NAACP to host Candidates Night Forum on April 7

IRVINGTON, NJ — The Irvington NAACP unit will host a Candidates Night Forum on Thursday, April 7, at 6 p.m. at Greater New Point Baptist Church on Paine Avenue for candidates running in the Irvington Board of Education election Tuesday, April 19, and in the Municipal Council election Tuesday, May 10 election.

Irvington NAACP President Merrick Harris will not be attending the forum in that capacity, however, since he is no longer the elected leader of the NAACP; he said he had to resign once he decided to run for the West Ward council seat against incumbent Vern Cox.

Therefore, Irvington NAACP Vice President Kathleen Witcher is once again leading the local organization, at least until a formal election is held to choose a new president. Meanwhile, Harris said the NAACP is ready to fulfill its traditional role by providing a public forum to find out more about the people running office in the upcoming elections.

According to Municipal Clerk Harold Weiner, the seven ward council candidates and their ballot positions are: Cathy Southerland, 1A, and incumbent Councilman David Lyons, 2A, in the North Ward; Sandy Jones, 1A, and Al-Tariq Shabazz, 2A, in the South Ward; incumbent Councilman Paul Inman, 1A, in the East Ward; and the incumbent Cox, 1A, and Harris, 2A, in the West Ward.

All the incumbents are members of the Team Irvington Strong social and political group or ar affiliated with it. Southerland and Harris are the only independent, unaffiliated candidates running for office this year; the election on Tuesday, May 10, is nonpartisan.

The three incumbents running in the BOE election — Luis Antilus, Joseph Sylvain and Richard Williams — are all members of Team Irvington Strong running unopposed.

“Kathleen Witcher has sent out invitations. I had to step down as president because I’m running for the West Ward Council seat, to avoid any conflicts. So Kathleen Witcher is organizing everything,” said Harris on Tuesday, March 29.

Witcher could not be reached by press time this week for comments about resuming her leadership role within the Irvington NAACP or scheduling the April 7 forum. Harris was willing to elaborate on his decision to challenge Cox on Tuesday, May 10, however, and why he and his supporters felt it was necessary for him to do so at this particular time.

“It was kind of a last-minute decision to run for the West Ward seat,” said Harris on Tuesday, March 29. “I was hoping somebody else would step up, but nobody did, so I stepped up, because I do have some disagreements with the current council and mayor. Pretty much as an independent without a big machine backing me, I’m going to do the best I can to get the information out.”

Cox said the big story in this election, and for the last two years, has been the great job Mayor Tony Vauss and Team Irvington Strong has been doing by making Irvington clean and safe for everyone. He said that’s exactly what they plan to continue doing.

But first, Cox said he needs to get re-elected on Tuesday, May 10, so he can be there to help Vauss and Team Irvington Strong make Irvington better.

“We’re not done yet,” Cox said Monday, March 14, after Weiner held the ballot drawing to determine his and other candidates’ positions on the ballot. “I am 1A in the West Ward and, even though this is a non-partisan election, it is Team Irvington Strong all the way. I’m looking forward to the race and winning and continuing to make progress like we’re making right now and build the town.”

Harris said his main reason for challenging Team Irvington Strong is that, despite the mayor’s assertions that taxes have not increased in town on his watch, the reality is that many property tax bills have increased in the last two years.

Harris said his other major campaign issue regards the municipal budget, or the consistent lack thereof, since Vauss and the current municipal council came into power in 2014.

“Firstly, the main issue is they still haven’t been able to hold the council accountable for the budget,” said Harris. “They still can’t come up with a budget at the beginning of the year, like they are supposed to do since we moved to a calendar year budget schedule. It’s the same problem that I had with the previous administration. It seems like they don’t come up with a budget until the end of the year and, by that time, it’s too late because all of the money is spent.”

Harris said his frustration with the township’s budget process hasn’t blinded him to the many good things Vauss, Cox and the other current council members have done since 2014. But he said there’s still room for improvement in many areas of Irvington and the municipal government and he believes he is the right man to get the job done in the next four years and beyond.

“They’re supposed to have a budget at the start of the year,” said Harris. “Although there have been some improvements in town, they need to continue and I think we can do that once the administration gets it finances in order. And one way to do that is to have a budget they can rely on and live by.”

Harris said although President Barack Obama has popularized the idea of government multitasking, the best way to create lasting change is to focus on specific areas where it’s possible to change things in town for the better. He said Vauss and Cox have done that consistently since taking office, but they haven’t gotten around to doing everything that needs to be done and, based on their apparent list of priorities, Harris and his supporters believe that if he is not elected, they’ll probably never get done.

“There have been some improvements in town under the present administration, but we need to focus on some main things and not try to do everything at once,” Harris said. “We need to focus on keeping people in their homes. We have a lot of seniors now in the town that really just want to live out the rest of their lives in their homes in town. They don’t want to lose their homes due taxes or foreclosures. The town needs to find a way to help them stay in their homes and do something about the home mortgage foreclosure rate.”