Advocacy groups hosted a street safety and sustainability candidate forum at the Five Corners Library in Jersey City last night, with 14 candidates on the June 6th primary ballot attending.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Hudson County Complete Streets, Empower NJ, SafeStreetsJC, Bike JC, Bike Hoboken, and Bike North Bergen all teamed up to host the event.
Hudson County Commissioner Chair Anthony “Stick” Romano (D-5) faces a primary challenge in progressive Ron Bautista. Bautista noted he won 40 percent of the vote last time he ran in 2020.
“You can ask him all you want to be safer … and he won’t do it,” he said about his opponent, who was not present at that time.
TJ Senger is a progressive running for Hudson County commissioner in the 1st District, which is primarily Bayonne. He noted that street lights need to go up at several intersections in the Peninsula City.
“There’s several interactions you’re told to be mindful of,” he noted.
Eleana Little is running for Hudson County executive against incumbent Tom DeGise’s chief of staff, Craig Guy. Guy did not attend but Little did.
“These crashes we see in our county levels are preventable. Climate change is here, and we need candidates who understand that,” she declared.
Stephanie Martinez is also running on the progressive slate, taking on Bob Baselice in the North Bergen-heavy 7th District.
The Hudson County Democratic Organization has endorsed Baselice, who also currently works as the North Bergen Parking Authority executive director.
“I’m here to say no more dying and getting injured on our roads,” Martinez said.
She said she is so passionate about government she went to the forum despite it being her birthday.
“I’m here no matter what!” she exclaimed.
Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea (D-2) faces a primary opponent in relative newcomer Adrian Ghainda. Both of them came out to the event.
O’Dea noted he has worked with the event hosts to get the county a Vision Zero grant to improve transportation. He also noted that he opposes the $10.7 billion New Jersey Turnpike expansion and claimed that he got Mayor Steven Fulop to support this position.
“I remember running across [John F.] Kennedy Boulevard when I was younger. It’s time we implement Vision Zero so people don’t have to fear they won’t get home,” Ghainda said.
Hudson County Commissioner Yraida Aponte-Lipski is running for re-election in the 4th District after beating Little by about six points in 2020. She now faces a challenger in Mamta Singh.
“I don’t feel like it’s been neglected. It’s a careless driver. I spoke with the prosecutor and the chief of staff. The prosecutor said it’s under investigation. It’s most likely speeding involvement. The county is doing what it’s in its power,” she said about Monday’s fatal, fiery crash on JFK Boulveard.
Bautista disagreed and said the county isn’t doing enough.
“The crashes haven’t stopped. Shorten the crossing distances. Can there be islands? We keep having study after study. We want to see action,” he asserted.
“We need to commit to something,” Senger concurred. He said road markers would make the thoroughfares safer.
Similarly, Little advocated for bike lanes and increasing the time pedestrians have to cross the street.
“Pedestrian safety improvements have to be paramount,” she stated.
“Why don’t we have dedicated bus lanes? That would be a no-brainer,” Martinez added,
O’Dea also suggested narrowing the lanes on JFK Boulevard as is often done in Vision Zero plans.
“A bus rapid transit lane makes sense. We certainly need it during rush hour,” he noted, along with requesting more buses from NJ Transit.
“We have to change the system. There is something wrong with the system,” Singh said, proposing speed bumps, stop signs, and dedicated bus lanes.
Specifically, she mentioned that the population of Jersey City increased by 60,000 while the number of buses has decreased in recent years.
“I fear driving a car. I’ve seen how reckless drivers are in Jersey City,” chimed in Ghainda.
Valdez also called for more investments in NJ Transit, endorsing islands, narrowing lanes, and adding bike lanes.
“I’d love to see the county play an active role in making sure there’s an abundance of signs,” he added.
Furthermore, O’Dea advocated for elevated intersections, which force cars to slow down, though acknowledged that the New Jersey Department of Transportation may not be on board.
Around this time, Bautista expressed frustration that more county officials did not show up.
“The engineers know their stuff. But that all goes out the window when the politicians come in. The elephant in the room is if we’re talking about leadership is showing up. Anthony Romano isn’t here. Craig Guy isn’t here.”
Aponte-Lipski noted people complain about speed bumps and that bus and bike lanes may be more efficient. She also came out against the turnpike expansion.
Little said when she and Guy were asked about the I-78 expansion at a previous forum, “he refused to take a stance.”
“Only 8 percent of New Jerseyans use cars to commute into New York. Who is this benefitting? We’re in code red for humanity. I think about the little time we have,” Martinez interjected.
“There are powers that want to get it done. We should have congestion pricing in Jersey City. It will deter cars from coming,” O’Dea said of the widening plan.
Singh said those in favor of the expansion should monitor the area, pointing out that tunnel congestion spills over to the Hamilton Park area.
Ghainda said the money should be used to address climate change, calling for a carbon tax, citing the poor air quality in Hudson County and Newark.
Romano arrived around this time and Bautista let him have it for coming in halfway through.
“This is what political privilege looks like: Coming an hour late and expecting to be in the debate,” Bautista said.
Romano said he was at a previous candidate forum where they were discussing transportation.
“I definitely support the idea of dedicated bus lanes,” he said.
Romano said electric scooters could help solve congestion issues, bu noted delivery bikers take many risks. He explained he pushed for electric cars with O’Dea.
In the second part of the forum, the HCDO-backed candidates from the 32nd Legislative District and the opposition candidates in the 31st Legislative District answered questions.
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33) is running for state senate in the new district, with attorneys John Allen and Jessica Ramirez serving as his running mates.
Michael Griffin is the progressive candidate running to succeed incumbent state Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-31). She is retiring and the HCDO has endorsed Assemblywoman Angela McKnight for the seat.
Griffin’s sole running mate is Shanelle Smith, who will look to defeat either Barbara McCann or Assemblyman William Sampson for an assembly seat.
Noting that Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has worked to reduce emissions, Griffin said that stance is contradicted by the I-78 expansion he has endorsed.
“It’s just going to invite more cars to come in, ” he added.
“I’m big on big on bringing back programs to our community. Environmental issues are also a top priority for me,” Smith, a teacher by trade, explained.
“We need to first handle the overcrowdedness on our streets. Environmentally it makes no sense,” she said.
Mukherji and his team also came out against the turnpike expansion.
“There are alternatives already under consideration,” Allen claimed.
He noted existing I-78 improvements would only cost $500,000 versus an expansion estimated at $10.7 billion.
“Everybody opposes it. Still seems to be happening. It’s taking away from other infrastructure projects,” Mukherji noted. He also asserted that NJ Transit needs $1 billion to replace lost federal funding.
He continued that a united Hudson County legislative delegation could defeat the widely panned plan.
“I hate driving now. I walk everywhere. We need more bikeways. I think you’re going to get a united front,” Ramirez added.
“We definitely need pedestrian crosswalks as well as bike lanes,” Griffin said about Route 440.