Councilman questions wisdom of Orange mayor to have impartial debates

ORANGE, NJ — West Ward Councilman Harold L. Johnson is questioning the validity of the debates scheduled for the nine official Orange City Council ward candidates by Mayor Dwayne Warren and the Orange Peer Youth Council.

“These forums are scheduled for 6 o’clock and that’s not a convenient time for everyone that’s running to participate,” said Johnson on Friday, March 30. “Personally, my job keeps me on the road a lot, so I know I won’t be able to make it back home to Orange in time to participate in the West Ward forum that’s scheduled.”

According to an email blast sent almost two weeks ago and fliers advertising the forums, the debates are all scheduled at the Orange Public Library from 6 to 7:30 p.m. ont the following dates: Monday, April 9, for the North Ward; Monday, April 16, for the South Ward; Monday, April 23, for the East Ward; and Monday, April 30, for the West Ward.

Orange City Clerk Joyce Lanier, who conducted the drawing for ballot positions on Wednesday, March 14, said the candidates will appear as follows: In the West Ward, Michael Scott on line 1A, Johnson on line 2A, and former Councilman Hassan Abdul-Rasheed on line 3A; in the South Ward, Brandon Matthews on line 1A and Councilwoman Jamie Summers-Johnson on line 2A; in the North Ward, Councilwoman Tency Eason on line 1A and Sharief Williams on line 2A; and in the East Ward, Councilman and City Council President Kerry Coley on line 1A and challenger Dawan Alford on line 2A.

Johnson said he would prefer to see independent organizations — such as the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP, the United Clergy of the Oranges or the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board — host debates and forums.

Neither Warren nor any spokesperson for his administration responded to requests for comment by press time this week.

Orange Peer Youth Council member Louis Copeland said Johnson’s debate concerns are unwarranted, adding that his group is known for writing and introducing an ordinance prohibiting the products containing dextromethorphan to people younger than 18; hosting a Drug Prevention Conference in March 2016; organizing the Opioid Awareness Campaign 2017; hosting a Drug Prevention Conference in March 2017; and scheduling a drug prevention conference in May and “engaging other municipalities to participate.”

Johnson said this did not allay his concerns.

“I’ve never heard of a sitting mayor working with a third party to host a debate in an election … Heck, I might as well organize my own debate or forum in the West Ward and invite all my neighbors, friends and supporters to come out, if that’s what we’re calling a debate nowadays.”

Johnson said he hopes other organizations will host forums so Orange voters have a chance to learn more about the candidates running for the four ward seats in the upcoming election. But members of two of such organizations said he might be hoping in vain.

“A final decision has not yet been made,” about a debate, Oranges-Maplewood NAACP President Tom Puryear said Tuesday, April 3. “More information soon.”

The Rev. Anthony Johnson of the the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board was more definitive.

“The committee is not hosting events for the council election,” the minister said Tuesday, April 3.

But those remarks didn’t deter Councilman Johnson.

“I guess I’ve got to do what I’ve gotta do,” he said. “I don’t mind getting out there and doing what I have to do to get elected. I’ve done it before.”