EO candidates prepare as filing deadline approaches

EAST ORANGE, NJ — The deadline for prospective candidates for mayor or the five open ward seats to turn in nominating petitions is Friday, March 31, at 4 p.m. Petitions must be turned in at the office of East Orange city clerk Cynthia Brown in City Hall.

Petitions have been available since Jan. 1. The Democratic primary will be Tuesday, June 6.

As the Record-Transcript went to press this week, two unofficial mayoral candidates and five East Orange City Council candidates have already announced their intentions to run in the primary: City Council President and 3rd Ward Councilman Ted Green and John Thompson for mayor; four incumbents, 1st Ward Councilman Chris James, 2nd Ward Councilman Romal Bullock, 4th Ward Councilwoman Tyshammie Cooper and 5th Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman; and one challenger, East Orange Board of Education President Bergson Leneus. Leneus is running to fill Green’s 3rd Ward seat; if he wins, he will be the city’s first-ever Haitian-American councilman.

“For the 3rd Ward Democratic Committee — Leroy Jones, Lakeisha Bondurant, Councilwoman Quilla Talmadge and Ted Green — to see the potential in me, this young brother with the strong Haitian and Caribbean roots in the community, and to see the potential and to give me the opportunity to run and to be one of the leaders in the 3rd Ward and to be the mouthpiece for the community in the 3rd Ward, is big,” said Leneus on Tuesday, Feb. 21, following Green’s official mayoral candidacy announcement. “It’s big for me, my family and my culture. Progress doesn’t stop; when you stops, that’s when it becomes stagnant and that’s when you see some of the things that you’ve seen in the district and in the community and I can say, with great fervor and with great passion, that we work hard to make sure that progress continues in our communities, in all aspects.”

Leneus said he knows he has big shoes to fill, when it comes to succeeding Green as the 3rd Ward representative, but he’s confident he’s up to the challenge, because “I wear size 13s too,” he said, in reference to his own shoe size. He was originally appointed to the Board of Education by former Mayor Robert Bowser and reappointed by Taylor.

“Councilman Green is known in the community throughout the city of East Orange not only in the 3rd Ward for everything that he does for the seniors, for the youth and just in terms of his policies and programs that he’s instituted, he’s just left big shoes to fill,” Leneus said. “I’m going to work hard every day to fill those shoes and try to exceed everything that he’s done in a positive way. Councilwoman Talmadge has been one of my biggest supporters, giving me advice, as long as I’ve been a public servant, and I know that we’re going to mesh together very well.”

Thompson said he believes the coziness between political insiders such as Leneus and other “Line A Democrats” is part of the reason why East Orange regularly has fiscal deficits and budget shortfalls. The only way to change that, he said, is to “vote your conscience and not your habits.”

“You now have $3,684,634 reasons to do so,” Thompson said, in a recent letter to the Record-Transcript. “As I start my journey on finding ways to keep my promise of reducing taxes for our community, I found a staggering difference between the 2012 budget and the 2016 budget. Salary increases of $3,684,634. Now to some people, that may not seem like a lot, but to a community like ours, this matters. Increasing salaries in the midst of a recession is outright ethically wrong and narrow-minded.”

“How can a government take advantage of its community when cost of living continues to rise and taxes keep going up” Thompson said in his letter. “The City Council salaries went from $49,000 to $67,710 in 2015. This is all public record, so you can find this information online or you can ask them when they’re walking around looking for support for re-election.”

Green also raised concerns about rising taxes, city finances and fiscal accountability and management on Taylor’s watch as mayor, and that’s why he and the majority of his council colleagues voted not to accept the Calendar Year 2017 City Budget the mayor introduced at the council’s regular meeting on Monday, March 13, although it contained a 5-percent tax decrease.

“The East Orange Council voted not to accept the administration’s budget in its current form,” Green said Tuesday, March 21. “We have several questions about the legitimacy of the proposed expenditures, revenue streams and their classifications, which, in its existing state, hampers the authenticity of a real tax decrease. We are the stewards of our great city and its financial well-being, so we could not in good conscience vote to accept the proposed budget as it was presented to us by the mayor.”

Green said the impact of ongoing national and international politics and policies coming out of Washington, D.C., and their likely long-term impact on local finances and fiscal policy also played a big role in the council’s collective decision not to accept Taylor’s fourth and final budget, as it was presented to them on Monday, March 13.

“These times call for thorough planning and conservation. Out of concern for the city’s financial future and the direct impact this budget will have on our citizenry, the council must ensure proper utilization of the budget surplus,” Green said.

But Green added that the governing body’s rejection of the recent budget did not mean it was not willing to work with Taylor to produce an acceptable budget.

“We look forward to the administration’s response to our questions and concerns,” he said, adding, “We all have one goal and that is to serve in a manner that is accountable, sustainable and in the best interest of the citizens of East Orange.”

The four incumbents had announced they were running for re-election last year and, although the deadline for declaring candidacy is March 31, they and Leneus were running unopposed, as of this newspaper’s deadline.