Challenger Michelle Duprée Harris said it’s her turn to be mayor. Mayor Tim Dougherty said he’s ready to hand over his office–to the mayor of Morris Township, if the Township ever agrees to a merger.
That’s about as sharp as the differences got at Monday’s candidates forum, a polite affair hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Morristown Area.
The mayoral candidates and their council slates fielded written questions from the audience at the Alexander Hamilton School as their campaigns tiptoe toward the Democratic primary on June 6, 2017. So far, no Republicans have entered the race.
Harris, a five-term councilwoman, often found herself agreeing with Dougherty, who seeks a third term as mayor. When asked why she’s running, Harris replied:
“My opponent asked me to sit out twice. It’s my turn to run now.”
Dougherty and his team — Council Members Michael Elms and Toshiba Foster and newcomer David Silva — cited Dougherty’s record of seven straight years of zero tax increases, a landmark tax settlement with Atlantic Health, a new zoning master plan, and a thriving downtown.
“Morristown is known around the state as a model of intelligent growth,” Dougherty said.
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Mayoral candidates opening statements
Mayoral candidates field questions
Mayoral candidates closing statements
Council candidates opening statements
Council candidates field questions 1 of 2
Council candidates field questions 2 of 2
Council candidates closing statements
The Mayor pointed to a major traffic study nearing completion, and asserted that more affordable housing has been created on his watch than on any other. He also announced his intention to erect the town’s third seniors housing building.
Harris wants to create a community center for teens,
possibly at the Post Office now up for sale., possibly in partnership with the Morris School District. She also proposed merging recreation departments with the Township.
Her team of Esperanza Porras-Field, Jenna Gervasio and Maria Scumaci raised concerns about traffic and gentrification, and suggested fresh faces would be good for Morristown.
Gervasio is keen on a bowling alley, though she’s not sure where. She also called for a moratorium on development until traffic is tamed.
Traffic congestion might be alleviated for residents by beefing up the town’s Colonial Coach seniors bus service, said Scumaci, who also vowed to improve the local government’s “archaic” technology and communications with residents.
Porras-Field, who is a realtor, said she wants a business incubator for entrepreneurs. When an audience member asked about potential conflicts of interest, Elms, also a realtor, responded that it would be wrong to take advantage of private information.
But he loves helping people achieve home ownership, he said, and is “extremely proud” of selling a building near the Morristown Green that got refurbished. Elms disputed that Morristown has become a city.
“It’s a town,” the councilman said, “and I intend to keep it that way.”
Experience and community involvement figured prominently in the evening’s discussion. Dougherty, chief engineer at the Prudential Center in Newark, noted his stints as a zoning board member and Little League coach.
Harris is a Morristown High School graduate who raised three children here, and teaches kindergarteners in the Morris School District. She is active with the service organization Delta Sigma Theta, and cited the 4-H Club and Urban League among her activities.
Elms moved to Morristown 15 years ago, and is a longtime Rotarian. He is council liaison to the Morristown Partnership, and served on the zoning board.
Foster, who works in a human relations department, is a founder of Our Youth Their Future, a nonprofit established in response to a teen’s suicide. She is council liaison to the Morristown Parking Authority, and serves on the advisory board of the Morristown Neighborhood House.
Silva, a Colombian immigrant, is pastor of the Centro Biblico Church, where he said he has learned to manage budgets and grow organizations.
“I consider Morristown the best place on earth, a beautiful, vibrant community,” Silva said.
Porras-Field also hails from Colombia. She founded the Morris County Hispanic-American Chamber of Commerce and has served on the town planning board and the Morristown Parking Authority.
“We live in a great town. Let’s work together and make it even better,” she said.
Scumaci, who refurbishes houses and rents them, emphasized her Jesuit education and compassion for the “marginalized.”
Gervasio, who works for a construction company, stressed her family history. Her father serves on the parking authority and ran for mayor and council. Her grandfather was a detective who became mayor. Her uncle taught at the high school.
“I’m young,” Gervasio said. “I’ve got nothing to lose by representing you.”