ORANGE, NJ — The United Clergy of the Oranges hosted a Candidates Night Forum at Orange United Methodist Church on Wednesday, April 6, for the three mayoral candidates vying for Orange’s top elected office in the nonpartisan municipal election Tuesday, May 10.
Incumbent Mayor Dwayne Warren squared off against former Zoning Board member Janice Morrell and East Ward Councilman Kerry Coley at the forum moderated by the Rev. Stephen Webb of New Life Christian Church in Bloomfield. The three candidates had the opportunity to introduce themselves and discuss their reasons for running.
The three also fielded a variety of questions the audience had submitted on cards at the forum’s outset on topics such as public safety; how they would attract new businesses to Orange; how they would prevent seniors from feeling neglected; youth programs and activities; how they would address the homeless situation in Orange; how they would improve the Board of Education; managing and maintaining the city budget and finances, and more.
The three candidates took turns answering questions but, by the forum’s end, some members of the audience said they were less than satisfied.
“I heard about seniors and crime and all kinds of things, but what about the people that are financing all of this; those of us sitting up here paying $20,000 in taxes?” asked South Ward resident Karen Wells on Wednesday, April 6. “What are my services? I don’t have a train station that’s open. I don’t have a van that gets me to the train station. I don’t have a place I can shop. I don’t have a supermarket. What are we going to do about that?”
Wells said she gets very few services, despite her high taxes.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Wells. “Every day if I’m in Orange it’s because I’m home (otherwise) I am in South Orange. I bank in South Orange; I do dry cleaning in South Orange; I get my hair done in South Orange; I get my nails done in South Orange; I go to yoga in South Orange; and I eat in South Orange, because there’s no place for me to do any of that in Orange. If I’m in Orange, I’m at one of the Italian restaurants or I’m home. I’m either on Mechanic Street and Lincoln Avenue or I’m in the Valley at Valley Arts.”
Wells said she would like to have heard something substantive from any of the three candidates participating in the forum but that didn’t happen.
“Other towns have what they call Business Improvement Districts,” said Wells. “They’ve tried to do that here in Orange and somehow they can’t figure (it out). That’s real easy — just go to one of the neighboring towns who has that all set up; get the information from them. They talked about the water. All they’ve got to do is get the South Orange contract. Just change the name. It’s a wonderful piece of legislation.”
Katalin Gordon resides in Orange. She said she came to the forum hoping, as Wells did, to get some of her questions about pressing issues answered by the candidates.
Gordon, however, said she didn’t find what she had been looking for at the forum.
“I talk about what I want at every other meeting; if the public wants to know what I think, just listen,” said Gordon on Wednesday, April 6. “I heard bits and pieces that pleased me at the forum, but altogether, there was not much.”
“I would like to see a Candidates Night forum for the City Council, more so than for the mayor’s office,” said Gordon. “For me, just like Karen, it is the City Council that actually runs the city, so it’s more important what they say and what they know.”
Kim Simpkins-Jones, a lifelong Orange resident and Orange High School graduate, said she knows the history of Orange and didn’t hear anything good at the forum, especially from Warren.
“I listened to a mayor tonight talk about recreation and how ‘Orange has more recreation today than ever before,’ and that’s a lie,” said Simpkins-Jones on Wednesday, April 6. “When I say we had recreation and it was free, we had a white Y and a black Y. There was an endowment for the YWCA on Main Street right now. Where’s the endowment? Where’s the money?”
The Rev. Al Platt, pastor of Nia Baptist Church in West Orange and president of the United Clergy of the Oranges, organized the forum, along with UCOO Vice President Pastor Damon Gilyard Sr. of Corinthian Baptist Church in Jersey City; Pastor Stephen Webb of New Life Christian Church in Bloomfield; and Pastor Prescott Butler, who hosted the mayoral forum at Orange United Methodist Church. Platt said the clergy members are open to the idea of hosting another Candidates Night forum, specifically for the 13 City Council candidates running in the nonpartisan municipal election Tuesday, May 10.
“Tonight, we are connecting with our mission and our mission is to keep the community aware of what’s going on so that they can have the knowledge base when they go in to vote,” said Platt on Wednesday, April 6. “It’s important for them and for them to demand to have a moral conscience, one that’s going to serve them in a way that’s beneficial to the community and one that’s going to serve them with integrity. And tonight we put three people out there without representing any one of them, without us promoting any one person, but letting the people decide for themselves. And from what I heard tonight, most of the people were happy that they got a chance to see that.”