Teaneck’s upcoming nonpartisan May council race is shaping up to be a messy war between different factions aiming to take control of the city council, according to Democratic sources in the area.
Sources say that three out of the four challengers (Michael Pagan, Chondra Young and Stephen Gruber) are being supported by state Senator Loretta Weinberg, a Teaneck native, as she aims to install her allies on the board. The incumbents they are challenging are Mohammed Hameeduddin, Mark Schwartz, and Henry Pruitt, supposedly being backed by current mayor Lizette Parker. Jacob Herenstein is also a challenger.
According to sources, the basis of the challenge comes from a growing rift between Weinberg (D-37) and Parker, two former allies. One source said that the two had a falling out after disagreements regarding how Teaneck should be run, namely issues surrounding a controversial health care stipend policy. In November of last year, it was revealed by an audit that Teaneck was paying out around $400,000 in annual waivers to employees who decided to not accept health coverage. In January of this year, Weinberg introduced legislation that would close a coverage loophole banning public employees from double dipping on health benefits coverage (collecting a waiver from one public employee while receiving benefits from another).
However, according to one source, the rift between the two comes down to more than just political disagreements: it’s personal. The source said that Weinberg was unhappy with Parker’s decision to compromise with those on the council the Senator disagreed with, something that helped widen the chasm between the two.
While Weinberg has yet to officially endorse candidates in the race, she did say that she plans to take a position on the council candidates and issue endorsements before the May election.
“I am pretty involved in helping to see more accountability and transparency in Teaneck,” Weinberg told PolitickerNJ. “I think that there has been a lot of wastefulness and issues that have been pointed out by our auditor and various others where tax dollars have been wasted and spent inappropriately and in some cases illegally.”
While Weinberg has yet to officially endorse candidates, Pagan’s office has been set up in space in the same building as her legislative office. Pagan has also taken issue with the spending of Teaneck’s municipal government and the healthcare waivers.
“It is supposed to be about helping people but we see the incumbents fighting over salaries. You see the incumbents fighting over healthcare,” Pagan said. “And I am just thinking we are so different. My goal is to end wasteful spending, increase fiscal responsibility and increase transparency and openness in government.”
According to Pagan, the first thing he plans to do if elected is donate his $7,000 annual council salary to Teaneck’s youth, senior and recreation programs.
“You don’t run for council to make money, you don’t run for council to get healthcare. You run for council to help your town do better,” he said.
While Parker is not up for reelection this year, Teaneck’s government is arranged in such a way where the members of the council vote from among their ranks to select a new mayor. The next reorganization meeting is scheduled for July 1, 2016. According to one source, Weinberg’s decision to push her allies might have to do with a desire to remove Parker from her position as mayor and instead push her back to the rank of councilwoman. Parker is the only female African American mayor in Bergen County.
Though Teaneck’s election is officially nonpartisan, the town is over 50 percent Democratic, according to the New Jersey Division of Elections. That means that the various factions fighting for control of the council are generally members of the same party.
The municipal nonpartisan elections will be held on May 10.
Parker could not be reached for comment.