3rd Ward race heating up in East Orange

EAST ORANGE, NJ — Earlier this year, when longtime East Orange 3rd Ward Councilwoman Quilla Talmadge announced she would not seek re-election, she made it clear who she wants to succeed her after more than 20 years of service.

“I am not running for re-election,” said Talmadge on Monday, Feb. 18. “I’m supporting Vernon Pullins.”

Pullins is currently a member of the East Orange Board of Education and is running for Talmadge’s soon-to-be-vacant council seat as part of the Green Team in 2019 ticket, which includes all the incumbent council members, as well as 2nd Ward council candidate Brittany Claybrooks. The Green Team in 2019 has been endorsed by the East Orange Democratic and Essex County Democratic committees, both led by Chairman Leroy Jones.

Pullins is running for public office for the first time on Line 5A, but he’ll have to beat newcomer Chiijike Ndukwu of the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket, who is on Line 5B of the ballot on Tuesday, June 4.

Ndukwu and the majority of challengers are running together on the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket, organized by former East Orange Councilwoman and Essex County Freeholder Carol Clark and former East Orange Councilman and city Code Enforcement Director Dwight Saunders, who are both seeking elected positions at the county level of government. Clark is running for the county register of deeds post currently occupied by former Newark Councilwoman Dana Rone, while Saunders is running for the seat on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders formerly occupied by Freeholder Lebby Jones, and currently held by former Irvington Board of Education President Romaine Graham.

According to Essex County clerk Chris Durkin, Clark is running against Juan M. Rivera of the Essex County Democratic Committee. Saunders is running against Graham.

Republicans Adam Kraemer and Kristina Christoforou are running for county register and Jones’ old Freeholder seat, respectively on the Essex Republican Party Organization ticket.

And 2nd Ward candidate Gerald Georges is running on the Democrats for Progress ticket on Line D, which is also for the candidates running in the Republican primary on the same date.

Pullins said he’s running for Talmadge’s 3rd Ward seat because he wants to help Mayor Ted Green, his potential 3rd Ward council partner Councilman Bergson Leneus and the rest of the governing body to continue the progress that is already under way in East Orange.

“I want to thank the residents of the 3rd Ward for signing my petitions to get me on the ballot,” said Pullins on Tuesday, May 14. “I’m running because I’m passionate about economic growth, wanting to assist with stabilizing and maintaining our tax base and provide continued responsible legislation to support the mayor’s initiatives, and also recreation services for our youth. I also want to continue to support positive legislation to support good government and good corporate citizenship.”

Pullins described himself as a lifelong resident of East Orange; he attended Elmwood Avenue School and graduated from Washington Street School and from East Orange High School with the Class of 1990. He also holds bachelor and law degrees from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from New Jersey City University, which came in handy during his tenure on the East Orange Board of Education.

“I am currently a member of the EOBOE and I’m a former board president,” Pullins said. “I believe the board gives one the acumen to prepare for the City Council. I also believe it’s a great time in the city, it’s a great opportunity to serve the 3rd Ward and the entire city and I’m looking forward to partnering with Bergson Leneus and Mayor Ted Green and the other members of the City Council to offer responsible government and professional leadership.”

Ndukwu said he’s running on the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket to bring progress and visionary leadership to the 3rd ward and the rest of the city.

“I’m an architect and a teacher,” said Ndukwu on Monday, April 22, at the Presidential Heights Civic Association’s 5th Ward Debate. “I have been saying this for a long time, that we need a cap on our property taxes. In 2015, I designed, as part of my master’s degree program in community development … a project that could cap property taxes and find another stream of income that would replace the percentage of property taxes that go to schools and the library. I think that program could still be sampled in East Orange. I think it can be successful.”

Ndukwu said the city needs a responsible City Council and administration that’s willing to adopt and implement his plan and others similar to it, delivering more dividends to East Orange. He said he’s running for the 3rd Ward council seat to bring vision and accountability to the council, and said this seems to be lacking, based on the number of tax abatements and payments in lieu of taxes that the current council and the Green administration are giving away to private developers.

“So what happens is they are giving two things away. First of all, the tax abatement they give is like cash that we will never receive, that we should be receiving, that we are giving away,” Ndukwu said. “Then you’re now buying up the consequences for the taxpayers. That means increasing taxes, because you don’t have revenue coming in. So the residents are losing twice. They are losing in terms of the long-term abatement and they are going to pay more, just to hold their houses.”