Democratic Primary Council CandidatE
Raised in Rutherford, Susan Quatrone is an accomplished attorney handling a broad range of legal matters including protecting the rights of veterans, seniors and immigrants. With fond memories of childhood, she and her partner, Brett, moved back to Rutherford to raise their 7-year old daughter, Cordelia. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Fordham Law School, Susan has been a Congressional aide, a national security law researcher and instructor, and a civil law practitioner. Since returning to NJ, she has become an elected member of the Bergen County Democratic Committee and Co-President of the Junior Woman’s Club of Rutherford. Susan helped lead the fight to save the William Carlos Williams Center from auction in 2021 and is working to ensure the historic Newman Theater is preserved and transformed into a cultural center in town.
Above all, Susan loves spending time with family and walking the beautiful streets of Rutherford with her daughter and parents, who have lived in town for nearly half a century. Her passions include reading fiction and poetry, running a book club, doing crossword puzzles and cheering on her favorite pro sports teams, the New York Giants and New York Yankees.
1. What are some of the non-political activities that you participated in prior to running for Council?
As Co-President of the Junior Woman’s Club of Rutherford (JWCR), I have worked with accomplished, dedicated Rutherford residents to celebrate, support and strengthen our community. During my tenure, the JWCR has held monthly food and household necessity drives to support the Rutherford Food Pantry and other non-profit organizations who help those in need. We participate in the community in myriad ways including volunteering to serve meals at the Kip Center, assisting with the Union Middle School Spelling Bee, collecting donations for local charities such as the Center for Hope and Safety, which aids domestic violence victims and Move for Hunger, which assists the food-insecure in innovative ways. Our club hosts several large fundraising events throughout the year such as the Ladybug Festival, Chili and Brews and a Kentucky Derby celebration with the Elks Club. Proceeds from our fundraising benefit many local organizations in Rutherford including the Rutherford Fire Department, Rutherford Ambulance Corps, Girl Scouts, Kip Center, Williams Center, and many others. One of my favorite activities with the Juniors is running our Book Club which allows us to create space in our lives to read fiction, explore the lessons of art and delve into deeper literary and philosophical truths that can help us all live more meaningful lives.
In addition to my work with the Juniors, I am a dedicated mother to my 7-year old and help train her in all her sports activities, including track and field and soccer. I ran track and field at Rutherford High School so she is indeed following in my footsteps! My entire family are dedicated sports fans and I try to catch NY Giants and NY Yankees games as often as I can. One of my goals for next year is to carve out time to be a coach for my daughter’s track team.
2. How do you feel about the Borough’s handling of the Williams Center transfer?
I grew up in Rutherford. My pediatrician was William Carlos Williams’ son and I loved hearing the stories he told about his father and how he wished he’d become a writer as well. My father is a writer and English professor and he taught neighborhood kids creative writing classes after school. Literature and poetry is in my blood and DNA; I was raised in bookstores, poetry readings and theaters. William Carlos Williams, an important 20th Century poet, is probably Rutherford’s most famous resident. The Newman Theater, located in the Center, is a historic gem that drew very famous and important theatrical acts to its stages in the early part of the 20th century. I believe that Rutherford needs to capitalize on this extraordinary history to create an arts and cultural center in downtown Park Avenue that will be a magnet for town residents and out-of-towners to see a live show, grab a bite to eat and experience everything that Rutherford has to offer.
Because of my passionate belief in the importance of the Williams Center, I helped to lead the town movement in the spring of 2021 to preserve the Williams Center and Newman Theater when it was to be put up for auction by Bergen County. The Williams Center had been owned by the county for years and was a huge problem for the local Rutherford governing body – they simply did not know what to do about it and weren’t sure they could find a developer with the resources or desire to purchase it and preserve the theater. Although the Rutherford Council had had many public meetings over the years to discuss the Center’s future and hundreds of residents had spoken out in favor of the theater’s preservation, there wasn’t true leadership on the Council willing to expend political capital and make it happen. The issue was whether the Council would write a restriction in the redevelopment plan for the theater requiring that the Newman Theater be preserved by any future purchaser. We were told by Council members that that restriction would hurt the possibility of a sale to the right developer and that most likely someone with deep pockets would buy the property and demolish it.
We, as a community, had to fill the vacuum of leadership and we did just that. The group we formed to Save the Williams Center went to work – we wrote a petition to save the theater that garnered over 3000 signatures, we attended Council and Planning Board meetings to ensure that decision-makers knew where we stood. We wrote to and spoke with the community to alert them to the imminent sale and to urge them to express their views about the Williams Center. As the word got out, the attendance on Council meeting calls about the Williams Center grew exponentially and at one point, there were nearly 150 residents on one of the calls, most expressing their desire for the theater to be preserved. As public pressure built, the Council became more interested in working with the community on finding an arts-oriented developer who could truly manifest the dream of a revitalized theater and a cultural center in town. Our community group held a town-wide rally at the Williams Center which attracted strong press interest. This was most likely a turning point, as the Council became more responsive and knew they had to listen to the community’s desires.
Eventually, Council members worked out a deal with Bergen County to avert the auction and to transfer the Center to Rutherford for $1.00. Rutherford then transferred the property to Chuck Olivo, a local resident and developer, who has done wonderful, artistic work on other properties in town, and I believe is committed to preserving and revitalizing the theater and creating a true cultural center in town. I want to thank Councilwoman Maria Begg-Roberson for publicly supporting our mission and Councilman Matthew Cokeley for working tirelessly behind the scenes last year to find the right solution to the Williams Center dilemma. I am proud of our grassroots movement which achieved a positive outcome I am optimistic about, but wish that Council members who were supposed to lead on this issue had been more receptive to truly partnering with the community from the outset.
3. If elected to council, how will you help encourage and sustain new businesses throughout the entire town?
One of the reasons I moved back to my hometown to raise my family is because of Rutherford’s distinct downtown business district and immense walkability. Rutherford’s downtown is the pride of many residents and attracts out-of-towners. During COVID, many town businesses struggled because of lockdowns and quarantines, and some have not fully recovered yet because of a decrease in foot traffic or restaurant patrons. Rutherford has received a very large influx of money from the federal COVID relief fund in 2021 – hundreds of thousands of dollars - and is due to receive another large amount in 2022. So far, it does not appear as if our town has utilized those funds although it may make sense to leverage them to assist small businesses in addressing ongoing business related pandemic difficulties. Money can be used to help struggling businesses with operating expenses, upgrading HVAC systems to improve indoor air quality, or promotional campaigns that increase their visibility. The annual Labor Day Street Fair is a Rutherford tradition that attracts regional and statewide attention and creates opportunities for business to feature their products and services. The Fair is in danger of being eliminated permanently because of lack of funding, and we should consider using the COVID relief funds to finance that festival for the coming year.
My running mate, Christie, and I believe it is important to encourage new and novel businesses in town, both on Park and on Union Avenues. We need to take further advantage of Rutherford’s proximity to New York City and to a strong public transportation network. Wonderful new restaurants, cafes and stores have opened on Park Avenue during the pandemic, however, we would like to find a way to promote an even wider array of restaurants and retail stores. The Council should partner more closely with the Rutherford Chamber of Commerce and the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce to form a 5-year plan to encourage new categories of businesses in town, including retail and personal services. When I worked in Congress for Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., he sat on the Small Business Committee and partnered with businesses to help them navigate bureaucracy so they could acquire much needed federal grants and loans. We should consider establishing a Small Business Committee in Rutherford that can work closely with the Council to help businesses apply for loans and grants, communicate with local business leaders to determine policy changes that might help them overcome challenges, and survey the community to determine what type of businesses are most desired by residents in town. Members of that committee can work with government officials to create advertising materials promoting Rutherford’s unique advantages and qualities to business owners who may consider relocating in town.
4. What do you consider the most pressing issue facing our town right now that you want to focus your attention on if elected?
As I campaign and speak with residents of Rutherford, I detect a feeling of powerlessness and frustration as if there is a wide divide between them and certain members of the governing body in town. Many residents feel that decisions are being made by the Council in private meetings and without true discussion, debate and collaboration with the community. Many who are passionate about an issue, such as overdevelopment, tax abatements, and the Williams Center, feel that they must create a large scale organizing campaign to get the Council to begin to listen to their legitimate concerns. And even then, certain Council members appear dismissive and even angry about the resident’s opposition. As I mentioned in the answer to Question 2, I felt this way myself during the Williams Center auction debate.
My running mate, Christie, and I believe that increasing the responsiveness and accessibility of local government is the best way to alleviate this community estrangement and resulting apathy. To achieve any of the policy goals that we care about and that residents care about – including budget transparency, reduction in tax burden, smart development, increased arts funding, supporting seniors and uniquely abled residents – we need to empower the community to feel that they truly have a stake and a say in what happens at Council meetings. During the pandemic, the Borough offered a Zoom option during Mayor and Council meetings and resident attendance dramatically increased, though that interactive option has now been eliminated. We would bring it back.
In our campaign, Christie and I are modeling this accessibility by hosting Coffee with the Candidates on Saturday mornings at a Park Avenue small business, so that residents can stop by and speak with us about issues of concern. We plan to continue holding community coffees and office hour availability once we are elected in November. Christie and I are both lawyers and we communicate, discuss, debate, explain, persuade, negotiate and constructively compromise for a living. We both study laws, regulations and ordinances, and I have authored federal legislation while working in Congress. We will bring these skills to the Council, the ability to clearly explain matters, provide reasons for decisions and promote dialogue with residents. Women in power tend to be consensus builders, and Christie and I have mastered these skills in our personal lives and in our work lives. I do not doubt that every member of our local government – the mayor, the council and employees – all cherish the unique beauty of our town and want to steward it wisely into the future, just as we do. We feel that it is time for a change and time to try something new in Rutherford. There is a real choice this year to elect long-standing dedicated public servants who have achieved substantial victories as community activists. We know how to truly listen to and partner with residents and we believe in the enormous potential of our town to shine once every voice is heard and every resident’s contribution is embraced.
How would you fulfill our affordable housing obligations while keeping Rutherford’s suburban, small-town feel?
Affordable housing is an important issue for Rutherford residents. As an attorney, I represent low or moderate income veterans and seniors and help them in a variety of ways including assisting them in avoiding eviction and finding affordable housing options. The affordability crisis in New York City is extreme, but it is a huge problem in Northern New Jersey as well. There are many seniors, veterans and others who have worked hard, sacrificed and saved their entire lives and still do not earn enough to afford decent housing. Assisting people to find a stable living situation is one of the most rewarding parts of my legal work, and I hope to bring this first-hand experience to the Council when thinking about affordable housing issues.
Rutherford has an obligation to build 52 affordable housing units by 2025. There are large apartment complexes in the planning stage that are intended to fulfill some of this obligation. Rutherford offers large, 30-year tax abatements in the form of PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) projects to developers to incentivize them to build large apartment or condo complexes. These PILOT projects are controversial with many residents because they likely decrease the revenue the town collects over a long period. The community needs to have a greater understanding of the proposed PILOT projects, how they will benefit the community, whether they are necessary and how much revenue will be lost if they are approved. Rutherford is a highly appealing location for development due to our proximity to New York City and incentivizing developers to come here may be unnecessary. At minimum, the Council should leverage the carrot of large scale tax abatements to require a certain percentage of affordable housing units be part of these projects. Preserving our small-town feel is not only about preserving the beauty, history, scale and character of our town; it is about promoting unity and making sure all residents feel like valuable parts of our community: renters and owners; seniors, veterans and immigrants; those who can afford multi-million dollar homes and those on fixed incomes. We are stronger when we celebrate our diversity and our differences and dedicate ourselves to helping our neighbors.