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Ogdensburg Historical Society Hosts Meet the Candidates

Jennifer Murphy

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 • 11:57pm

OGDENSBURG, NJ – The Ogdensburg Historical Society hosted their annual “Meet the Candidates Night,” at the Ogdensburg Fire Department on October 16.

John Kibildis, moderator, explained that the “efforts here tonight are to provide a forum for our residents to meet our federal, county and municipal candidates. We hope that after tonight’s program, we will have made your task, on Election Day, somewhat easier.”

On the federal level, running for U.S. Congressman of the 11th District, incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) was not available, but asked New Jersey State Senator Steven Oroho (R-24) to fill in for him.  John Arvanites (D) running against him spoke on his own behalf. They were given eight minutes to give an overview of their platforms, followed by three minutes of rebuttals.

Oroho spoke first, and discussed Frelinghuysen’s service beginning in 1969 in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, stating that Frelinghuysen understood the sacrifice of the military and their families, and has visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan several times.  Previous to becoming congressman, he served as county freeholder, then legislator. He serves now as senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.  He is a member of the Defense Sub-Committee, from which, Oroho said, he advocated to save Picatinny Arsenal from being cut, to having funds added so that it has become the army’s premiere research and development location. Picatinny Arsenal hires 4,000 civilians and military and 1,000 contractors, ranging from engineers to scientists.  He also serves on the sub-committee of Homeland Security, which Oroho said is very important due to New Jersey's proximity to the 9/11 terror attacks.  Frelinghuysen is the Appropriations Committee liaison to the House Intelligence Committee. One of his projects is working on raising the Bayonne Bridge, to keep the Port Authority of NY and NJ open for business. Oroho added that he has earned high marks from Americans for Tax Reform, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Frelinghuysen’s priority is cutting the national debt, Oroho said. Frelinghuysen, Oroho added, supports health care reform, but not Obama’s plan; he feels medical decisions must continue to be made between a doctor and a patient.  

John Arvanites introduced himself with a biography. His father, a Greek immigrant, started as a dishwasher and saved until he could buy his own coffee shop, where Arvanites washed the dishes. After closing up, many nights Arvanites had to stay behind “until the job was done.” This taught him what he calls “the three D’s:  discipline, determination, and dreams.”  He was the first in his family to graduate high school and college. He attended Fairleigh Dickinson University. He began an accounting business, and a payroll company after college. He served 10 years as town councilman, and four years as Mayor of Roseland, N.J.  

According to Arvanites, “The model I established in Roseland is being copied in many communities.Why? Because I reached across the table to work with Democrats and Republicans.” 

Arvanites said the taxes were cut in Roseland 14 years in a row, and that if they were continuing to follow his model, they would be debt free next year. 

He continued, “I know what it is like to start a business and ask for your first loan, to eat Cheerios for dinner so that your employees could put food on the table, what it’s like to pay a health insurance premium, and make payroll while you have a child in college and one in diapers, to see that your senior parents can enjoy their golden years. CPA’s come across every sort of situation. If you take a step back, listen to others and have the 3D’s, you’ll get the job done.” 

Arvanities said he believes education is the best way to get families out of poverty, supports womens' rights, wants to strengthen programs for veteran’s benefits, and hopes to increase Medicare and Social Security. 

Arvanities currently lives in Morristown.

“I’m passionate about serving the 11th District," he said.

During the rebuttal period, Oroho reiterated Frelinghuysen’s accomplishments, while Arvanites aggressively attacked Frelinghuysen’s voting record, saying he voted "no" on important legislations providing tax relief, including college tuition deductions housing assistance, and withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. 

Each candidate was asked the first question, with three minutes to respond.  

The first question was, “What would you do to increase cooperation across party lines?"

Oroho responded thatFrelinghuysen is well-respected among both parties, and he works in bipartisan efforts including raising the Bayonne Bridge, keeping the Port of Authority open, assisting homeless veterans, and protecting our drinking water.

Arvanites commented that “the aisle has become a canyon.”  

He quoted a Charlie Rose interview where it was said that he “admired mayors, as they create laboratories where they get things done.”   

He felt that his stint as mayor of Roseland demonstrated his ability to work “across the table.”

The second question was, "If elected, how would you improve the quality of life in Sussex County?"

Oroho replied that a high priority is constituent service work. He also described Frelinghuysen’s economic growth plan:  ower taxes on small businesses (describing them as the job creators), increase American energy production, allow American companies to compete in global markets, lessen government involvement in small businesses, and pay down the debt.

Arvanites replied that the best way to boost our economy was to invest in ourselves. He promoted the accelerated depreciation program for companies that were buying new equipment, and to allow them to  a full tax break credit. He said he would like to systematically rebuild our bridges, tunnels and schools. He would extend the Bush tax credit for the middle class, and create incentives for small businesses to manufacture products here, not in other countries. He also said he would simplify the tax code, particularly with regard to education, and eliminate the death tax. Arvanites said he is a supporter of women’s rights.

Neither incumbent U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), nor candidate Joe Kyrillos (R) was present at the event.

There are four Sussex County Freeholder candidates vying for two open positions, created by exiting Susan Zellman and Rich Zeoli. Each was given four minutes to introduce themselves, with two minutes for rebuttal and clarification.

Dennis Mudrick (R) spoke first.  He explained that “my faith and my family always come first.”

Mudrick said when he listens to people in the county, there is one thing on their mind, “taxes, taxes, taxes.”  

He feels the freeholder position will require “discipline and hard, often unpopular decisions.” 

He spoke about the importance of towns being business-friendly, and becoming more aggressive in attracting businesses to the area. He said he advocated getting the government out of competing with private industry to provide services, and maintaining reduction to the size and scope of county government.  He promoted updating the county infrastructure.

During the following two minute rebuttal period, Mudrick explained that his mission would be safety, value and, beauty. This involves keeping people safe, making sure he gives the most for the tax dollar, keeping the environment nice, preserving farms and open space.  He is in his 27th year of public education as a high school teacher, and school administrator.

Jim Tighe (D)  spoke next. He said he is a foreman for All County Window Cleaning, a former Ogdensburg company. After graduating from Vernon Township High School, he attended Sussex County Community College. He stated that the job of freeholder is to provide the greatest services at the lowest cost to the residents. Specific policy areas that concern him are the recent funding cuts to Sussex County Community College, and he said he would not have sold the Sussex County Homestead.

During the following rebuttal period, Tighe said he spoke to some prison guards, as well as workers on Rt. 565, and feels that “we can pull a little more chicken off the bone,” meaning he would eliminate waste.

Susan Williams (D) spoke about meeting Governor Chris Christie earlier in the day, and his comments about the importance of avoiding a one party system, by having checks and balances with some Democratic representation in a highly Republican county.  She has an undergraduate degree in Political Science, with a Criminal Justice minor; she started a business working with property management with distressed properties in the inner cities.  She then earned a Master's Degree in Social Work, and feels this prepares her to work with policy. 

During the rebuttal period, Williams said she would maintain the beauty of Sussex County while growing comfortably. She said she is aware that the residents here do not want to build to the point of becoming an urban area.

Gail Phoebus (R) grew up in Sussex County and, with her husband has been the co-owner of Farmstead Golf & Country Club, which they bought from his father 30 years ago. As the restaurant manager, she said she understands how to develop a budget. Six and a half years ago, she became an elected official on the Andover Township Committee. She served as mayor, deputy mayor, and developed the Economic Development Advisory Committee, which worked hand in hand with the township's land use board. Phoebus said she feels it is crucial to bring business into the community. She is also a proponent of shared services throughout the county, in order to bring high quality services with lower cost, she said. Phoebus said she has handled three contracts, just this past year, so she knows how to negotiate contracts. She was recently made honorary member of the Andover Township Fire Department, and her term with the township will end on December 31.  She has held positions in the recreation commission, and open space committee, and is a township committee liaison to the Andover Township Police Department. She said she understands how to read budgets, but also knows she will have to provide quality services and listen to the residents.

During the rebuttal period, she emphasized developing shared services in order to keep whole with taxes. She said she would streamline the process for getting new businesses to come in and take over old buildings, through the county, state and federal requirements. 

Freeholder candidates were asked one question, which they each had two minutes to respond to: "What do you see as a major problem in the county, and how would you solve it?"  

Mudrick responded that taxes are the pressing issue. "We’ll need serious candidates with serious solutions."  

He cited examples of constituents of people in Byram, whose taxes increased 40 percent in the past five years, people who are facing reduced hours of employment, and senior citizens on fixed incomes. Mudrick said he feels the county needs greater fiscal responsibility.

Tighe responded that unemployment was the most pressing issue. "We need to educate our youth and re-educate our older, out-of-work population."

Williams said she feels that we need more revenue. "Sussex County is labeled the 'Playground of New Jersey,'in the state’s master plan."  

William said she would increase the eco/agro-tourism, and feels that we need to bring a rail line in, to help with the cost of commuting, as most people commute to work out of the county.

Phoebus reported that Sussex County is losing population, and therefore, state aid to schools. "Municipalities are forced to do more with less."  

Phoebus said she would like to come up with a plan to keep the young people her, to increase the county's volunteer base, and tax base. She also said she is looking forward to the opening of the train station and rail line in Andover Township.

Next, were the three candidates that are running for two seats in the Ogdensburg Borough Council. They were each given four minutes.

David Astor introduced himself as the Superintendent of Lafayette Schools. He has lived in Ogdensburg for 20 years. He served on the Ogdensburg Board of Education for three terms. While on that board, he was personnel chair, vice president and president of the board.  He coaches ORA basketball, has been a cub scout and boy scout leader in town, and is active at St. Thomas of Acquin Church. 

Michael Blahut (D) explained that he has served three years on the Borough Council and ran for mayor. His main concern while on the council was about safety and getting grants from the state.  He fundraised the money to upgrade the sidewalk and crosswalk outside of the fire house, and to obtain pedestrian crossing signs. 

Blahut said, “The grants I received for the sidewalks are finally coming through for me,” and is concerned about the beautification of the town. 

Blahut advocated that the town apply for a reassessment of the taxes in Ogdensburg, which he said he believes would bring down the borough's taxes.

George Hutnick introduced himself, and said he and his wife are lifelong residents of Ogdensburg who attended both Ogdensburg and Wallkill Valley Schools. He is an Eagle Scout from Troop 89, and recalled a wonderful childhood in the borough, especially at Heater’s Pond. He has a career in computer technology.He said he feels that he, on his own, would change nothing, since the power of change lies in the entire council as a whole. 

Candidates were asked one question, with two minutes to respond:  "With high taxes, what can you do to help alleviate the problem?" 

Astor commented that the current borough council did an excellent job last year, as taxes went up “zero percent.” They made some shavings, but did not affect the services to the town."

He said he would continue this process.

Blahut reiterated his plan to apply for a town-wide property reassessment to lower taxes. He feels the assessment was high at the time it was completed, and should be looked at again.

Hutnick said he would look at every line, to find ways to verify that our vendors are giving residents the best possible rates for what they are getting. 

Elections for the Ogdensburg Board of Education are being held in November for the first time ever. There are three candidates who are running unopposed. They were invited to take two minutes to introduce themselves.

Ricardo Rojas has served on the board for six years and is currently the board president. He said he is proud that he has been able to preserve the culture of the school through the years. He invited the freeholders and borough councilmen to their meetings to hear firsthand the dilemmas they face.

Nina Sentura moved here to Ogdensburg in 1987. She is a school nurse, a part-time teacher at Ramapo College, and works during the summer at Celebrate the Children program. She said she believes that education is the key to the future. She said she would like to contribute back to the community that gave so much to her.

Stacy Walsh has lived in Ogdensburg for ten years. She is a paramedic, and has been employed as such at St. Joseph’s Hospital for the last twelve years. She teaches for Atlantic Healthcare. She said she is thrilled with the education her two young sons are receiving in Ogdensburg, and wants to help it to stay as it is.

Mayor Steve Ciasullo was given four minutes to provide a State of the Municipality address. 

Ciasullo thanked everyone, and lent his support to Frelinghuysen, stating that the congressman has met with him several times, and even attended a borough council meeting. Ciasullo said he thinks Frelinghuysen will be a great asset to the community.

He described 2012 as "a great year, the council worked hard, and worked together, despite a loss of all state money, which was eliminated when former Governor Corzine eliminated support to small towns of 5,000 or under."

He said the council has purpose, focus, goals, and they achieved them.

He commended all who worked to make the county fire parade a success two weeks ago, especially fire chief Rick Keslo. 

Ciasullo said his goals are to keep Ogdensburg affordable, safe and desirable, while working together with all of the services, including the DPW, police department, fire department, and first aid squad.

The borough, he said, is taking steps to improve Heater’s Pond by removing weeds from the pond, fixing up the pavilion, and keeping the lifeguards. They recently reopened a softball field which had been closed for many years. They fine-tuned the recycling center, Ciasullo said, which saved a lot of money and enabled them to receive a grant. There have been improvements to borough hall, a grant was secured to revitalize Main Street, and borough employees received raises, all with a zero tax increase.

He noted that “All the good we did, we did as a team, as a group.”

Kibildis then closed the evening by thanking the mayor and all the candidates for attending, Earl Hornyak for his ten years of timekeeping, the members of the Ogdensburg Historical Society, and the "concerned citizens of Ogdensburg for making democracy work."

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