PATERSON – The tag teams of Passaic County Freeholders Terry Duffy and Pat Lepore; and GOP challengers Walt Garner and Tom Gomez creak up onto the wooden floor boards here in the theater at Passaic County Community College and an amiable battle ensues sponsored by the Paterson Pulse newspaper.
Needing a single victory to wrest control of the currently 4-3 Democratic freeholder board, the Republicans come out aggressively against the incumbents.
Garner arrives equipped with numbers. Over a ten year period, the Democratic-controlled freeholder board jacked the county budget from $237 million to $391 million, and increased bonded debt from $28 million to $56 million, he complains.
Retired businessman – and Woodland Park mayor – Lepore storms back.
“The Republicans before us increased the budget from $157 to 309 million, a 96.4% increase,” he says. “We were handed over $110 million of Passaic Valley Utilities Authority debt.”
Garner pays tribute to the county he wants to help run.
“The city that has contributed the most to the success of the United States has been forgotten,” he says. “We provided the iron for the chain across the Hudson during the Revolution, the locomotives that opened up the West and the firearms that protected the west. We set the tone for the coutnry, and we haven’t been accorded the respect we deserve.”
But the intensity of the contest quickly overwhelms the early poetry.
“He intends to close or privatize Preakness Hospital,” Lepore says, indicating Garner.
Garner says he spent 30 years providing big numbers to big corporations, and he wants to find effective ways to cut costs at the hospital.
“I see Mr. Garner is a big corporate guy,” Duffy answers. “I’m just a little tavern owner myself. I used to sell a beer for a dollar. When it’s run for profit, it’s a lot different than a facility that is county-run.”
“A facility like this, which serves the neediest, should be part of county services but there are a lot of issues I want to put on the table to make sure we can continue to do that,” Garner says.
Retired from the Air Force, Gomez says Dems had ten years to fix Passaic’s problem: the highest taxed county in the country.
“Yes, I was not aware that I was going to get paid for being a freeholder, I admit it,” Gomez says. “I was willing to do it as thanks for what I was given by this nation. That’s what Tom Gomez stands for. I want to give it back to the United States of America.”
The crowd goes bonkers.
“We’re all Americans, and if you live in Passaic, I don’t care what God you worship, you’re family,” Duffy concludes. “There are some people who come to my house and I cringe and I love it when they leave, but we’re all family, that’s the reality of it.”
Now here comes to Garner to close.
“We got a phone call saying some union leaders wanted to have a discussion, and I went right up there. I don’t believe in making decisions in a vacuum, I don’t look for profit, we need it (Preakness) to break a profit,” repeats Garner.