2021 General Election Council Candidates
This is Rutherford sent the same six questions to the four candidates (Peter Tuccino and Jasmine Grey, Republican candidates, and Maria Begg-Roberson and Ray Guzman, Democratic candidates) on the ballot for Rutherford Council.
TIR: Rutherford has affordable housing obligations that must be addressed in the near future. Can you help the public understand how Rutherford will handle this?
Peter Tuccino and Jasmine Grey: Many are unaware of the process in which redevelopment occurs and strict guidelines which include unassuming terms such as “smart growth” which we’ve been hearing lately, tax incentives, affordable housing, PILOT programs and how funds are allocated, and the role of municipalities in deciding on redevelopment plans. At the moment, municipalities have the power to approve or disapprove redevelopment proposals and that could very well change. With so much happening at a rapid pace and especially because we have quite a few projects slated ahead, we should have a resident-run forum or committee that focus on staying informed with experts on the Planning Board by discussing possible projects, changes to COAH laws and/or regulations, and be the voice of the those who cannot make the meetings when discussing whether these projects would be a good fit for the community as a whole. It’s always great to have members working together towards a common goal however, to do so because of a lack of transparency is very concerning. Facilitating community engagement to discuss options best for all when it comes to redevelopment will not only strengthen community pride, relationships, and our foundation as a whole, but will also act as a preventative measure to ensure that all decisions are made ethically.
Maria Begg-Roberson: In my first month as a councilwoman, some residents approached me about their need for affordable housing and the lack of availability. New Jersey is experiencing a massive housing crisis. People who qualify for affordable housing are the elderly, disabled individuals, and residents with low incomes. This is a matter of equity, access, and ensuring our state and borough is meeting the moral housing obligations that we have to our residents. Due to the dire housing crisis, this is a way to ensure that towns do not price out low and moderate income populations. The Borough of Rutherford is under an obligation to build 52 units by 2025. As a borough, we must fulfill our constitutional mandate to provide low and moderate income housing to residents in our area. The majority of the 52 units will come from large scale developments (Agnew Place and Park Ave) and smaller multifamily projects. Our goal is to ensure that we fulfill the 52-unit requirement by 2025.
Ray Guzman: Affordable Housing is a complicated topic that affects towns throughout the state, not just Rutherford. The Mayor, my colleagues and I, with the help of our Borough Administrator and Borough employees have worked diligently to compile as much information as possible on this topic for the Borough website so that it's available for residents to become better educated about Rutherford's Affordable Housing obligations.
In a nutshell, Rutherford has been tasked by Fair Share Housing, a NJ state agency, to begin working towards 52 affordable units built within Rutherford by 2025. This number is arrived at by a formula created by Fair Share Housing and out of Rutherford's control. Failure to comply with Fair Share's requirements can result in Rutherford being vulnerable to Builders Remedy lawsuits, which municipalities have historically lost in New Jersey. Losing a Builders Remedy lawsuit can result in a municipality losing all control over what kind of development is built within their jurisdiction.
Although still under negotiation, development at sites known as Agnew Place and Parker II are anticipated to be large enough that they will be able to work toward fulfilling a majority of these obligations and are the first major housing development negotiations coming to fruition under Mayor Nunziato's administration.
It's an incredibly complex subject and I encourage anyone curious about it to learn more by reviewing the extensive information on the Borough's website here.
TIR: What do you hope can be included in the new county park that will be created where the current Highline is along Erie Ave in Rutherford?
Ray Guzman: We are waiting for the county to wrap up ownership of this property and are eagerly waiting for a scheduled meeting to discuss the direction of this park. The county has alluded to the thoughts of keeping the area as a rails to trails walking park.
While a rails to trails park would benefit the residents of both Rutherford and East Rutherford, I think the residents would also enjoy sitting areas highlighting historic points of interest relative to the two towns and the old railroad. Low res lighting would also be a nice addition to the park. While the park is just under 1.5 miles of walking trails it is not very wide which sets limits on space for larger projects.
Maria Begg-Roberson: I am absolutely excited that Rutherford will have access to the current Highline. As the liaison to the Green Team, I have learned about the importance of biodiversity and its effects on the environment. I would love to see low-maintenance eco-friendly native plants. I also want to see seating areas, outdoor games for adults, and structures for children to play. This needs to be a space where residents can bike, hike, and play outdoor sports. There also should be green space, with art pieces/structures by local artists prominently displayed. This Highline will be an outstanding opportunity to connect communities. People want options to be outside and stay connected to each other. When these spaces are made available to residents, they definitely make use of them.
Peter Tuccino and Jasmine Grey: We would love to see this park work as a self-sustaining natural ecosystem that inspires to connect the different local elements that include the history and culture of the surrounding area. Rutherford has rich roots and unless we find innovative ways to preserve it and serve it, it may soon all be forgotten. Many may not be aware that the area was once filled with industry that included a lake or how the railway drastically changed the landscape of Rutherford while also making sure to pay homage to some of Rutherford’s most well-known residents. We feel it is important to keep Rutherford’s legacy alive and no better way than to artistically incorporate it into areas where it will be seen.
Other ideas to fulfill needs not yet met in Rutherford are a dog park or dog run. This has been mentioned by residents throughout the years. We agree that there should be one with separate sections for bigger and smaller dogs. Also, along the track ramps have been constructed out of plywood for bikes and skateboards. Where there’s a will, there’s a way however these structures certainly were not safe, but they do highlight a longstanding need that is way overdue to be met.
TIR: There are quite a few new businesses that have either recently opened or will open soon. How do you feel the Mayor and Council can help support and promote these new businesses?
Peter Tuccino and Jasmine Grey: We can also support businesses by "Spot Lighting" on various platforms. Social media is a great tool however not all use it. Using different platforms to promote businesses and their specials on a routine basis may help to bring in sales at no cost to them or the Borough especially if businesses are constructing their own content to be shared by the Borough via email, text, website, and social media. It would also show small business owners that their elected officials are appreciative of their choice to open a business here in Rutherford and are committed to supporting their growth and are making efforts to revitalize Rutherford's Downtown District rather than redevelop it.
We also propose to work closely with the Rutherford Chamber of Commerce in finding innovative ways to improve our business districts. We request creating a liaison position to the Rutherford Chamber of Commerce and would like to take on that position. This would forge and build an open line of communication that works to address the needs of business owners so that they may flourish and attract more to visit Rutherford for their retail and dining needs.
Maria Begg-Roberson: I believe that Dining Under the Stars brought a great deal of attention to our downtown especially during the pandemic. I use my council social media to highlight the charming businesses in our downtown. During the pandemic, the mayor and council usually highlighted different businesses on social media and during our daily videos.
In the future, I would love for Rutherford to host a small business day. It could take place in the spring, summer, or early fall. Local businesses could set up outdoor stalls, perhaps offer discounts or samples to allow residents a chance to enjoy their goods or services. A variety of local bands could play live music, along with a range of outdoor activities for families.
The Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce is striving to become a strong partner to our downtown businesses. It provides opportunities for our business owners to network, build their business acumen through educational events, and market themselves more effectively.
Ray Guzman: Rutherford’s downtown area is vibrant. What was once an area with many vacated storefronts is now an area filled with new businesses. In the height of the pandemic, we as a community were quite concerned regarding the future of businesses not only on Park Ave but throughout the borough.
I had the privilege of working with the Mayor, my Council colleagues and local business owners to come up with a plan to help keep their doors open. Establishing outdoor eating areas helped achieve the goal of keeping our restaurants afloat during difficult times. Adding more frequent Dining Out Rutherford nights and closing a section of Park Ave. has proven to be enjoyable by many residents and beneficial to our businesses. The ability to have outdoor dining was the draw we needed to support our downtown businesses.
Along with the Mayor and my colleagues, I make it a point to meet with new business owners. Opening a business can be difficult under the best circumstances, so I feel it’s important to let business owners know that we’re here to arm them with all the information they need to succeed.
As we move forward, I will support more events like we had on October 2nd, the last Dining Out of the summer. The downtown area was packed with residents and visitors eating dinner at their favorite restaurants and shopping local while enjoying a live concert in the heart of our downtown.
I will continue to work with the talented team of resident volunteers that make up the Streetscape committee to assure beautification efforts and the branding of a higher echelon aesthetic to Rutherford downtown and West End district progresses.
TIR: What initiative do you envision implementing if elected that can bring in revenue streams to our town?
Ray Guzman: I would like to see Rutherford get more involved in the film industry. We are conveniently located right outside of New York City and have the perfect suburban setting for movie making. We are currently talking to residents who are in the film industry to help establish a committee that focuses on bringing the filmmaking industry to the borough. This would not only bring revenue to the Borough but also to residents that may have an interest.
Maria Begg-Roberson: Historically, municipalities raise money through taxes, fees, fines, and assets. Towns cannot keep raising taxes to increase revenue. One way Rutherford could raise revenue is through tourism. The pandemic has caused America to look inward in a positive way. Families are looking for opportunities to go on road trips, visit small towns, and partake in daytime excursions. Biking, walking, and self-guided tours are gaining popularity.
Rutherford also has many historical gems of interest to people across the country. Did you know that the owners of DC’s Ford Theatre, where President Lincoln was shot and killed, once lived in a bungalow on Feronia Way? Do you know about the emancipated slaves who fled the south after the Civil War and came and settled in Rutherford?
The Rutherford Historic Preservation Committee is leading the way with a robust self-guided tour of Rutherford sites. I believe that Rutherford should further capitalize on its history by creating a local tourism industry that will bring in revenue to the town. This will involve branding, a website highlighting all the historical sites, and a coordinated plan. There are incredible examples of small towns around the country whose revenues have grown exponentially due to an expertly planned tourism industry. Rutherford’s rich history, culture, and architecture makes this town the perfect candidate for a tourism industry that will build revenue in the long run.
Peter Tuccino and Jasmine Grey: We would question whether certain projects are truly needed especially during uncertain times when many may be faced with financial burdens. If so, were grants also researched and applied for? We feel not much effort is spent by current members of the Council to find alternative ways that could help cover the costs of certain projects acquiring grants, federal funding, and/or organizations looking to donate or pay for projects that meet certain requirements or needs within the community. The construction of the snack stand at Tryon Field was an entire brand-new structure built to address the need for bathrooms and a kitchen which cost around $75,000.00 because many community members pitched in to volunteer their time and/or services. We hope to enlist similar efforts and strategies for future projects. When you compare the cost of this completely new structure to others costing about half a million dollars for renovation of an already existing structure, we wonder if other cost-effective avenues were even considered. The renovations were needed however, were cost effective ways utilized for this project?
As you can imagine increasing revenue streams without being a burden to residents can be a difficult process however, if the governing body starts living within its means as we do in our own households without resulting in unnecessary spending we will begin to see an increase on the revenue side of our finances. It all comes down to being financially responsible.
TIR: What do you envision Rutherford's Downtown looking like 10 years from now, and how would you accomplish that?
Peter Tuccino and Jasmine Grey: Ten years from now we hope to see a vibrant and lively Downtown District. Williams Center will be completely restored to showcase Rivoli's glory days of vaudeville when it first opened in 1922. The Williams Center will serve as the community hubbub while providing much needed resources like a strong arts program complete with performing arts, concert venue, and a cultural platform for all to enjoy. This revival of the WC will also revive and revitalize our Downtown District by attracting many to come here for dinner and a show. Parking will be plenty and Park Ave will resemble the days when it was filled with restaurants and diners spilling onto sidewalks while impatiently waiting to be seated as they admire all the charm Park Ave has to offer.
Maria Begg-Roberson: For a portion of my childhood, I grew up in Europe where there is a culture of smart growth and modernization while respecting the historical infrastructure. In my three years as a councilwoman, I have held that value of respecting the infrastructure and history of this beautiful town while leaning into modernity. My voting record on the dais represents my understanding of smart growth, coupled with a love and appreciation for the history of this town. I was a fierce advocate of the saving and preservation of the Williams Center.
In ten years, I envision a walkable community, a range of diverse and successful businesses, and carved out spaces for residents to connect. Our downtown and its businesses must be protected to ensure their longevity. Our most successful businesses in town are owned by Rutherford residents. There are many talented professionals with business ideas who live in our town. They understand the needs of this community because they live here. Post pandemic residents are looking for creative opportunities to live, work, and play in their own towns.
In collaboration with the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce, we need to direct promising business owners to loans, grants, and training. Providing this support will ensure that our local business owners are set up to be successful in their business endeavors.
Rutherford is becoming more diverse, and we need to see representations of the different cultures in our downtown. Residents have expressed the desire for more international restaurants. The Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce is planning to partner with municipalities to connect towns with business owners. I think this approach will provide more strategic ways to recruit diverse businesses to our town.
Ray Guzman: I envision a vibrant downtown that continues to attract quality businesses and services that help build the economy of Rutherford. Rutherford in itself has great charm in a suburban setting with amazing architecture and is rich with history. We need to continue to build and promote Rutherford as a brand and destination for fine dining, quality local shopping as well as a town that supports the performing arts. This is no task that can be fulfilled by one person. We as elected officials along with our business owners and our residents must take pride and collective ownership of supporting and promoting our downtown. If I have the honor of being re-elected, I would create a “Promote Rutherford Campaign” committee composed of business owners and resident volunteers focused on promoting Rutherford downtown and West End businesses. Revenue to support the promotion of this campaign can be funded by using a portion of the proceeds from the revenue stream opportunity I speak of in question 4.
TIR: How do you feel about how our community and Borough handled COVID/ the pandemic?
Ray Guzman: Dealing with the pandemic was certainly unchartered waters for all of us. We all witnessed and were part of something that we never imagined would happen in our lifetime.
On March 12th, 2020. Mayor Nunziato was quick to realize we all had to come together as one with centralized communication first and foremost. Our residents needed to be informed and protected. Public safety was at risk. Quickly, a dynamic partnership between elected officials, Borough staff/departments first responders, emergency services, police, fire, ambulance, Board of Ed, the Health dept., formed. Plans were implemented carefully with input from all with the utmost professionalism.
Closing of parks began, public events were canceled, our children were sent home from schools, staffing schedules were altered to assure safety, and most of us began working from home. Daily video messaging from the Borough was conducted for months to assure public awareness, small caravans thanking our hometown heroes drove through the streets of Rutherford trying to lift the spirits of the community.
Our local businesses received support and guidance from the Borough on keeping their doors open and the community rushed in to patronize our local businesses. Not only do I think the Borough and all of our professionals did an amazing job during the height of the pandemic, I must tip my hat to the community. Our residents followed the guidance of the Borough and did exactly what was asked of them. Our residents supported and helped one another when the going got tough. Our residents shopped and dined locally to support Rutherford’s economy. Once again, I am proud to be a representative of this community and to be able to call Rutherford my home.
Maria Begg-Roberson: I remember how the world changed on March 13th. I was in my office in Manhattan, came home, and did not return for over a year. As the pandemic affected more people’s lives, It was deeply important to Mayor Nunziato that residents were aware of the constantly evolving situation. There were so many rumors swirling and it was important to avoid misinformation. As a mayor and council, we met virtually daily, reviewed the constantly changing directives regarding mask-wearing, public gatherings, and public health updates. We recorded daily informational videos for residents and posted them on social media. Residents found these videos helpful because the updates were personal to our community.
Our volunteer ambulance corps and emergency personnel worked diligently as they bravely took care of our residents during health emergencies. This was a frightening and uncertain time. As a borough, it was our imperative to ensure that municipal employees and volunteers felt appreciated for the devotion that they showed to residents. It was also essential that our downtown thrived despite the sudden economic downturn. Residents made every effort to support local businesses due to their deep love for this town. Rutherford as a whole demonstrated a collective effort to take care of their families, friends, and neighbors.
During the pandemic, people grew closer and many strong ties were created. As a family, we made some wonderful friends that became our “pod” and we created a close community with them. We learned to spend time outside in the cold, bought outdoor heaters, and bundled up as we stayed safe but connected. On my 44th birthday last year, I had a few friends over and we sat outside, built a fire, enjoyed yummy food, while the kids watched a movie from a projector. It was one of my best birthdays. Despite the hard circumstances, pain, and loss caused by the pandemic, Rutherford had become a safe haven for my family and I will be forever grateful.
Peter Tuccino and Jasmine Grey: COVID continues to be a serious issue that should not be taken lightly. Sadly, we still see members of our community getting sick from this horrible virus, with some fatalities still occurring. By and large this is an issue that is better left handled by the State government. If each municipality were to adopt its own policy, it would be largely ineffective because the virus naturally travels across town lines. I believe that we as a society have to walk a fine line between keeping everyone safe and safeguarding freedoms and constitutional rights. I will continue to do everything I can to encourage people to live a healthy lifestyle, which we know for certain mitigates the virus to a measurable extent, and encourage people to take necessary precautions.