The Riverview Neighborhood Association had four of the five Jersey City Ward D council candidates participate in a virtual debate ahead of the November 3rd special election.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Councilman Yousef Saleh was appointed to the Ward D seat in April following the COVID-19-related death of Michael Yun and is now fighting to maintain the seat until at least next year. He is running with the backing of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.
Along with Saleh, former firefighter Rafael Torres, lawyer and environmental advocate Cynthia Hadjiyannis, and Leonard Gordon Park Conservancy Founder and President Patrick Ambrossi participated.
The fifth candidate on the ballot, Lenny Lambert, did not attend.
“We’re living through an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history,” Saleh said regarding the current public health emergency.
Since being appointed, he said he had been involved with coordinating coronavirus testing, helped deal with landlords, and provided resources.
Saleh also mentioned the need to coordinate resources between local, county, and state governments several times.
Hadjiyannis said as a councilperson, she would work with landlords who are filing complaints against tenants that cannot pay rent due to COVID.
“A lawyer on the side of the tenant could help,” Hadjiyannis said.
“I will work with the mayor in securing the budget to ensure they address the needs of every citizen in Jersey City,” Saleh responded.
Regarding development, the candidates were against high rise development in the Heights and favored measures to keep housing affordable.
“I don’t think a handful of people … should be making so many of these decisions that impact so many of us,” Hadjiyannis explained.
Rather, she said would prefer only community-supported project that were made after significant resident input.
“I’d like to see the rest of the city help the Heights for once,” Torres said regarding redevelopment.
Transportation was another issue that the candidates discussed at length.
To that end, Torres said Paterson Plank Road should be better maintained.
“Working with Hoboken should be a priority,” Torres said, referring to the border shared between the two cities.
Furthermore, the Heights are not well connected to the Downtown section of the city, Hadjiyannis lamented.
“I’d like to see a more straightforward way to get Downtown. It’s almost quicker to walk,” she exclaimed.
Ambrossi noted the city doesn’t control NJ Transit, and the ride-sharing van Via is not scalable, therefore buses should be utilized more frequently..
The candidates were then asked what should be done about recent police issues.
“I do like what the Black Lives Matter has been doing to get this to the forefront,” said Torres, but he did not believe in defunding the police.
Having been a firefighter, he said he felt a kinship toward the police, pointing out that he felt it would be better for officers to focus on community policing and have more training.
Furthermore, Ambrossi said he supported both the Civilian Complaint Review Board proposal put forth by Ward E Councilman James Solomon, as well as the Quality of Life Coalition Task Force led by Chief Municipal Prosecutor Jake Hudnut.
Additionally, Hadjiyannis said recent incidents in the Heights reflect the value of the police department and therefore she would not support defunding either.
“It’s about building trust between the police and the community throughout the city,” said Hadjiyannis.
“They are a hammer when sometimes you need to use a scalpel,” Saleh said, citing an incident where landlords were contacted by the community when Airbnbs were being rented for drug trafficking.
While Ambrossi said he also didn’t see any reason to defund, he said increasing the force may be a little overzealous at this time.
“I know we have 900 police officers. I’m not necessarily in favor of increasing the force,” he added.
The quartet also sung a similar tune when talking about the ongoing challenges of school funding.
“Our school system was underfunded to the tune of $200 million,” Hadjiyannis stated.
“I want to go to each of the schools in the Heights and see what they need,” Torres explained.
Saleh said the state pulled funding when they lost control of the district and the Board of Education has more influence than the council over schools.
“The gravy train is over,” he indicated.
The councilman also said tax revenue from adult-use cannabis could be used for schools, provided the November 3rd ballot referendum passes. He said that has worked well in other states such as Colorado.