Quality-of-life issues dominate Morristown’s two contested Democratic primary races, which will be decided this Tuesday, June 4, 2019.
Councilman Stefan Armington hopes to win the chance in November to seek a third term representing the Third Ward. He’s facing a challenge from Steve Pylypchuk, a member of the town environmental commission.
In the Second Ward, Council Vice President Hiliari Davis wants a second term. She’s being challenged in the primary by Tawanna Cotten, president of the Morristown Housing Authority’s Resident Council.
The incumbent feels she has worked closely with Mayor Tim Dougherty to improve life in a ward that is less affluent than other sections of town. The challenger insists much more needs to be done.
“When I am re elected, my priorities will remain the same: More jobs, even more beautification, more affordable housing, more Second Ward residents getting more actively involved on town boards and committees. As you know, crime is the lowest it’s been in 20 years, and I’m very proud to have supported the administration to make that a priority,” said Hiliari Davis, 43, whose family has lived in Morristown for five generations.
“I am a better choice because I have the right temperament, and I truly care about the example we set for our children,” said Tawanna Cotten, 45, a Morristown resident for most of her life.
Davis graduated from Morristown High School in 1994 and has an apothecary business with her 11-year-old daughter McKenzie. The councilwoman is a member of the Junior Matron Society and the Morristown Neighborhood House Advisory Board.
She also serves on the Morris County Black Leaders group, Controlling Our Destiny, and is council liaison to the Morristown Housing Authority.
Council President Toshiba Foster and Davis as vice president are the first African Americans to serve together in those roles. Davis expressed pride in being part of “the most diverse town council in Morristown history.”
Working with the mayor, Davis said she has helped improve Second Ward aesthetics via the Martin Luther King Avenue streetscape project. Traffic calming measures were implemented there, a parking lot at MLK and Coal Avenue has benefited churchgoers, and improvements to the Cauldwell playground were unveiled on Saturday.
The Gramby Park basketball court has been resurfaced, and last week the council approved reduced fees at the Burnham Park pool for low-income residents.
Davis said she has encouraged Second Ward residents to seek town jobs and appointments to local boards. The most important lesson from her first term?
“Sometimes you drop the ball, but you can’t give up,” Davis said. “Sometimes we are our constituents’ only hope at handling their issue. So I’ve learned to take each issue like it’s the only one.”
Tawanna Cotten thinks too many balls have been dropped.
More community policing and Neighborhood Watch efforts are needed, with more vigorous enforcement of loitering and noise ordinance, she contends. Speeding is a problem on Clyde Potts Drive and Lincoln and Flagler streets. Neglected properties are hurting property values. Illegal dumping continues at Manahan Village dumpsters. Taxis hog parking spaces on Flagler, congesting the Speedwell intersection.
“The citizens of the town of Morristown deserve an elected official who truly cares about public engagement, safety and quality of life,” said Cotten, a graduate of the County College of Morris who works as an assistant behavioral specialist for the Morris School District.
Her son Jaylond, 24, is a graduate of the College of New Jersey, and her 5-year-old daughter Adrianna attends preschool at the Lafayette Learning Center, where Cotten is a member of the Home and School Association.
She recently was chosen as president of the Morristown Housing Authority’s Resident Council. Additionally, she is a street captain for the Morristown United for Healthy Living Coalition, and a longtime member of Angels in Action, an HIV/AIDS ministry.
Cotten also has served on the steering committee for Morristown Medical Center’s Community Health Day, working with area churches to promote healthy lifestyles for minorities.
And she has volunteered with Morris County Prevention is Key; the Read and Rise Literacy Initiative of the Urban League of Morris County; and the Table of Hope soup kitchen at Bethel AME Church.
“I understand the value of volunteering in my community and appreciate the added joy it has brought to my life, while simultaneously allowing me to forge bonds with the homeless, residents, and transients in our town,” said Cotten, who enjoys gardening at Grow It Green’s Community Garden.
Both candidates view traffic as a major issue.
“With over 100,000 cars traveling through town on a regular day, the town needs to better address the competing needs of traffic circulation with the town’s walkability, pedestrian and bicycle safety, and the problems from traffic cutting through residential neighborhoods,” said Stefan Armington, a 52-year-old senior environmental planner for an engineering firm.
“Some of the biggest complaints I hear in the neighborhood are about speeding, parking, and congestion,” said Steve Pylypchuk, 32, who is a civil engineer and project manager.
Armington said he has worked with Mayor Dougherty’s administration to secure more than $800,000 in grants for neighborhood traffic calming projects, and extension of the Patriots Path and Footes Pond trails.
An avid cyclist, the incumbent has pushed to incorporate bicycles into town transportation plans. He also played a key council role in shaping the zoning master plan, and in forging zoning regulations for bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Armington was involved in creation of the Elliott Street Community Garden as well.
“Effective governance requires compromise, partnerships and consensus-building, along with a thorough understanding of the cost and benefits of using taxpayer money,” said Armington, a Morristown resident for 23 years who has raised two sons here with his wife, Margarita.
Armington prides himself on listening to constituents’ concerns.
“I am honest with them about the obstacles, I bring concerns to the attention of the Administration, and I follow through until the problem gets addressed,” he said.
If re-elected, Armington said he will work with residents to address on-street parking, neighborhood property maintenance, and traffic. Bike lanes on Speedwell Avenue, and other elements of the town’s Bicycle Master Plan, also are high on his list.
Pylypchuk got his first taste of local politics a few years ago, when he joined a neighborhood group that convinced the zoning board to reject a Dunkin’ Donuts shop proposed for the corner of Mills and Washington streets.
As that saga unfolded, the mayor appointed him to the environmental commission. But the Dunkin’ Donuts battle left him wanting more transparency from town officials.
“I’ve been on the public side and am aware of how difficult it can be find the information you need to remain informed about what’s happening in town. The communication between Town Hall and the public has a long way to go,” said Pylypchuk, a Morristown resident since 2009.
“I’m a strong candidate for town council because I have a fresh voice. I have a different perspective and bring new ideas to issues the council doesn’t even seem to be aware of right now — like transparency,” he said.
Pylypchuk and his wife Sieglinde take their 2-year-old daughter to town parks and playgrounds in and around the Third Ward. These facilities all need improvement, the candidate said.
“The Burnham Park pathways don’t connect to the town sidewalks, the Harrison Street playground is run down, and the Elliott Street playground is hard to access from Speedwell Lake with a stroller or a wheelchair,” he said.
If elected, Pylypchuk pledged to use his engineering experience to press for “better communication, innovative solutions for parking and traffic congestion, and improved maintenance and design in our parks.”
Pylypchuk runs half-marathons, roots for the Devils, and is an accomplished archer–he won five medals with the USA Crossbow Team at World Championships in 2009 and 2015.
Morris County also has contested primaries, all on the Republican side, for freeholder, surrogate and state assembly in the 25th District.
Polls are open from 6 am to 8 pm on Tuesday. You must be registered as a Republican or Democrat to vote. Here are polling places in Morristown, Morris Township or Morris Plains. Polling information for other Morris County towns is here.