ORANGE, NJ — In the Orange Peer Youth Council’s fourth and final debate before the Orange City Council ward election on Tuesday, May 8, incumbent West Ward Councilman Harold Johnson faced off against challenger Mike Scott, but West Ward resident Lydia Baker stole the show at the Orange Public Library on Monday, April 30.
“I live in the West Ward and I attended every single debate,” an emotional Baker stated Monday, April 30. “I understand the purpose of what you guys are doing here and I’m only going to say this once. When it comes time for us to vote, I want you guys to understand that, no matter which one of you gets elected, I want your A-game. I don’t want you coming with any vagaries. When a question is presented to you, I want facts and, if you don’t know the answer, fall back and say: ‘I’ll get back to you in a timely response.’”
Baker, who made an impassioned plea to Johnson and Scott for good government, said that prior to the debate, she had spoken to both candidates separately, asking with them to take their candidacies, the election and their constituents’ issues seriously. But she said that, based on what she heard from both men at the debate, neither complied.
“I sat here and my blood pressure went up,” Baker said. “I need you guys to understand, it’s not just about the office. I want you to be passionate about the West Ward. I want you to be present for those of us that live there. I don’t want you coming here, giving pat responses for the simple questions that were asked. You were supposed to do homework before you got here. Don’t guess. For $30,000 or whatever you get paid, don’t guess.
“I don’t care which one of you gets elected, I’m going to be in your face. I want you to be prepared. I pay my taxes and I want you to be ready for this job and I don’t see that. Be prepared, be present and be respectful. I am demanding that of you. Do you understand what I’m saying? I need a ‘yes.’”
“Lady, I’m doing the job,” Johnson replied.
Scott said he’s ready to become the new West Ward councilman and do all that Baker said has not been done to date.
“I’m ready,” said Scott. “Let’s go.”
But Baker was not convinced by these responses.
“The two of you stood up and you raised your hand and you said, ‘I want to do this.’ The next time I hear from either one of you from a pulpit, I want you to be prepared to answer the questions that we have been asking over and over again for the last four weeks. We’ve asked them at debate after debate and I still haven’t gotten a clear answer,” said Baker. “I left work this afternoon and I drove down here and picked up my husband, had a quick dinner, I wrote my questions down, I came prepared. I did my job. I’m telling you to do your jobs; I’m demanding it.”
Leo Jean-Baptiste, 17, an Orange High School student and member of the Orange Peer Youth Council, which organized the debate and the three others preceding it, said he sympathized with Baker and understood her frustration.
“I think it was great to see the emotion that she brought, because it goes to show that, at the end of the day, this position has the power to affect people’s lives,” said Jean-Baptiste on Monday, April 30. “So people’s lives are at stake and the people that run for these positions need to keep that in mind.”
Tino Stephens, 17, another Orange High School student and member of the Orange Peer Youth Council, said the four-part debate series had been organized specifically for city voters such as Baker. The other members of the council are: Joy Best, 16; Sabainah Ademoji, 17; Jazmine Harris, 17; Maymunah Ahmed, 17; and Michelle Prudent, 17.
“It is because of citizens and voters like her that we organized these debates,” said Stephens on Monday, April 30. “Because we want to give both the citizens and the candidates an opportunity to voice their concerns to each other and have a conversation about it, so that they can make the best choices come election day.”