By Marion Filler
If they weren’t on opposite sides of the ticket, Republican Peter Mancuso and Democratic challenger William “Bud” Ravitz might well be pals.
Both are competing on Nov. 5, 2019, for a three-year seat on the Morris Township Committee. At a League of Women Voters forum at the Morristown & Township Library this week, they engaged in an amicable exchange of ideas.
More similar than not, they repeatedly put principle above politics. Politicians on the state and national levels, take note.
Mancuso, 82, a retired governor of the New York Stock Exchange, has served as a committeeman, mayor, deputy mayor, finance chairman, and police commissioner in a political career spanning more than 40 years. Born in Brooklyn, Mancuso has been married to wife Lois since 1962, and is a father of four.
Ravitz, 57, has never held public office. He is a project manager at AT&T with master’s degrees in systems analysis and education administration. Born in the Bronx but raised in New Jersey, he is married to Lee Schwartzberg and has three children from his first marriage.
In seeking his seventh term, Mancuso also is trying to retain a GOP toehold on the township’s governing body. Over the last two years, the committee has flipped from all-Republican to a 4-1 Democratic majority.
Questions from Monday night’s audience were submitted to moderator Sandra Matsen, who then posed them to each candidate.
What would their top priorities be if elected?
“Low taxes, low taxes, low taxes,” said Ravitz, adding: “While not reducing Township services.”
He also felt the Township needed to be “forward thinking” on climate change and how it could affect the community. Maintaining top notch law enforcement is on his list as well.
Mancuso was concerned with school safety and establishing an armed ex-policeman in every school in the Township.
“I have two grandchildren in the school system. God forbid if a shooter ever came we’d have the ability to neutralize him.”
He is campaigning for stronger regulation on driving while impaired, which in addition to alcohol, includes using a cellphone. “We should not allow people to speak on cell while driving, ” he said. Mancuso also prioritizes low taxes and good services.
Peter Mancuso closing statement. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:
Lessons learned from the Honeywell property? (The former corporate headquarters on Columbia Road has been redeveloped with housing.)
“We were gaining $330,000 in taxes from Honeywell, and now with full build-out, will get between $900,000 and $1 million,” Mancuso said. “Only half of what they wanted was granted. People have a right to monetize their property if it’s what’s best for the county.”
Ravitz was disappointed that Honeywell up and left for Morris Plains, leaving the Township “holding the bag.” He was not sure what more could have been done, but said he would have liked a more ironclad contract to prevent the property from intensive housing redevelopment.
“It’s all about contract negotiations and getting a good deal,” he said.
Bud Ravitz closing statement. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:
Can the Township preserve open space?
“When you vote for me, the days of unchecked development are over,” said Ravitz. Twenty-five percent of the Township is in open space, and if anything becomes available, “we would be remiss in not acquiring it either with county or Township funds,” he said.
Mancuso said the level of open space probably will remain at 25 percent, because there are not many large areas left to preserve. “We are probably at the limit,” he said.
Is climate change real and how has it affected operation of the Township?
This was the first question with any current political implications and differing responses.
“There is a very good possibility that climate change is coming upon us, but there is also the contrary viewpoint,” Mancuso said, adding, “I see no relationship to the Township on a day-to-day basis and can’t see anything we can do.”
“Climate change was a discussion we needed to have 40 years ago, ” he said, reminding the audience that 97 percent of scientists think it’s real and that we are in crisis.
In addition to the explosion of lake algae in northern New Jersey, Ravitz cited more frequent and more severe storms, heavier snows, downed limbs, power outages and flooding as local changes he has observed.
“About a year ago, my back yard was designated as a flood area, which is one degree below a flood zone. It’s real and we need to take care of it,” he said.
What is your position on the Townships relationship to undocumented workers and services they require?
Ravitz saw the safety of residents and community as paramount.
“We cannot have people who are afraid to call emergency services because they are undocumented,” he said. Using the example of an unreported fire, he said it not only could hurt the undocumented– it could affect their neighbors as well.
He also felt that if people are obeying the law, there is no reason to stop them in the street and question their immigration status.
Mancuso agreed. “None of our police have ever done that, and as long as I’m here they never will.”
The candidates agreed on banning plastic bags and single-use plastics, and Mancuso noted the single-stream collection system being phased in will facilitate recycling. Ravitz thought “reduce and reuse” would be effective.
As far as merging services between Morris Township and its neighbors, both men thought the status quo was adequate but certainly would take advantage of future mergers if advantageous.
Traffic problems were acknowledged by both candidates. Ravitz called it a “hot button topic” among his constituents, who blame uncontrolled development. He was hopeful that a newly formed advisory committee soon would have some answers.
Mancuso said additional police cars and speed signs were making an impact, along with ongoing consultations with the state Department of Transportation.
In closing, Mancuso praised Ravitz, saying, “Bud and I have spoken on many occasions and he is a really good person. We both feel that respect for people who hold office has lost its way. I pledge I will be the same person I’ve been all these years. I’m a moderate Republican, I can see problems from both sides.”
“The country is heading down a bad path,” said Ravitz. “There are a lot of people like me who are first-timers, and all politics start locally.”
He admitted it’s not easy. “I go out at night after work and on weekends. When I knock on doors, people have said, ‘Thank you for stepping up.’ That’s what drives me.”