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Q&A: Caldwell Council Candidates

Four candidates vying for two seats on the Caldwell Council.

Councilmen Peter Murray and Richard Hauser seek second terms on the Caldwell Council in the Nov. 6 election. The incumbents, both Republicans, are being challenged by Democrats Edward Durkin and Susan Vezza. 

The following questions were posed to the candidates and their answers are printed verbatim. To learn more about each candidate click on their name above to be taken to their individual profile pages.

Republican Incumbent Candidate Peter Murray

What do you feel are your biggest accomplishments from your first term?

  • Having less than a 1% tax increase over the past 3 years including the 0% in 2011.
  • Finalizing the joint recreation agreement with West Caldwell and Caldwell College.
  • Leading contract negotiations that saved over $1 million dollars.
  • The working relationship with the Police and Fire departments.

What do you hope to accomplish in a second term?

  • Continue to keep the tax rate low by utilizing all of the processes we have implemented over the past 3 years.
  • Develop additional programs within the police and fire departments that allow better insight to the needs of our businesses and residents.
  • Upgrade our telecommunications systems.

What are the concerns of voters in this town? What do you hear about most when campaigning?

The number one concern is taxes. We try to do our best to educate the residents that we are only 1 part of a larger pie that makes up their taxes. We have very little if any say on the Board of Education and County tax components. Our 3 year average of less than 1% stands out as being one of the best averages in the state over that time period.

What are your ideas for attracting businesses to the downtown and helping the existing ones to thrive?

I have attended several meetings with the merchants and shared thoughts such as outdoor seating for restaurants, playing music on the avenue, and later store hours. It is my belief that the merchants and downtown organizations need to collectively come up with a priority list of projects they would like to see completed. Once this is established we can then collectively determine the money needed to attack these needs, reach out to the state and county to gain approval for these projects and determine which items we can get done in the short term. This year alone we have applied for grants to help build new sidewalks for Bloomfield Ave and introduced organizations such as Complete Streets. Another idea that has been presented is creating special improvement districts in certain areas where monies can be used to create a unified look. 

Are there any areas where you think the borough is spending too much or too little?

I think we have done a great job of meeting the town’s needs in a manner that not only has addressed issues in order of priority but doing it within our budget constraints. 

What would you like voters to know about you?

First and foremost my family is the most important thing to me. I am fortunate to have 2 great children and a wonderful wife. As a family we are very involved in sports and school activities. So when I have to take time away to conduct town business I make sure that I put everything into the task. Anything less would be devaluing the time I am away from them. I approach every topic and situation with an open mind to try and make a sound decision based on the facts and information that I have. I have been fortunate to meet many residents in this town either as a coach of their sons or daughters, at meetings or just on the street. I have used those interactions and conversations to help make our town better by listening to their suggestions and issues. One of the things that I hope people have witnessed is that I have done this job with integrity and honesty. I would ask any resident to contact me directly if anyone suggests otherwise. 

Democratic Candidate Edward Durkin

Why are you running for council?

I am running for Caldwell Council because I’ve always wanted to give back to the community that has given me so much. My family has always taken pride in public service and I want to follow in their footsteps. 

I see that we are facing many challenges in Caldwell and I felt like it was time for me to come off of the sidelines and take an active role.

What do you hope to accomplish as a council member?

Coming from a finance background, I know that it is important to examine budgets line by line. I want to be able to build relationships with surrounding municipalities so we can explore more shared service agreements, so we can save the taxpayers some money, that way we don’t have to continue the trend of raising fees on our residents.

Also, I want to help bring technology in to the government. We have all of these tools at our fingertips, so why aren’t we using them? We can put five-minute Council updates on YouTube and use the Borough website to better highlight some of the great things we have in this town. 

What are the concerns of voters in this town? What do you hear about most when campaigning?

You hear a lot of things when campaigning. The feeling we have gotten is that people feel like Caldwell has lost its sense of community. I think a lot of people feel that the Council doesn’t go out of its way to really listen to people. One of my and Susan’s biggest platform points is making government more accessible for people, even if that means bringing the government to the people.

What are your ideas for attracting businesses to the downtown and helping the existing ones to thrive?

Again, coming from a finance and business background, I know what a tough economy can do to downtowns. One of the first things I want to do is help create a better working relationship between landlords, business owners and the Council. I feel like there is a disconnect somewhere along the line, which hurts our downtown. 

We also need to really look at ways to limit landlords from using leases that guarantee them rent for ten years plus. If we continue to allow this we are going to have more spaces like the former Ace Hardware sitting open for years at a time with no incentive to rent them.

Another thing I think we need to do better is search for grant money to help offset the costs of desperately needed improvement projects. That is why having good relationships with the state, county and surrounding municipalities can really go a long way.

Are there any areas where you think the borough is spending too much or too little?

I believe that we could do a better job at exploring shared services and then making sure that we execute on our agreements properly. I know that have been problems in the past with Caldwell not being able to collect the proper amount of money from the use of the sewer treatment plant. It is the little things like that where we can save some money.

What would you like voters to know about you?

I graduated from Caldwell College with a BS in Business Administration and am graduating again with my MBA this spring. I volunteer with Big Brothers and Big Sisters and have a strong background in finance. (I hold a Series 7 and 66.) I have deep ties to the community, the qualifications to move Caldwell forward and a strong desire to give back.

Republican Incumbent Candidate Richard Hauser

What do you feel are your biggest accomplishments from your first term?

There are three significant accomplishments in my first term. They are:

  • Leading the hiring of several well-qualified people in the first five months of my first term, which was the first step in allowing us to accomplish so many things in the following 2.5 years.
  • Negotiating the recreation agreement with West Caldwell which had lapsed for over a decade which led to the ability to negotiate the joint agreement with Caldwell College and West Caldwell pertaining to Kiwanis Oval. 
  • Lastly the less than 1% tax increase over the past 3 years.

What do you hope to accomplish in a second term?

Continue a conservative financial approach including continuation of expanding shared services with our neighbors. Building on an approach of best practices within our local government and bringing other appropriate business practices to government, such as the employee incentive plan I introduced this year. 

What are the concerns of voters in this town? What do you hear about most when campaigning?

It's still the cost of living in this area (taxes), which is why I'm so proud of what we've accomplished in light of significant reductions in revenue and increased costs from actions taken in previous years.

What are your ideas for attracting businesses to the downtown and helping the existing ones to thrive?

I believe containing taxes will allow residents more money which they can choose to spend locally. Sometimes people forget that one of the reasons people may be shopping less in town is that they simply have less to spend. 

Are there any areas where you think the borough is spending too much or too little?

I'd like to be able to spend more on infrastructure projects such as the roads and water system projects seem to have been neglected for many years.  However, this has to be balanced with our ability to pay for projects. I believe that there are opportunities to share services with our neighbors in West Caldwell and the Board of Ed in areas such as technology/communication, which I've discussed, as an example. 

What would you like voters to know about you?

We have a wonderful community! This community has provided me and my family so much over my lifetime and one of the reasons I have run for council is to give back to my community. I hope to show my children by example, both of whom I'm very proud of, what giving back is about and that you can make a difference. The council responsibility is a serious commitment for me. It's a lot of hard work and takes a lot of time, but I believe Pete Murray and I have made a hugely positive impact over the past three years. 

I have been involved with coaching several sports over the past 15 years which allowed me first and foremost to share the skills, knowledge and life skills I have learned with the youth of our community. I believe that I have led them by example, by being passionate, fair and honest. 

I have learned a lot in the past three years about how our local government works. I have more to learn and have always and will always approach decision with an open mind. My decisions are thoughtful and always made with the integrity that my parents and other key people in my life instilled in me.  

Democratic Candidate Susan Vezza

Why are you running for council?

I have lived in this town for over 30 years and raised my son here. I know what Caldwell was and I know what Caldwell could be. We face so many challenges including a deteriorating downtown area. I look at the Council and I believe that we need to have more women in leadership positions. I know, as a small business owner, widow, and compassionate educator that I can bring leadership to the Council. That is why I am running.

What do you hope to accomplish as a council member?

Both Ed and I believe that we need to make government more open. Council meetings are not always the best places for good ideas to come out. I want to host office hours every other Saturday in some of our downtown establishments so that residents can come and share ideas and concerns with us over a cup of coffee or a sandwich.  

Coming from an art and education background, I believe that the physical space in which you live can really dictate the atmosphere in a place. If you set up a classroom and it is messy and the chalkboard is falling off the wall, then the students aren’t get as much out of it as they should. The same holds true for a town. We need to examine the physical details, particularly in the downtown and make an effort to clean things up. If you look at thriving downtowns, they have rules that help keep the area beautiful. We need to do the same. A nice downtown helps keep property values high.

What are the concerns of voters in this town? What do you hear about most when campaigning?

I hear a lot about our downtown area and the general atmosphere in town. The residents I have spoken feel like there isn’t a real sense of togetherness in Caldwell. I think people are really concerned about the physical condition of the downtown and really feel like no one is listening to them.

What are your ideas for attracting businesses to the downtown and helping the existing ones to thrive?

As I said, we really need to pay attention to the details. We need to make sure that everyone does his or her part to keep Bloomfield Avenue beautiful. If you have businesses and landlords who do their part then you can attract other businesses. Look at the corner of Smull and Bloomfield. That whole strip has a great updated look and now we have two new and different stores that have come in on Smull Avenue. Hard work and good attitudes are contagious. 

Are there any areas where you think the borough is spending too much or too little?

Working together with our neighboring towns is important. I think exploring sharing more services is important, but to do it right you need to have good relationships.

We are also for things like Complete Streets policies, which show that Caldwell is serious about building a strong community and will open up new opportunities for pursuing grant money.

What would you like voters to know about you?

I raised my son, Michael, by myself since he was ten years old after I became a widow. I was able to balance that with earning a master’s in art education, a master’s in special education, building a successful career in education and a small business. I understand small business, I am compassionate, and I am attuned to the needs of others. I look forward to serving my longtime home of Caldwell. 

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