in order. And one way to do that is to have a budget they can rely on and live by.”

Southerland is involved in the ongoing effort to recall Vauss along with Irvington Joint Block Association Coalition President Elouise McDaniel and Orange Avenue and Oakland Avenue Block Association President Dee Fuqua. She did not participate in the Irvington NAACP’s Candidates Night forum on Thursday, april 7, due to a “family emergency,” but her daughter stood in for her and read a list of prepared answers and statements about why her mother decided to run for office against such overwhelming odds, against Lyons and his Team Irvington Strong supporters.

“I’m running for office because I believe that the citizens of Irvington deserve better services,” said Southerland on Tuesday, May 3. “I believe the current council is more for themselves, politically, than they are for the citizens. They make ordinances to not just increase their salaries but double them, at the same time they have cut the senior services budget and they have refinanced bonds to pay for it. Those are all things they did for themselves, not for the citizens. So I believe that the citizens need council people that are going to fight for their constituents’ rights, not their own rights.”