West Orange resident John Schmidt received 45% of the vote four years ago when he ran against Mayor John McKeon.
Now, in an atmosphere that does not favor incumbents, Schmidt’s running again, against the same Democratic Party machine -minus dual office-holder McKeon, who is leaving City Hall while continuing his Statehouse career as an assemblyman.
“If I’m elected, I will kill the pay-to-play culture in this town,” says Schmidt, a teacher from 1969 to 1979, who works in the securities industry and heads a local tax watchdog group.
Despite his membership in the Republican Party in a heavily Democratic town, Schmidt believes he has political traction in what – at least on paper – is a non-partisan contest.
His opponent, Councilman Robert Parisi, sought a six percent municipal tax increase and now faces a consstitutional man-up moment as he and the council eye a rejected $135 million school budget that would have excised a 7.3% tax increase.
Schmidt says the council president has already announced that he and the governing body won’t assess the failed school budget until after the May 11th municipal election, and believes Parisi will ultimately protect intransigent unions at the expense of the taxpayers.
Schmidt wants action.
“They need to reopen that contract,” says the candidate. “The teachers in West Orange make on average $70,000, compared to the state average of $59,000. Principals in West Orange are also being paid more here than they are in other towns.
“This while over the course of the past decade, homeowners have struggled with a 70% increase in taxes.”
He knows he will be outspent.
“Parisi takes money from everybody,” says Schmidt. “(Senator Richard) Codey chipped in $5,000; the money’s pouring in from everywhere. We’re going from house party to house party collecting $25 donations. We did get two $1,000 donations. Of course, we’re combating the attack on their side that we’re right wing nuts. They’re trashing me as a Republican Wall Street guy, but this is a nonpartisan election.”
If Schmidt sees the infrastructure around City Hall as Parisi’s voter base, he is confident he can awaken “the sleeping giant” in the condos.
“It’s about time,” Schmidt says of Gov. Chris Christie’s cut of state aid and top-down force down.
“It’s been the school budgets driven by salaries and benefits bankrupting the state, with unions disguising their own economic interest behind the children. It’s time for the public to think anew.”