Westfield mayor’s race pits Shelley Brindle and JoAnn Neylan
WESTFIELD – Advance voting has started for residents to decide who will be the town’s next mayor.
Outgoing Democratic Mayor Shelley Brindle is being challenged by Republican JoAnn Neylan in her candidacy for a second four-year term.
Brindle runs with City Councilor Linda Habgood, Ward 1; municipal councilor Michael Dardia, ward 2; Councilor David Contract, Ward 3 and Councilor Dawn Mackey, Ward 4.
Neylan, a 16-year-old former city councilor from Ward 2, presents herself with municipal council candidates Amanda Como, Ward 1; Denise Garrett, Ward 2; Shawn Mullen, Ward 3 and James Restivo, Ward 4.
The mayoral candidates met in a recent debate hosted and moderated by the Westfield leader.
Brindle, a former HBO executive, said she first ran for mayor four years ago because she was fed up with Westfield town center lagging behind neighboring communities of Cranford and Summit. She chose to focus on things she lacked, like long-term vision and strategic planning, as well as monitoring staff and financial matters.
She said during her first term tax and spending rates were lowered, nearly half of the city’s roads were paved, crime was reduced by 34% and she prioritized to the protection of the environment and the history of the city as well as to the professionalization of the town hall.
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Neylan, a lawyer who works as a public defender, said she wanted to ensure the safety of the city’s streets, the city’s financial security, provide adequate sports grounds for local children and address quality of life issues for local children. residents. It seeks to revitalize the city center, prevent overdevelopment and improve municipal services such as parks and sports fields.
Among the topics discussed at the forum were the city center, sports fields, crime and the use of payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for development projects.
Neylan said the city needs to build trust in the city center in order to fill empty storefronts and attract new businesses and customers. She said there were more than two dozen empty storefronts, including presenters like Lord & Taylor and the Rialto Theater. She suggested involving local businesses and landowners and listening to their ideas. She also proposed investing in city-wide Wi-Fi and green spaces, so people can meet and work remotely.
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Brindle agreed downtown vacancies are too high, but said now is not the time to make small solutions to big problems. She said Westfield does not have enough foot traffic in the city center, especially without national retail stores, which can support local businesses. She said Streetworks, the city’s biggest taxpayer, is the most invested in finding solutions for downtown development.
Brindle said the shortage of athletic fields has been a problem for decades. She said the fields are messy and it is dangerous for children to play on some of them, especially at Tamaques Park. She said if you can increase the capacity with sod, you have the option of resting fields and putting in real grass. She said the city is trying to find a solution that works for everyone and limits the danger of children playing on hard courts and managing the environment and infrastructure.
Neylan said she did not approve of Edison’s field project, including the cost, or the process which she said lacked notice to surrounding residents, input and transparency. The revised $ 9 million plan calls for an unlit natural turf baseball field, two artificial turf fields, lighted multi-use fields, an artificial turf baseball field and pre-fabricated restrooms next to Edison Middle School.
On crime, Neylan said the safety of people and the accountability of criminals are paramount. She said the feeling around town is that residents don’t feel safe in their homes or with their belongings. She wants criminals to know Westfield is not open for business. To deter crime, she suggested that the police bypass the entrances and exits of the city. She said that if more police were needed in town, this is how she would be willing to spend township funds.
In response, Brindle said that under Neylon watch, the police service had been cut both in budget and in staff. When she became mayor, Brindle said she found a demoralized police force led by a corrupt police chief and a $ 1 million slush fund in the police department used to purchase surplus military equipment. Brindle said she restored all funding and staffing and hired a dedicated community policing chief. As a result, she said total crime was down 34%.
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Regarding the use of PILOTS for city development, Brindle said not all redevelopment deals will have them. The Rialto Theater has been declared an area in need of redevelopment so that nothing can be done on the property without city approval. She said there was no intention to have a PILOT on this site, but it does give the city some control. She said the Westfield Crossing Residential Development PILOT, with 32 affordable units, helps meet the city’s obligation. With the redevelopment agreement and PILOT, the city was able to reduce the 24 three-bedroom units and obtain a better quality of architecture as well as $ 750,000 in public improvements and a contribution to the park improvement fund, without impacting the school budget.
“I think the PILOTS make sense in the right place. This is a gateway to the east of the city,” Brindle said, adding that the $ 52 million project will increase the value of the neighborhood and that it will generate a net benefit of $ 15 million for the city.
Neylan has said it will not endorse a PILOT program for developers. She believes the PILOTS are opening the door to corruption, heart deals for developers, and campaign contributions for elected officials.
“They are not in Westfield’s best interest,” she said, adding that the PILOTS were designed for communities like New Brunswick and Jersey City in the 1960s when they couldn’t. attract business. “DRIVERS are nothing more than gadgets for developers.”
She said the only rationale for Westfield to offer a PILOT is to get an influx of money that they don’t have to share. She said 95% of the negotiated fee based on projected profits goes to the city, the schools do not get it and the county gets 5%. She said the schools get their money, but it is the taxpayers, not the promoter, who make the money.
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Suzanne Russell is a late-breaking reporter for MyCentralJersey.com covering crime, the courts and other chaos. To get unlimited access, please register or activate your digital account today.