As far as debates go,
it was a little like the wild west.
The moderator had difficulty keeping track of the questions and who was supposed to speak for how long while the candidates attempted to wrest more control over the proceedings than they had previously agreed upon.
But despite the procedural bumps in the road, there the majority of the hour-long candidates forum between Current Mayor Peter V. Mancuso and newcomer Cathy Wilson sponsored by The League of Women Voters of the Morristown Area went by fairly smoothly.
According to the
outline of the evening, each candidate was given time for an opening and
closing statement (the latter was combined with a question by the moderator for
time purposes) and time was also allotted for candidate responses to audience's
Both candidates were high on hyperbole but light on specifics, as Mancuso touted big victories for the Township on the Honeywell and Colgate properties a year and a half from now while Wilson repeatedly referred to an amorphous issue with “trust” in the township committee.
Wilson began the evening in her opening statement, where she said her experience with the township taught her “at a gut level” the problem with having your ideas taken seriously by going to a meeting as opposed to being someone around the table making the decisions.
“To make the changes I want to make, I need a seat at the table,” Wilson said.
According to Wilson, her challenge to Mancuso was to challenge the long-standing male dominated Republican establishment he represents.
“It is time to be represented by someone with a different ear, someone who speaks with a difference voice and sees thing through the lens of a different gender,” Wilson said.
For Mancuso, that issue seemed to be a non-starter.
“I have been a part of the government in town since 1976. In that time we have had three women mayors who were all members of the township committee,” Mancuso said. “We also now have several women now who are on our boards and essentially are in training to hopefully be on the township committee.”
The issue of Honeywell was submitted by several community members and Mancuso, who was involved in the negotiations over the property, said that the process of negotiating ended up as advantageous for the township as possible.
“Their initial proposal would have had 335 housing units for a retirement center that would have done nothing for Morris Township,” Mancuso said. “The way it was zoned they could have built whatever they wanted there. We went through the process and reduced the number of units, moved the borders in and got rid of the hotel they wanted to build. We also get 14 acres back in open space that we can do what we want with in the township.”
Mancuso said that when all is said and done, the township currently gets $333,000 a year in taxes from Honeywell, but they will add another $535,000 every year when the process is complete in 18 months or so.
“And that is money for us and not for the school system,” Mancuso said.
Wilson said she used Honeywell as a case study for her masters program on conflict resolution and the traditional process for negotiations were inadequate.
“That has been in place since 1960s and that process works ok for non-charged issues. It is very legalistic. You have to swear the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth and that doesn’t inspire trust,” Wilson said. “I believe we have an issue with trust. There is a climate of distrust. And I believe that is direct fallout from imbalance in our representation on the township committee. We have many people who feel they aren’t represented.”
Specifically, Wilson said Honeywell was missing a community visioning process that was included in the notes of 2007 master plan report.
“I think doing that would create a foundation of trust,” Wilson said.
Candidates were also asked about the post-Hurricane Sandy power issues in the area and Mancuso said everyone did their best during the crisis.
“Irene caught everyone at JCP&L by surprise. They did a much, much better job with Sandy. Were they perfect? No. Were we? We tried,” Mancuso said. “ I spent 10 hours a day at the warming center in Morris Township and I gave briefings every two hours to those who were there.”
Wilson said another key factor that put her on the campaign trail was dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“After having no power for 12 days I helped to found a citizens action group Citizens for Reliable Electricity in Morris Township (CREMT),” Wilson said.
According to Wilson, CREMT’s mission is improved results, fewer outages, shorter duration, better communication.
“We’re an action group. We’d like to be more involved. We’ve written a lot of letters,” Wilson said. “I’d like to see collaboration on the township side.”
When asked about how best to address the budget in Morris Township, Mancuso said that the key was shared services. Their current sewer system arrangement allows Morris Plains, Randolph and Harding access to dispose of their waste for which the Township gets paid, Mancuso said. Mancuso also touted the joint library with Morristown, moving to the county dispatch system and spoke of the upcoming court merger with Madison.
“That will save $120-$150,000 a year,” Mancuso said. “We save money in every way we possibly can. Our budget has been balanced and what we have done this year is we have increased the budget to each household $44 a year.”
Wilson said she has been speaking with Township Administrator Timothy Quinn in order to get an understanding of the budget process, but sees her perspective as valuable.
“As a person I am very frugal and very mindful of how I spend my own funds. I have been called cheap. I am very conservative. I pay property taxes like everyone and its my biggest expense,” Wilson said. “There are things that happen at the county and the state that we can’t control. So we need to be more proactive in communicating with those agencies.”
When asked about what Morris Township could have done to retain Colgate, Mancuso said there wasn’t much.
“They decided to move south. But it gets right back to the Honeywell thing. Economics drive the world and the economy. I have been deeply involved in negotiations and Tim Quinn and I are doing everything we can to find the best possible business to put in there,” Mancuso said. “If someone is ill I can’t just say be healed. I don’t think there is anything you can do to prevent someone from doing what they want to do if it benefits them economically.”
Wilson said she wants to see the Township reach out more to the business community.
“I would like to see the township be more proactive on this. I could see having a committee set aside to reach out to businesses,” Wilson said. “We obviously have a need and we would like to know what they need in return. We have a lot to offer and we would like to know what would keep them here.”
Mancuso said that going forward the number one priority will be to keep the tax base where it is, increase as many services as possible and be proactive in thinking about spending.
“But it is important to look at where we are going two years, four years and five years down the road,” Mancuso said.
Wilson said the single most important issue facing Morris Township is the climate of distrust.
“I see it and its endemic. To me the Honeywell situation made it very clear. The imbalance in our representation is the biggest problem we face,” Wilson said. “I can really help with that.”
Mancuso bridled at the suggestion that he was part of the trust problem Wilson outlined.
“I’ve lived here for 48 years, I’ve been an elected official for 12 years and mayor for five years. I speak to people all the time and I have never had anyone tell me they didn’t trust what we going on. It is absolutely wrong,” Mancuso said. “No one will ever, ever, ever be able to accuse me of being biased for Republican or Democrat. I do what is best for Morris Township. I love this place. I will do anything I can to make this the best place in the world and I think we are close.”
Wilson said the lack of women and a majority of Republicans on the committee have created a disenfranchised segment of the population that only she can reach.
“This is an example of where perspective is really important. If you aren’t a part of the Republican establishment then you don’t trust what is going on,” Wilson said. “There is bad blood and it is not just politics. Mr. Mancuso cannot heal the fall out. He epitomizes it.”