13 candidates run for four open city council seats in Orange

ORANGE, NJ — For the May 10 election, there are four ward seats open on the Orange City Council. Thirteen candidates are running for office, all divided based on the ward they represent. Three of the four incumbents are running for reelection.

In the North Ward, the candidates are Council Vice President Tency Eason and challengers Sharief Williams and Kami Willis. Council President Kerry Coley is running to keep his East Ward seat on the council against challengers Tyrone Tarver and Fatimah Turner.

In Orange’s West Ward, current Councilman Harold Johnson has decided not to run for another term. There are four people running for the seat: Jonathan Beckford, Quantavia Hilbert, Genora Jenkins and Mohamed Toure. Jamie Summers-Johnson is running to keep the seat she holds in the South Ward against challengers Lynval James and James Ward.

“I am running for reelection because I want to continue to serve the people of Orange. When I joined the U.S. Army in 1982, it sparked my desire to serve, and I’ve been serving my country and community since then,” Coley said in an email to the Record-Transcript on April 10. “I proudly served on the Orange Police Department until my retirement in June 2014. During my years at the Orange Police Department, I also served on the Orange Housing Authority Board of Commissioners for over 10 years. Since 1995 I have been an active member and trustee of one of the oldest churches in Orange — Bethel Baptist Church. Upon my retirement from the Orange Police Department, I was sworn into the Orange City Council after winning my first City Council election. Everything that I had done up to that point prepared me in some way for the city council. Looking back to 1982, I would have never imagined that I would still be serving my community. Today, my spark and desire to serve is even stronger now than it was years ago.”

In an April 10 email, Ward said one of his top priorities would be to order a forensic audit of the city’s finances to set a baseline of data for correcting municipal spending. Under the umbrella of establishing standards for construction and renovation projects, Ward wants to build prewiring for solar paneling and electric vehicle charging. He also mentioned reopening the Orange Recreation Center as a goal.

“I want to reimagine the city of Orange and to reform Orange with responsible use of taxpayer funds tethered to innovative technological solutions,” Ward said. “We need to remove slush funds from the city budget, maximizing alternative revenue streams, unifying online resources with mobile-ready accurate and useful information, while attracting responsible development that supports existing residents’ needs and encouraging diverse commercial opportunities.”

Tarver’s immediate goal, if he wins the East Ward seat on the council, is to stabilize taxes and stem spending in the upcoming 2022 budget.

“Property tax dollars and rent paid by Orange residents, coupled with the lack of increased services, is unsustainable for longtime and new residents,” he said in an April 12 email. “People have invested in their homes to live life, raise families and ultimately retire, only to now have to consider relocating due to poor decisions by the city council and mayor. Irresponsible redevelopment within Orange is rampant. Our tax dollars should not be used to buoy developers by lessening their tax burden to the city and school system while being given 30-year tax abatements.”

A former member of the Orange Board of Education, Tarver said he wants to share revenue from redeveloper Payments in Lieu of Taxes with the Orange School District to account for the children of new renters in town.

“There are many other tasks that have to be tackled, such as maximizing revenue, repairing our roads, protecting our residents by improving road conditions during the winter months,” Tarver said. “But without honest and proven leadership who has the experience and knowledge to effect immediate change via our budgeting process, none of the very possible changes that I have outlined will come to be.”

Summers-Johnson spoke about street improvements and community development in an April 12 email to the Record-Transcript. As the council member from the South Ward, she has advocated for her section of town.

“I have dedicated my talents to community development. As chairwoman of the city council’s Housing and Business Development Committee, I demanded that projects in the South Ward generate revenue and community benefits,” Summers-Johnson said. “I successfully collaborated with the Orange Police Department to establish walking patrols and new community policing equipment for the ward. Due to my advocacy, the city is pursuing improvement projects in commercial corridors and the Highland Avenue train station. I have also supported miles of street and sidewalk improvements in South Ward neighborhoods that will continue in the spring.”

Summers-Johnson also cited her successes during the COVID-19 pandemic as reasons for her decision to run for reelection this year.

“My work linked county and state resources to those most vulnerable to the health crisis. I pushed for state resources to help Heywood Avenue and Forest Street schools receive equipment to protect against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Running in the East Ward, Turner said there has been stagnation in the leadership of the ward, and she wants to address quality-of-life issues in her part of Orange.

“Rats are so pervasive in our community that you see them regularly in broad daylight. Despite the robust housing market, where homes are being purchased in other wards for record amounts, our ward is still plagued by abandoned structures that have existed in their derelict state for years,” she said in an April 12 email.

Turner is currently a member of the Orange Board of Education and is an assistant principal at a school in Jersey City. Focusing on youth programming and services for senior citizens are among her priorities for if she is elected.

“I fully accepted my duty to serve as a mentor and leader for at-risk youth in underserved communities and noticed a history of challenges that were not being addressed with the families that I served,” she said. “During COVID, I began to get inundated with calls from the seniors in our community. The East Ward houses most of our city’s seniors, and there were no programs in place for them, so I launched an initiative to bring food to seniors and provide them free counseling, a service I have continued to this day.”

Beckford cited economic and business development, housing renewal, and school performance as important issues that made him want to run for the open seat in the West Ward. He wants to redevelop the NJ Transit train station in Orange and stimulate businesses in town, as well as improve signage and lighting on Main Street.

“It may sound cliche, but there will be no hidden agendas, no stepping-stone resume, no games,” Beckford said in an April 12 email. “I have heard from the overlooked restaurant owner, the homeowner burdened by property taxes, the tenant upset by unmet repairs with escalating rents and other challenges, and parents looking for programs and activities for their children.”

Beckford wants to advocate for stricter code enforcement, affordable rents, stable property taxes and homebuying programs. In the school district, he wants to see entrepreneurial and financial literacy curriculum implemented, expanded after-school programs, and elevated core curriculum education.

“A steady hand gives a customer-oriented approach with efficiency, timeliness and fairness for the various constituents,” he said.

The other candidates did not return a request for comment by press time on April 12. The election is on May 10; the last day to register to vote is on April 19, when the city clerk’s office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.