NJ Together action/mayoral forum

Last night, over 1100 church members, tenants’ rights groups, JC activists, and their guests packed the theater at NJCU for the NJ Together/JC Together annual “action” – a mix of their yearly meeting to discuss their successes and priorities, and a time when they call upon elected and appointed officials to commit to work with them on various causes they champion. The last time the group had their annual action, things got pretty spicy, with Mayor Fulop being called out repeatedly (and on widely circulated video) by Rev. Perry for delaying the reval and perceived economic injustices in the city.

This year – with the election about a month away and both candidates invited to the action – expectations were super high about what was going to happen. The meeting was largely shrouded in secret (I volunteered a bit to help with the setup, and even I had very little clue as to what was going to happen) but hotly anticipated. As I watched the crowd file in, I was amazed – it seemed that every single elected official in JC and candidate for office was in attendance, neatly spread out throughout the theater and each assigned to sit with a different congregation according to JC Together’s fastidiously planned seating arrangements. On stage, the two candidates – Steve Fulop and Bill Matsikoudis – were separated on opposite sides of the stage like two Siamese fighting fish (seriously, this is the image that came to mind) with a packed row of religious leaders separating them. The rumor was that the organization was going to unleash a “surprise” and there was a lot of nervous chatter as to what on earth that was going to be.

This blog post could easily go on for a year if I recapped everything that happened at this jam-packed meeting (including but not limited to: gospel music, multiple prayers in multiple faiths, and so much more), so I’ll just try to hit the highlights.

The candidates were asked to commit to affordable housing and safe streets (as in crime reduction). I filmed their answers. First up, Matsikoudis:

Response by Fulop:

Ok. Later, one of my favorite people, Pastor Willie Keaton talked about the importance of clearing outstanding warrants for people who had them for minor things (traffic tickets, failure to appear in court), and got a commitment from Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez to book two days in May to meet with people and help them through that process. So that’s really great.

Meanwhile, the big secret is still coming.

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Rev. Alonzo Perry took the podium and started talking about the Bayfront development and a second cleanup site in Bergen-Lafayette, which I’ve written about before. He stressed the need for affordable housing in JC and that JC Together was pushing for affordable home ownership on the site. It was compared to a similar site in East Brooklyn which has successfully built affordable housing in the midst of a very robust market.

As I’m sitting there, I’m thinking – “ok, this is all very good, but that’s a long damn commute to JSQ/NYC and how on earth are all these people supposed to get to their jobs without dumping hundreds/thousands more cars on our streets which are already completely snarled with traffic, or overloading our public transportation system that is barely chugging along already?”

Enter: the surprise. It’s at about the 12 minute mark on this video:

(My phone started dying around now so I’ll try and fill in what I couldn’t catch because I spent so much of my battery life taking videos of the awesome gospel singers earlier.) There is a THIRD site being developed, across the Hackensack, in Kearny. It’s directly across from Bayfront. And the point of this site is to build a commercial corridor (not more residential) with businesses and light manufacturing. They’ve already attracted a number of small businesses and are continuing to grow it – and the idea is that the Kearny site would have to jobs that the people in Bayfront and Bergen-Lafayette would be commuting to (via a “five minute ferry ride”). My interpretation is that they’re trying to build a whole middle class enclave here – jobs nearby, affordable homes, easy commute – that can exist where no such thing exists currently. It’s almost like building a company town within a city, except instead of there being one huge employer, there’s many smaller companies.

Ok, on the surface, this is pure genius, total urban planning at its very best. It sounds like a model for the kind of thing that can actually save this country and its loss of jobs and housing crisis and so many inter-related problems. But, I have some questions. I’m concerned about actually attracting the right kinds of businesses to Kearny and getting everything to line up. Like – there is no ferry; what does a ferry cost? That’s a very minor point in the grand scheme of things, but it’s one concrete question I have out of many. I want this to work and I’m stunned and inspired that NJ/JC Together even got this far and were this ambitious in putting together such a plan. I desperately want this to work. Please work. Please don’t get mired in bullshit NJ politics and poor management and weighed down by a thousand little things where it never happens. Please please please work.

After the presentation above, Mayor Fulop was called to come to the podium and asked if he supports the plan. He answered an enthusiastic YES and the crowd cheered. This felt a little weird to me for two reasons: 1. Matsikoudis wasn’t asked the same thing, which seemed unfair given he was sitting right there and also running for mayor; and 2. What the hell else was Fulop going to say in that situation? And I think we all know that when a politician running for office says “yes” about something, there’s a thousand nuances that can be added later, so the lack of specificity in what he was being asked felt a little off. But I also get that there were dozens of cell phones in the air filming the commitment, and the idea is to hold him to that YES as much as possible, should he be elected.

So I had some misgivings about that one particular moment. But the overall meeting was just stunning as an example of what a small grassroots organization can accomplish, and we potentially have an absolute marvel of urban planning waiting to happen in our part of Jersey City. In two short years, NJ Together has really made a name for themselves as a leader in our community in fighting for progressive values around a number of issues, and I can’t overstate how impressed I am with the tireless work they’ve done. As always with these things, there’s so much work still to do, and I just hope it all goes as planned.

 

Interview with the candidates for Ward B council

Election season is upon us, and now that everyone’s petitions have been turned in and ballot positions decided, we can officially say that Ward B has three candidates: the incumbent Chris Gadsden, Mira Prinz-Arey, and Jessica Hellinger.

If you feel like we just went through this election stuff very recently, we did: after councilman Chico Ramchal had to step down during the spring, Mayor Fulop appointed John Hallanan III to be our council rep. Then, Hallanan faced Gadsden in a special election in November 2016, and Gadsden won a surprise victory. Now we’ve come to the regular election, and these are our three candidates. Gadsden is a Vice-Principal at Lincoln High School (and on the slate of Bill Matsikoudis); Prinz-Arey is the Development and Special Projects Coordinator at a local non-profit (and on the slate of Mayor Steve Fulop); Jessica Hellinger is a mortgage specialist who is running independent.

I sent all the candidates the questions below and the had ten days to respond. I promised them that their answers would be printed verbatim (and they are, except for a couple of obvious typos which I corrected). Absolutely no edits have been made to their statements that would affect the substance of what they’re saying. Chris Gadsden’s responses are in blue; Mira Prinz-Arey’s are in green; Jessica Hellinger’s are in deep red – all of which I hope will make reading and differentiating easier. I’m letting Gadsden respond first to the first question out of respect for him being the incumbent; we’ll switch out and let everyone have a chance at the first spot as we go forward with the questions.

Without further ado, here is our interview!


Question #1: Policing

Many people in our community have called for increased foot patrols and police presence in response to crime in our area. However, in a May 10, 2017 interview with the Gothic Times[1] (the NJCU student paper), Mayor Fulop spoke out against these tactics, stating, “Having more officers on foot in the streets could make you feel safe but they don’t have the same response time as officers in vehicles. Also, any ‘bad guy’ can see the officers and just move on to the next street.

Do you agree with the Mayor’s assessment? As a councilmember, would you advocate for increased foot patrols? If not, what kinds of measures would you like to see implemented in order to assure safety in our Ward?

Chris Gadsden: I agree with the Mayor to a degree. The West District is the second busiest precinct in the state of New Jersey it’s a bit difficult for officers to be on foot

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Councilman Chris L. Gadsden

throughout the ward. So that’s why when I meet with the Captains in both the South and the West Districts and we talk about deployment of walking patrols in the hot spots in the ward to combat the drug selling, gangs, harassment of residents, loitering, etc.. in areas of Lexington, Union, and Bergen, Clinton Avenue, Duncan Avenue, Belmont and Gifford, and Marion Projects. Having patrols on the ground in these area help us gain intelligence on who the major players are who are damaging the quality of life we need to enjoy in the ward and provides security to the residents because they love the police presence in the area. I ask that we be strategic in our approach in policing because I do not want to sacrifice the responsiveness to the residents in a ward that stretches from Carbon Place to Broadway.

I am in support of a community policing philosophy emphasizes that police officers work closely with local citizens and community agencies in designing and implementing a variety of crime prevention strategies and problem-solving measures. We have to rely upon community-based crime prevention by utilizing civilian education, neighborhood watch, and a variety of other techniques, as opposed to relying solely on police patrols.  We have to re-structure patrol from an emergency response based system to emphasizing proactive techniques such as foot patrol.

In our more violent prone communities, I am a proponent of the Cure Violence Model. The Cure Violence model trains and deploys outreach workers and violence interrupters to mitigate conflict on the street before it turns violent. These interrupters are credible messengers, trusted members of the communities served, who use their street credibility to model and teach community members better ways of communicating with each other and how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

Mira Prinz-Arey: I believe that community policing should include both foot and car patrol. Foot patrols are a good deterrent for crime and allows the officers to get to know

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Mira Prinz-Arey

the residents on their beat. Response time is also critical for the safety of residents and to ensure that criminals are caught and brought to justice. Police on foot and in cars is the best combination for public safety.  

The Mayor has been out front on public safety issues, from the hiring of 250 new officers and leading on minority recruitment to reflect the city’s to making sure their ranks are as diverse as the community they serve. I fully support a police force that is focused on community policing and uses a data-driven approach to targeting crime. The WOTS app will also be a great tool for residents and police officers alike.

Over the course of the next four years, the administration will continue to be aggressive and I will partner with them and the West and South districts on many issues including public safety issues to help better Ward B. 

Jessica Hellinger: My view on community policing differs significantly from that of the sitting Mayor. As a lifelong resident of Ward B, I can remember a time when community

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Jessica Hellinger

policing was the norm. Officers knew the names of neighborhood children and spent time getting to know the residents of the areas they patrolled. In order for the community and law enforcement to begin to work together for the good of the community, there needs to be a level of respect that can only come from one on one communication. The Mayor’s new campaign ad touts the over 250 new officers added to the JCPD. These officers should be on the beat, learning about the issues in the neighborhoods they patrol that need to be monitored and addressed. This cannot be done from the inside of a patrol car. The uptick in violence that we have seen in certain parts of the city is a direct reflection of law enforcements inability to connect with those they are charged to protect. Without empathy there can be no understanding and without understanding, chaos will continue to be the norm in our most poverty stricken areas.

Question #2: Economic development

Residential property values have risen steeply in Ward B over the last five years. At the same time, commercial development along West Side Avenue, Kennedy Boulevard, Communipaw Avenue, and Bergen Avenue – our commercial corridor – has lagged. Few new businesses have opened, and the neighborhood still lacks in the ability to shop locally for its basic needs. What initiatives would you like to see implemented to encourage development? How would you encourage businesses to invest in the West Side? As a sitting member of our council, what resolutions would you introduce to bring commercial enterprises to Ward B?

Mira Prinz-Arey: As a community leader I have worked on projects like the Best Side Festival, the Farmers Market at Lincoln Park, and Lincoln Park Live. In planning these events we made it a priority to ask local merchants and artists to participate. They benefit from the day of event business, and these projects are an affordable way for small businesses and entrepreneurs to establish themselves in our community.

The West Side Community Alliance has been working on the creation of an Special Improvement District for our commercial corridor. As a member of the WSCA leadership (I am currently on a leave of absence from the board of directors) we have have been working with local businesses, appropriate city agencies, and council members to build support for this project. In advance of the SID we can identify business leaders to create a West Side Merchants Association. 

In October of 2016, the administration and then Councilman John Hallanan introduced an ordinance for a West Side restaurant overlay, which is a good first step in the creation of a ‘Restaurant Row’ and help spur the local economy here.  Since the start of the administration, there have been over 500 small businesses created and an effort to push development away from the waterfront.  I agree that we need restaurant overlay legislation to help spur development here and I would work with the administration to push that forward.  I would also work with the administration to ensure that all small businesses are a priority, and work closely with the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation to provide support and workshops for local businesses. 

The Fulop administration has been aggressive in assisting small business growth across the city.  The city has expedited approvals and permits by transforming the building department, announcing a $10 million loan program to help secure financing for locally owned businesses, and launching a Small Business Navigator online tool to assist aspiring entrepreneurs. These are just some of the tools small businesses need to succeed here in ward b, and I look forward to working with the administration to help our businesses thrive.

Walkability is a big factor in creating successful commercial corridors in cities. I would like to introduce greening initiatives for West Side Ave, including planting trees along the avenue and adding additional garbage receptacles. I would take information from the SID viability survey that suggests lower and brighter street lighting our commercial corridor.

Jessica Hellinger: As a sitting member of the council, I would work on resolutions to offer incentives and grants for business owners to encourage and foster development of sustainable small business in the ward.

Chris GadsdenOver the past 50 years, the south side of Jersey City has faced economic disinvestment, deindustrialization, suburban flight, redlining and a declining tax base. As a consequence, our communities have been ravaged by under and unemployment, poorly performing schools, gentrification, and growing inequality. Many residents of our communities are relegated to low wage, service sector work in jobs that offer few opportunities for workplace democracy and collective decision­ making.

 We need to ensure that residents have a stake in the redevelopment in our ward such as the NJCU West Campus, Bayfront, Droyers Point, Waters Street, Route 440-Culver, and Hackensack River Edge Redevelopment Plans. I am in support of the West Side Community Alliance’s effort in creating the West Side Special Improvement District that will commit businesses to the process of economic and business improvements.

The businesses that should open should reflect the overall needs of the community. I love the idea of Esther Wintner, in designating West Side Avenue and parts of Bergen Avenue as a University District, tapping into the strength of the ward being draped by the two NJCU and St. Peter’s University. Modeled after what Rutgers has done with the downtown area of New Brunswick, this would allow our ward to have increase visibility as an area that values education and encourages businesses and developers to invest. One on the things that I would like to do in my full term on the council is help with the creation of more municipal parking along West Side. This would assist with encouraging higher end, family-oriented, sit down restaurants to open up along the West Side.

 

Question #3: Abatements

Under the Fulop administration – and his majority on the city council – 70 tax abatements have been voted in and approved. These include low-income housing as well as market-rate housing, in all wards, with many of them in Ward E (downtown). Do you agree that abatements still need to be offered to all Wards to encourage development? Would you vote for an abatement for market-rate housing in Ward E? What about in Ward B? How would you approach this issue?

Jessica Hellinger: No, I do not agree that tax abatements are necessary to encourage development in Jersey City. Thanks to the overwhelming development in Ward E, the city has become one of the most sought after places to live in the US. In additional we have also been given a national spotlight when highlighted as the most diverse city in the country. Multi-decade tax abatements do not offer any advantages for the community at large. When multiunit dwellings are erected and required only to pay an annual fee of a few thousand dollars and no taxes while private homeowners are struggling to keep their property taxes paid, the community suffers. More development means more people who will require more resources. Schools, for instance, are already overcrowded. Taxes from new developments should be assessed and used to fund public school expansion and growth, after school programs and recreation to keep children safe and off of the streets. I would not vote for multi-decade abatements in any ward. A simple review of the data and raw numbers would give the community an opportunity to see what is truly being accomplished with the abatements and just how much revenue the city loses on these deals.

Chris GadsdenAbatements are a double-edged sword. As councilman, I have to ensure that the community get something out of the deal. Abatements are an incentive to the developer to develop. Abatements also, rob the city of the full amount of tax revenue it should receive. With the JCPS returning back to local control, and the property revaluation taking place we have to relieve residents of the additional burdens of increased taxation.

When I vote for an abatement, I have to be ensured that affordability is built into the project, the developer has a history of employing Jersey City residents, minorities, and women, will utilize businesses in Jersey City, parking issues are address, fund the Jersey City Public Schools, and give back to the community.

 With development occurring in McGinley Square, Bayfront, NJCU, and Water Street we have to monitored the who and how development is taken place. I am not going to vote for a long term abatement for market rate housing in Ward E, but I will for Ward B if the project meets the previously mentioned conditions.

Mira Prinz-Arey: I would be in favor of anything that helps the ward and that moves Jersey City forward.  It’s no secret that the past 30 years has seen downtown and the waterfront get stronger and see incredible development.  In the past four years however, the focus has been away from the waterfront and all across the city.  I would partner with the administration to do everything I can to move the ward forward and any projects that would be beneficial to Ward B.  I will also work with my fellow council persons and listen to their thoughts on abatements within their respective wards. I will consider each abatement request carefully, as there is no “one size fits all” for development projects. 

Question #4: Bayfront

The as-yet-to-be-developed Bayfront site offers 100 acres of development near Ward B, and has been envisioned as everything as an Orthodox Jewish enclave [2] to a site of affordable housing. [3] What would you like to see go in that site? How would you like to see that site develop to help our community as a whole? How would you support the infrastructure of Ward B such that the site can grow and develop without hurting current residents?

Chris GadsdenAs mentioned on Jersey Digs, Bayfront has been mired in cleanup, controversy, and leadership quicksand–no one has emerged as a front-runner to advance the development beyond the rendering stage. It’s supposed to be a “bustling urban center with new apartments, office space, retail, public parks, and even a train station, but after years of clean-up and plans, Bayfront remains a rendering and there doesn’t seem to be a developer in sight who can turn it into reality.”

I would like to see the original plan for Bayfront to come into fruition. It’s important that the affordable housing opportunities are relieved in the Bayfront project because in Jersey City, the majority of the affordable housing stock is in Ward A and F. We need more balanced housing options in Ward B. The Bayfront project also give the community more options to expand entrepreneurship and job creation opportunities for residents of Jersey City. We also need to encourage more retail and chain stores to come to area to provide residents with places to shop and gain employment.

Mira Prinz-AreyI would like to see the site have open space, mixed commercial and residential units, as well as entertainment venues like a movie or music theater. I think it’s important that affordable housing is also part of the mix. I would also like to work with NJ Transit to expand the light rail and bus routes.  It’s important to see growth in Jersey City and especially on the West Side.  As stated above, I would do anything that helps and not hurts the ward.  

Jessica HellingerThe site is the perfect opportunity to erect a Live, Work, Play development. This not only allows small business to claim their stake in our great city, but it also would give life to an underdeveloped part of Jersey City adding housing, shopping and businesses to benefit the community at large. Erecting a school in the development area would alleviate overcrowding that would come from the addition of more residents to the area.

Question #5: Constituent services

We have seen over the last few years that the role of a councilperson in JC to increasingly be one of providing constituent services. Meaning: in other cities/towns, the main role of a councilperson may be to vote on issues brought before the council in weekly meetings; in Jersey City, there is that, but also there is the day-to-day functioning of local government (garbage complaints, crime issues, etc) that get brought to the Ward’s council member for resolution. Given the volume of requests for councilmembers’ help – especially in our Ward – how do you propose to deal with this? How will you connect with your constituents and assess issues and their priority?

Mira Prinz-Arey: I have been actively involved with civic groups since moving to the West Side of JC and I have good working relationships with many civic leaders across the ward. As a committee person and community leader I have worked with most city agencies and some county agencies to resolve issues. I also have an understanding of the timeline and costs of projects so I can effectively communicate realistic expectations and timelines. I would check  in throughout the process so constituents know where their particular project is in the pipeline. I have been working with committee people to plan and develop a system of communication so there are eyes and ears across the ward.

The administration has done a great job implementing the Resident Response Center, which helps residents out and solves their issue.  As an elected official, constituent services would be an important aspect and I would work together with the RRC and other stakeholders to ensure that things are getting done

I believe in clear and effective communication and plan to send out a quarterly newsletter via email and snail mail. I want residents to know that I am accessible and accountable. 

Jessica Hellinger: If elected, I would institute a monthly “Coffee with your Councilwoman” event series that would give constituents the opportunity to bring their issues to the forefront. During these meetings, I would offer insight to the community members on how to contact committee members, who handles topline issues and how the city government actually works. When the community is educated about the process, they make for more engaged citizens who are able to properly express their concerns and engage with the proper point persons to move the ward forward.

Chris Gadsden: I meet with residents on a regular basis and I love it. It would help if we have more neighborhood and block associations to organize efforts to get things done in our Ward. After the election I also to plan to work more closely with 70 ward leaders to help us be more responsive to the constituents of the ward.

 I try to be everywhere, I utilize my aide Mark Rowan very effectively, I have a great relationship with the key stakeholders from the DPW to local law enforcement. I am grateful for Facebook like Lincoln Park Neighborhood Watch and Ward B Group. I am very accessible on social media and residents can call me anytime at 917-363-1489, or email me at chrislgadsden@gmail.com and clgadsden@jcnj.org to address any issue.

Question #6: “Out of the Box”

If you could wave a magic wand and bring or fix three things to/in the West Side, what would they be?

Jessica Hellinger: My top three magic wand fixes include a community center to provide the community a central place to help the community collaborate, offer youth activities that focus not just on sports and recreation, but also on STEM to engage our future leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Secondly I’d love to see the development of a “Restaurant Row” to foster a sense of pride among the residents of Ward B. Restaurants encourage neighborhood growth by giving residents from other parts of the city a reason to explore Ward B.  Finally, I’d love to see the sidewalks repaired. It may seem like a small issue, however during brutal winters when citizens are navigating the treacherous terrain, shoveling and making serious attempts to remain upright, even and paved sidewalks will prove to be to our advantage.

Chris Gadsden:  If I had a magic wand I would love to eliminate:

  1. Homelessness/Panhandling
  2. Drug Usage
  3. Change people’s habits as it relates to litter.

Mira Prinz-Arey: As mentioned above, a West Side SID. In conjunction with an SID I’d also like to bring more events to Ward B. I was a co-organizer of the Best Side Festival, co-founder and co-manager of the Farmers Market in Lincoln Park and co-founder of West Side Arts and Music. It is wonderful to see residents across the ward connecting and celebrating all that the great talent, people, and places on the West Side. I would like to work with other residents and community groups. 

Better public transportation – If given a magic wand I would bring an elevated train to Kennedy Blvd, which would connect the north and south sides of the city and relieve traffic congestion on the Blvd. Our bus and light rail systems aren’t bad, but I would love to see better public transportation options, especially going  north/south.  I would also like ‘Complete Streets’ implemented along entirety of the Blvd. so it will be safe for all users and all modes of transportation.

Community Center – the West Side needs a space like the Bethune Center for classes, activities and a space for community groups to meet. The Gallo Center is nice but too small for robust programming. A center will also help to bring more recreation opportunities for the youth of ward b. The Department of Recreation has done a good job expanding their programming and I would love to see more of these opportunities in our ward.


For more information on the candidates:


The JC West Side Chili Cook Off 2017

Just a few weeks to go to the JC West Side Chili Cook Off – and still time to enter and prove what great chili you make!

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This is a super fun event (sponsored by WSCA) that I’ve been helping organize for three years now. I’ll post all the rules below, but basically: sign up, make a lot of chili, bring it to Lincoln Park, and share it with your friends and neighbors. We got a couple hundred people at it last time, and it’s free and fun and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I’ve had quite a few people say they look forward to it every year, which makes it so worth it.

Check out our Facebook page or look at the rules below and follow the link to enter. Not a cook? Just join us on that day and eat away! There’s two prizes – the Judges’ Prize (chosen by our esteemed chili experts) and People’s Choice (chosen by the public). Vote for your favorite! And just come out and meet your neighbors and say hi. And get full!


RULES – JC WEST SIDE CHILI COOK OFF 2017!

Want to enter in the third annual JC West Side Chili Cook Off?! Read these rules and then sign up at
https://goo.gl/forms/hsi60Fm5SDcvTWtf1

1. The Cook Off is on Sunday, October 8 at noon. You may arrive at 11am to start setting your station up.

2. You will be provided with a table, two chairs, and a chafing dish to keep your chili warm. You’re encouraged to decorate your station however you like – make it fun and festive!

3. What kind of chili can you enter? ANYTHING! Vegan chili, buffalo chili, four alarm chili, mild chili…. if you can call it chili, we’re open to it. Want to bring sour cream, cheese, or any other condiments? Feel free. How you present your chili is totally up to you and up to your interpretation.

4. How much chili should you bring? A LOT. It’s hard to say exactly how much – you will be provided with small (two tablespoon approx) tasting cups and mini spoons to give out samples to people there. Last year we had at least a couple hundred people in attendance. People often make one round, narrow down their favorites, and then take another taste (or two).

5. What kind of prizes are there? There are two: Judges Choice (picked by a panel of three judges) and People’s Choice. The actual prizes are pretty modest – a gift certificate to a local business and a ribbon. But you get BRAGGING RIGHTS! You get to be the Best Chili Chef on the West Side for a YEAR!!!

6 Can my friends/family come and vote for me in People’s Choice? OH YES! You should stock the competition with as many friends and family members as possible. Spread the word! Get everyone you can to come out and support you.

7. Does it cost anything to participate? No. This event is sponsored by the West Side Community Alliance (WSCA) and they provide everything you need to compete except, of course, for the chili. It’s free to attend, although we do ask for a voluntary donation of a couple of dollars to help us with expenses.

8. When do I have to enter by? OCTOBER 1!

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Notes from Gallo Center meeting to discuss Casino in the Park

Yesterday was the meeting at the Gallo Center to discuss the future of the Casino in the Park. I know quite a few people who wanted to go but couldn’t make it, so I’m writing up this account of it. I noted there was a reporter from the Jersey  Journal also in attendance, so I suspect there will be a report on it in the paper this week.

I’m dividing this post into two sections: straight reporting (as unbiased as I can make it) and then my own personal opinions. So here we go…

Straight reporting:

  • The meeting featured a panel of people involved in bringing in a new tenant to the space currently occupied by Casino in the Park. Most notable, and responsible for most of the talking and discussion, were Tom DeGise, County Executive and Bill O’Dea, County Freeholder. Three other county employees were there, including the attorney for the county in this matter; they mostly made a few opening comments and then Tom and Bill did the rest of the talking. The meeting was hosted by WSCA, and introductory comments were by Jodi Drennan.
  • Casino in the Park has been in its location for a very long time – it didn’t seem as though anyone knew exactly how long, but something in the span of 30-35 years seems to be correct. Needless to say, it’s been there for a while and has become an institution for Jersey City. That said, it has been in recent years mostly a catering hall – not open for lunch/dinner, but for special occasions only. Their lease is now up.
  • The park has undergone tremendous changes during the time Casino in the Park has been there. Whereas 20 years ago crime was a significant problem, it isn’t anymore. People used to be afraid to go into the park after dark; now that’s no longer the case.
  • There are $2million in improvements/upgrades that need to be done to the space before a new tenant moves in, and it has been decided that the new tenant will shoulder the responsibility for those costs. That means that the new tenant will likely need a very long lease – 20-30 years – in order to make back that initial investment and turn a profit.
  • Casino in the Park has allowed numerous churches and nonprofit groups to use its space for meetings and fundraisers for little to no cost. It was brought up several times that continuing this tradition should be something the new tenant takes on; however, the practicality of this remains to be seen.
  • People in the audience raised questions primarily around two concerns: safety and accessibility. On safety, it was raised that we don’t want to return to the time when the park was unsafe, and that a consideration as to closing time of the new establishment (especially if they serve alcohol, which they probably will) needs to be discussed. On accessibility, there were a variety of concerns of how “fine” a “fine dining” establishment it should be. Are we talking $25 for dinner? $100? $50? How important is it that the restaurant cater to the people who live in the neighborhood, or should it act as a draw for people from outside the neighborhood?
  • Alternative ways of revisioning the restaurant model were discussed, from a food hall-type space to a cafe within a fancier restaurant.

My personal take:

  • I think the important part of the meeting was bringing people in the community together and showing the county officials that this is something we take seriously and that we see as important for our neighborhood. That show of “we are here and we are watching” was the main point of the meeting, at least to me.
  • I am (along with others) concerned about a restaurant with a bar potentially turning out drunk patrons into the park late at night, but there’s a lot of steps that could be taken to lessen this issue. It doesn’t have to be an problem if it’s actually planned for.
  • It’s hard to know what’s going to happen and what our options are until we at least get some potential vendors in the mix. I can say that I strongly want (for instance) a mid-range vegetarian cafe to open there, but if no one steps forward to say they’re willing to invest and operate such a place, what difference does it make? We can sit and argue about whether it should appeal to the golfers coming to the golf course or young families in the neighborhood – ultimately, we have to see who is willing to take on that investment and commitment, what kind of profits they need to make back the money they’ve put in, and so forth.
  • I don’t want the restaurant to fail. Two million is a lot of money to put up front, and 30 years is an awfully long lease. I’ve gotten used to watching a lot of small businesses on West Side Ave rent a space, fix it up, open…. and then close in a month. It’s unfortunate, but in this case it could be really tragic. I really think this entire endeavor has to be in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing, or this could be a mess.

It sounded like the timeline for this is that by the end of the month there will be a request for vendors to step up and announce their interest. I think it was stated that we should have some idea about who is seriously interested in pursuing this by the end of October. Many more meetings to come, so stay tuned.

Meeting re: Casino in the Park

Next week, there will be a meeting to discuss the future of Casino in the Park, the catering hall that is in Lincoln Park. The lease is up for the current company occupying the space, so now the county (because Lincoln Park is a county park, not a city or state park) has to decide what to do with it.

So what’s the best idea for that space? Should it continue to be a catering hall, rented out for weddings and other special events? A fancy, formal restaurant? A casual, family restaurant? Or what? Representatives from the county will be there and they want to hear your feedback.

wsca-meeting.jpg

The first of many election posts

It’s only the beginning of August and already the November election is taking shape. I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about the election until at least September (when all the official paperwork from the different candidates is due), but with so many people running, I thought it best to at least take a stab at getting started.

Some basic ground rules for this post: I’m only going to cover the candidates that people in Ward B can vote for. And for this particular post, I’m drawing from publicly available information on the candidates – not talking to them individually. I hope to later do an interview with each candidate, but for now I’m just pulling information that’s already out there on the internet to give readers an overview of what’s going on.

And with that, let’s get started!

City Council: Ward B

Voters get to choose one person to represent our ward on the city council for the next four years. If you’re new to JC West Side politics, you might sense a little confusion surrounding this position because of our recent history with council members. Very long story short: in 2016, we had three councilmen. First, Councilman Chico Ramchal, who was elected as part of Mayor Fulop’s ticket in 2013, had to resign due to pleading guilty to a drunk driving charge. Then, Fulop selected John Hallanan to take his place until a special election was held in November. That election wound up being an upset, with Chris Gadsden winning. Gadsden now has to defend that position again this November. Which leads us to:

There’s also a few additional people buzzing around and dropping hints that they are interested in running. Until things get a little more firmed up, I’m keeping them off the list for now. I’ll add to this as more announce and/or get paperwork in.

Council at-large

Here’s where things get a little (more) confusing. The position of Council at-large represents the entire city. Running for it is basically like running for mayor – you have to get votes from all over the city. You don’t have to vote for an entire slate, you can do it ala carte so to speak, and pick and choose the candidates to support.

  • The incumbents are all on Mayor Fulop’s slate: Rolando Lavarro, Daniel Rivera and Joyce Watterman.
  • Bill Matsikoudis has his own slate, consisting of Esther Wintner, Michael Winds, and Esmerelda Trinidad.

It’s perhaps notable that both Lavarro and Wintner both live in Ward B.

There are others who are currently seeking signatures, but given that it’s a very steep hill to climb to qualify for the ballot for at-large, I’m leaving them off for now. I’ll add as they qualify.

Mayor

 

So that’s it for a first stab! It’s a long slog from here to November, and changes are sure to happen. I’ll keep you updated the best I can.

Lincoln Park Live: Pedro Cortes

This Wednesday! Pedro lives in our neighborhood and he is an unbelievable flamenco artist. Bring your family and make an evening of it. This is a great event!

lplposterCORTES

And for a preview, check out the performer here: