It’s That Time of the Year!
By Ryan Schwertfeger
Well maybe only some of that is true, but it’s the quadrennial year that brings the most rigorous of local campaigning to Oakland with the mayor and two council seats up for grabs. This year, incumbent mayor Linda Schwager and her two democratic running mates, Josh Lurie and John Biale are facing off against incumbent Republican councilman and mayoral candidate Pat Pignatelli and his two running mates, incumbent councilman Chris Visconti and newcomer Brian Tully.
There’s less than a month until election day and it appears that there will sadly be no debate between the candidates for office. Blame whatever side you want but ultimately, it’s the citizens of Oakland who lose out. I can only hope that residents will research, ask questions of, and think long and hard about who they think should be representing them as the faces of and the governing body of Oakland.
I’ve lived in Oakland for pretty much my entire life and I am certainly a proud Oaklander. I went to Heights, VMS, and Indian Hills, and even away at college, friends of mine here know me as the guy from New Jersey who is still trying to get that dog park in his hometown (and we’re getting closer step by step!).
But living here for more than 15 years, I know and see the usual campaigning strategies and statements that go along with running for office in Oakland; and if you are an Oaklander, I’m sure many of them sound quite familiar to you as well. The same old topics of downtown traffic to the Van Allen House to sewers to senior housing are present yet come along with a few new hot button issues of possible shared services regarding the police department and a possible Borough solution to commuter parking.
However, while I mentioned this sentiment before in an article I wrote about trying to solve downtown traffic, I would certainly hope and implore my fellow residents to not only look into what the candidates say they want to do, but also ask them how they intend to do just that. What is their track record on acting upon what they say they want to do?
For example, Mayor Schwager promised when she ran the for Mayor in 2011 that she would be able to fix traffic downtown by synchronizing the lights. While I give her kudos for following through and putting in the high tech synchronization system, traffic downtown is still vastly far away from what it should be, especially during rush hours and school drop off and pick up times.
Likewise, listening to the Candidates Forum on Oakland TV (airing on Channel 77 for Cablevision and 45 for FiOS at 3am, 2pm, and 10pm), I heard two other interesting ideas.
One from Republican candidate Brian Tully was about trying to bring NJTransit trains back to Oakland. I think it is a great idea to see if this is possible and I’m sure several other towns along the rail line would also be interested in seeing the same service brought to their municipality. While Tully rightfully admitted that it would take time to see through, I would also go about asking where the money would come from to pay for this idea given that the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund is about broke and NJTransit just had to raise fares and cut service to close a nearly $60 million shortfall. What would Oakland need to contribute to the equation to get this to happen? Home values may increase with the addition of train service in Oakland, but that would come at what cost to the taxpayers?
Another idea was from Democratic candidate John Biale about putting words to action to finally try and bring affordable, senior housing to Oakland. I don’t think anyone would disagree that affordable and senior citizen housing is needed in Oakland (how much/what is Oakland’s responsibility according to the state is another whole issue to cause a headache), but again, how would it be paid for? And if the project uses county or state funds, it is my understanding that it would be open to anyone who qualifies in the county or state, or wherever the funds would come from. So then how many Oaklanders would benefit? That is who we want to help, right? This point is already being raised in neighboring Franklin Lakes with their plans to build housing for the developmentally disabled.
I put forth my ideas on how to solve traffic that I’m sure wouldn’t be easy to implement, but I do dare say that it is bold and tries to address the root problem head on. For the issue of commuter parking, I think not just commuters, but the downtown will need more parking in order to survive and grow once sewers finally arrive. So, my opinion is that Oakland needs to build a small two or three floor parking garage that is run by the town so that commuters, residents, and shoppers alike can have easy access to our stores and services and restaurants. Is that going to be a popular idea? Probably not, but what else would address the problem head on not just to deal with now, but for years and decades to come? And heck, I’m saying all of these things without even being a candidate for office!
So, there will be mudslinging, misunderstandings, clarifications, policy positions, and the like, but all in all, I hope that the residents of Oakland…especially now with the lack of a debate…can reach out to the candidates running and critically think about and ask questions in regards to not just their ideas in general, but what facts, information, and attainable goals the candidates have in mind and on hand to see that their ideas actually, and finally, become reality to benefit all residents of Oakland.