Jersey City Together hosts council forum for Ward A, F discussing police, affordable housing, & more

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Jersey City Together held a Zoom candidate forum for the council hopefuls in Wards A and F last night, discussing topics such as policing, affordable housing, bringing jobs to the community, and more.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

In Ward A, Councilwoman Denise Ridley is facing McNair Academic High School Athletics Supervisor Kristen Zadroga Hart.

Meanwhile, in Ward F, Councilman Jermaine Robinson is running against activist Frank “Educational” Gilmore and Vernon Richardson, an aide to Mayor Steven Fulop.

When asked about crime, Zadroga Hart said that over policing can negatively impact youth.

“As I drive through Ward A and F anytime between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m, without fail I see police cars parked on the corners with their lights flashing. I can’t help but be worried about the children who have to walk by those lights on a daily basis,” she began.

“Or worse, whose bedroom window might be right above those lights and they have to fall asleep like they live in a police state. The trauma this causes can last a life time. I’ve seen this first hand as a teacher in the alternative program for at-risk students for over 20 years.”

She said the city should spend on more social services and more social workers, domestic violence counseling, and psychologists to decrease crime, suggesting “a more holistic approach.”

Gilmore agreed with taking a similar approach.

“We have to switch the conversation to talk about preventive measures instead of reactive measures,” Gilmore said.

He argued more police does not deter crime and that mental health needs to be addressed better.

“They don’t have the training, they don’t have the wherewithal to do that,” he said regarding the police dealing with the mentally disturbed.

Robinson said he started programs to bring the community and police together that include cookouts, games, and sports to become better acquainted.

He also said that 70 percent of recently hired police officers are minorities.

“We didn’t wait for the state to pass the CCRB (Civilian Complaint Review Board),” he noted, though that matter is currently in litigation.

Richardson also agued for more social services. However, he said crime was an issue for the administration to address and did not get into specifics.

Ridley said she hosted meetings with police academy cadets and locals in her church to foster better community relations.

“Id like to see more programs such as that … They need alternatives other than the street,” she explained.

In the prior yes or no question, all five candidates said they would work with Jersey City Together to bring a Crisis Stabilization Unit to Jersey City to help people with substance abuse and mental health issues.

When asked about affordable housing, Gilmore appeared to take a shot at Robinson, stating that there needs to be community-minded individuals on the council as “opposed to individuals in bed with developers.”

“We have a major issue with affordable housing … and enforcement of affordable housing: There needs to be a mechanism to track the enforcement of affordability,” he added, also exclaiming that developers are often disingenuous about units being affordable.

Zadroga Hart indicated that she is in favor of Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, stating that  there is currently not enough affordable housing in Ward A.

She is also interested in creating a land bank that allows cities to acquire and redevelop abandoned properties.

As part of this, a push could be made to build homes with union labor and then be owner-occupied. Occupants would assume two thirds of the mortgage and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund would pay the additional third.

Richardson also said he was in favor of Lavarro’s IZO and noted that there needs to be a different standard to measure what is affordable.

“What’s affordable to you isn’t affordable to me,” he began, noting that many new buildings have affordable units listed for $1,700 monthly rent.

“For most in my community … it is not affordable,” Richardson added, arguing for a different system based on Average Median Income (AMI).

As for the Ward F councilman, he asserted that “I’m committed to ending the tale of two cities by … encouraging homeownership. ”

He noted as a member of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, he supported many affordable housing developments while in office such as Whitlock Mills and Bayview.

Ridley said nothing was built in her ward unless a community meeting was held before pointing to the Bayfront project’s 35 percent affordable housing as an accomplishment.

“I think we need more affordable homeownership,” she stated.

Ridley also said it was also important to ensure there was housing that was affordable for police officers, firefighters, and teachers.

Rev. Alonzo Perry Sr., of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church and one of the event moderators, respectfully said that he felt it was the efforts of Jersey City Together that actually got the Bayfront project off the ground after decades of work.

When asked about how they would help bring jobs back to the south side, as well as how they would implement the plan and measure its success, Gilmore panned the Jersey City Employment and Training Program.

“The JCETP is essentially a joke and nothing more than a political appointment,” continuing that he wants to address recidivism by tracking metrics of who is getting and keeping a job.

Robinson said he owns several, businesses including the Light Rail Cafe, where a felon worked and went on to start a restaurant of his own. He also said he’s working with JCETP and local unions to train people to get jobs.

As for Ridley, she said she worked to get young people summer and union jobs, expressing an interest in starting a program to help people secure Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL).

“We need to make sure our kids in Jersey City have those skills,” the councilwoman said, adding that the incoming Shop Rite and Target should be hiring locally.

Zadroga Hart said they should limit recidivism by working with schools and unions to train people and securing help for them with housing and mental health programs.

The final voice on this topic, Richardson said there should be a tax on vacant properties to encourage landlords to lower the rent so that there more likely to be occupied and jobs are created.