Democratic Primary Council CandidatE
Maria and I moved to Rutherford, from Jersey City, 12 years ago when she was pregnant with our first daughter. We love raising our two daughters Angelica (11) and Lauren (9) here. Our girls attend Washington and Pierrepont Schools.
I've worked in Public Education for the past 22 years. I started my career in 2000 as a 7th and 8th Grade teacher and High School Soccer and Softball Coach in the Jersey City Public Schools. In 2008, I was promoted to Athletic Director at Snyder HS in Jersey City. In 2013, I became the Athletic Director at Clifton High School.
In addition to being the Athletic Director at Clifton HS, I currently serve as the President of the NJSIAA Executive Committee, where I work with 430 member schools on a variety of issues facing high school athletics. Within our conferences, I serve as President of the North Jersey Boys Lacrosse League, Vice President of the Big North Conference, and 2nd Vice President of the Super Football Conference, which is the largest high school football conference in the country. These roles have helped me grow as an educator and councilperson. In these roles, I mediate disputes between schools, spearhead athletic initiatives and serve on a variety of subcommittees. These experiences not only taught me a great deal but have helped me forge relationships up and down the state.
1). What are some of the non-political activities that you participated in prior to running for Council?
I’m a long-time member of the Rutherford Education Foundation. At my first meeting with the REF, I took on the challenge to host the first Harlem Wizards fundraiser game at Rutherford High School, which has been a sold out event every year since. One of the first ways I got involved in town was as Cookie Coordinator for my daughters’ Girl Scouts Troops and joined their schools’ PTAs. My absolute favorite volunteer activity is coaching. I have been a Rec soccer, basketball and little league coach. Being able to play a part in developing my daughters’ and their teammates' sense of confidence through sports is definitely the most rewarding thing I have experienced in Rutherford.
2). How do you feel about the Borough's handling of the Williams Center transfer?
One of the most exhausting, yet rewarding experiences, I’ve had on Council was the opportunity to serve as the Williams Center liaison. It was an arduous process that I always believed was necessary for the health of our community. Once the Borough engineer and Council deemed this an area in need of redevelopment, we put together a committee of some Williams Center Board members, residents and business owners. This group spent the better part of a year hashing out the details of a redevelopment plan. That process included two town halls, one at the Williams Center and one in Borough Hall, where many residents expressed their desire to keep a theater on that site. They spoke passionately about what having a theater meant to their families, recounting personal stories such as their parents’ first dates and for many it was where they worked their first job. The council was moved by these stories and really rallied around the WIlliams Center. The County was set to auction off the theater in summer of 2021 but my colleagues and I believed we could find another option. Acting Mayor Mark Goldsack and Mayor Nunziato worked with County Executive Jim Tedesco to create a transfer of the property through the Borough to a local developer, contingent upon the developer maintaining a theater on that property.
None of this would have been possible had my council colleagues not supported a redevelopment plan that was born out of those original conversations I had with that Williams Center committee. Without the plan, the building would have gone to auction and in all likelihood would have been demolished without input from the community. Keeping the Williams Center was an effort led by residents, patrons of the arts, the Mayor and Council and the Bergen County Executive and Commissioners. I think that all these entities came together as well as we could have ever expected to make this happen and it has been my pleasure to have been part of it.
3). If elected to council, how will you help encourage and sustain new businesses throughout the entire town?
If re-elected, I will continue to work with the Mayor and Council to work with business owners and explore new and creative ways to generate foot traffic such as Dining Out, Summer Concerts and other outdoor events that attract Rutherfordians and people from surrounding towns to our thriving downtown.
Responsible redevelopment has created space for new and thriving businesses owned by people looking for modern amenities in a traditional small town setting. During the pandemic, as Council President, I worked with the Mayor and Council to find creative ways to support new businesses. We made parklets available for any restaurant that requested them which played a large part in keeping their doors open and busy during some of the most difficult economic times our generation has seen. We will continue to work with our Borough Engineer to make the most of the space we have available for parking. We recently created 4 new spots by reexamining existing rules and regulations and redrawing parking spaces to create more. Additionally, our parking meters are in dire need of upgrades and this summer we will transition them to digital meter heads that take quarters, credit cards and can even be operated from a phone app. We hope this will make parking easier for patrons.
4). What do you consider the most pressing issue facing our town right now that you want to focus your attention on if elected?
Rutherford has a unique problem which is we have a community that enjoys a wide variety of athletics. Youth and high school sports are booming, which is great, but what comes with that is a field space issue. We must continue to find creative ways to maximize our field space. I’d like to continue to work with the Mayor and Council to expand our athletic facilities. Throughout my time on Council, we’ve returfed Tryon, added mens and womens lacrosse lines to it, improved drainage in our baseball and softball fields, added lights to softball diamonds 5 and 6 which adds much more opportunity to use those fields, and we upgraded KidSpot. I would like to budget for more turf fields throughout town.
We also secured a grant several years ago to upgrade basketball and tennis courts at Tamblyn Field where we will be renovating tennis courts and adding pickle ball courts which have been requested by adult members of the public. Often recreational activities focus on youth sports needs, but we don’t want to neglect the needs of adults either, or the arts.
Additionally, through recreation we’ve added dance, drawing, cooking, acting and music classes and look forward to adding more opportunities for children and adults who are interested in the arts. We’ve built relationships with Felician University where we had a radio and communications club . We also hope to utilize the Williams Center to provide a performance space for performers of all ages.
5). How would you fulfill our affordable housing obligations while keeping Rutherford's suburban, small-town feel?
We are currently exploring an avenue that would allow us to make space for supportive (special needs) housing and veterans housing as part of our affordable housing obligations. Through responsible redevelopment, we can ensure that these obligations are satisfied while improving upon our current areas in need of redevelopment . This is not an issue we can ignore. It is absolutely something that the governing body has always consider in order to be good stewards of our town . This was an issue well before I began my first term. I ‘m pleased to say that the current Mayor and Council have been working together to face this issue head on and provide thoughtful measures to satisfy our mandated requirements while maintaining Rutherford’s charm.