WEST ORANGE – In the midst of a relatively civil mayoral candidates’ forum at the B’Nai Shalom synagogue in West Orange on Monday night, one flashpoint between two candidates drew out some of the tension inherent in the race.
“I’d like to talk about the unnecessary outsourcing of professional services,” said Eldridge Hawkins, a former West Orange police officer and mayor of neighboring Orange from 2008 to 2012, who is seeking a political comeback. “There are township attorneys getting what many would consider full-time salaries and who are still able to bill the township $80 an hour, which adds up to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
“We were just accused of a crime. This administration does not support pension padding,” countered incumbent Mayor Robert Parisi before a crowd of more than 150 people. “I disagree with having professional service sin house. It’s much more economical to you the taxpayers to have professional services be sub-contracted.”
The verbal spark between Parisi and Hawkins hearkened back to last month, when Hawkins tried to prove that Parisi should be thrown off the ballot, claiming that at least 50 of the petitions submitted by Parisi had alleged irregularities. The Essex County courts ultimately decided in favor of Parisi.
The four candidates went back and forth on issues such as redevelopment, public safety, taxes and education.
West Orange Councilman Joe Krakoviak advocated more transparency in the the 46,000-person Essex County township, and commented on the recent move of its non-partisan municipal elections from May to November.
“I would give residents more of a voice in their government,” Krakoviak said. “I would not move the elections without a referendum so that you guys can decide when you want to vote.”
Candidate Rodolfo Rodriguez also examined the way West Orange elects its leaders.
“We should split the council into districts,” Rodriguez said. “Nobody knows more about your community than somebody who lives in that community.”