In New Brunswick, Bombelyn targets highrise tax abatements in grassroots challenge of Cahill

NEW BRUNSWICK – In a debate square-off they had last October, attorney Patricia Bombelyn suggested that New Brunswick use fellow university town Montclair as a model for certain neighborhood development.  

Mayor James Cahill told her as they shook hands afterwards that she ought to leave town.

Bombelyn didn’t take his advice.

In fact, she’s running against the nearly 20-year incumbent in the Democratic Party Primary in June.

“The mayor has done some great things, but he’s lost touch,” said Bombelyn, who filed yesterday with her running mates. 

“They’re not evil people,” she said of the Cahill administration. “I know Mayor Cahill loves New Brunswick, but it’s time for change and fresh blood. This administration is tired. It’s time for all of the neighborhoods to get as much attention as certain ones get.”

Team Bombelyn argues that the Cahill administration is developing the center of the city to the exclusion of diehard New Brunswick neighborhoods.

“There are far too many properties downtown that have been the beneficiaries of 30-year tax abatements,” said the challenger. “Sometimes tax abatements are important, but 30 years for luxury condos in New Brunswick? I don’t see that. In Camden, okay. But in a downtown anchored by Johnson and Johnson and other businesses and you’re still giving away 30-year tax abatements? It doesn’t make sense. This is a community in which a senior citizen neighbor of mine is paying $10,000 per-year in property taxes. His taxes will subsidize services for folks in those condos. That is wrong.”

The wife of statewide Latino Leadership Alliance prez and founder Martin Perez, Bombelyn has been on this grassroots organizing front for a while. She and Perez founded their own community-based law practice in 1993. Their local political efforts have proved effective, particularly last year, as they won Democratic committee seats, and came within 80 votes of changing New Brunswick from an at-large to a ward system of representation.

They feel confident in their coalition: Latinos, African-Americans, Rutgers students, and taxpayers fed up with a five-term power structure.

“Even going back to the committee people, what I couldn’t understand was the all-out effort to exclude,” said Bombelyn, referring to local Democratic leadership that she believes is in the throes of decay.

“You need to open your arms and include these people,” added the candidate. “I see students as a resource, not a problem. People send their kids here – they make an investment in New Brunswick. Wthout Rutgers, New Brunswick is like that scene in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ where Jimmy Stewart sees a town he no longer knows.”

Longtime Cahill ally Councilman Joe Egan (also an assemblyman) decided not to run for re-election this year. The party supplanted his son, Kevin Egan, on the Cahill ticket. Also running with Cahill is Rebecca Escobar, a swap-in for retiring Councilwoman Blanquita Valenti.

“Kevin is vice president of the parking authority, and Rebecca is president of the of housing authority,” said Bombelyn. “There’s this familiar theme we see here always, this turning inward, instead of turning outward.”

Bombelyn’s ticket includes Martin Arocho, president of the municipal workers union since 1978 and a former Board of Education president appointed by Cahill; and Rhaman Johnson, a master’s degree student, homeowner and gym rat/former boxer, husband of a successful business executive.

A native of Passaic County with a law degree from Rutgers University, Bombelyn wants to downsize local government and improve the local school system. She agrees with Gov. Chris Christie that teachers need to accept one-year wage freezes. She’s also a proponent of school vouchers – “like state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth),” she hastens to add, as she considers the political terrain of a Democratic Party Primary.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat,” she explained. “I believe in Democratic values. Yes, we were very disappointed in Jon Corzine. As lifelong Democrats, we believe access to education is a civil right… What I hear in New Brunswick as I talk to parents and teachers is great frustration over resources being siphoned off to bloated (school) administration.”

Instead of enticing the wealthy to high-rise condos with tax abatements, Bombelyn said she would improve education for the city’s exisiting residents.

“I’m a sharp attorney, and a sharp observer of everything that goes on in my town,” the candidate said. “No doubt, I’m going to be able to do my job, and I will get the most highly qualified people to help me run the city.”

In the meantime, “We know we have a tough campaign, but we’re going to work harder than our opponents and smarter than our opponents.”

In New Brunswick, Bombelyn targets highrise tax abatements in grassroots challenge of Cahill