Nine candidates for the five Nutley Board of Commissioners slots squared of Tuesday night for a debate.
Four incumbents and five challengers answered questions from the Nutley Community Preservation Partnership, the group that sponsored the candidate forum. Former mayor Joanne Cocchiola resigned in January to become a Nutley Municipal Judge. The five candidates that garner the most votes in the May 8 election become commissioners, and the person who earns the most votes becomes mayor.
Challenger John Cafone has more than 30 years of experience working in public safety and has served six years as a Board of Education trustee. He spoke about saving money, mentioning town personnel salary contracts, expanding recycling and expanding the use of solar panels by both the town and schools as ways to save taxpayers’ money. “The first thing that comes to mind is personnel,” Cafone said of the salary contracts.
Incumbent Commissioner Alphonse Petracco has served one term as director of the Public Safety Department, which includes police, fire and emergency response personnel. He talked about revitalizing the town’s business district, saying increasing bus services might bring more people to the business district, and said an anchor store for the center of the district would help. “I’d like to see New York City buses come to Franklin Avenue,” Petracco said.
The next candidate challenging for a seat is Sam Fleitell, who has owned and operated Trio Jewelers in Nutley for 26 years. He said there are no easy answers improving the downtown business district because there is nowhere to build a new store. He said that his store has moved five times and he has not seen any increase in shoppers walking the downtown in the last 18 years. “There are not enough stores,” he said. “Each store is its own destination,” so it is hard to make the downtown more attractive for shoppers to walking up and down Franklin Avenue.
Another incumbent touted his record for this first four years. Commissioner Joseph Scarpelli has served one term as director of the Department of Public Works. He said the commissioners’ biggest challenge going forward is retaining the same level of services while continuing to keep taxes from increasing. Scarpelli said he has cut spending each year while increasing recycling and community outreach by the public works department. “We have cut personnel by 15 percent, and have offered services like a shredding day, where we allow people to come and shred important, sensitive documents,” he said.
A two-term school board member is seeking a seat. Ken Reilly has served two terms on the Board of Education. He talked about the commissioners’ success in revaluing property to lower taxes for most residents. Reilly said recovering from tough economic times has just begun. “We’re just seeing a little bit of a rebound now,” he said. “It will be four or five years before we see a substantial differentiation in (improved) property values.”
The man who has been in charge of revenue and finance in Nutley for eight years talked about how his lifetime in Nutley affected his attitude towards his hometown. Incumbent Commissioner Thomas Evans has been director of the Department of Revenue for two, four-year terms. He talked about the town’s excellent services, and its volunteer spirit. “This town is known for its friendliness and its volunteerism,” he said. “People are willing to help, and there is a love for our clubs and organizations.”
A man looking to become a commissioner has decades of police experience and was recently elected to the School Board. Steven Rogers is serving his first term on the Board of Education and has served in law enforcement for more than 35 years. He said he supports continuing Nutley’s overnight ban on parking, which prohibits cars from being parked on the street from two to six a.m. “When I worked the midnight to 8 a.m. shift (as a policeman in Nutley), I always knew what cars belonged there, and what people,” Roger said. “Nutley is a relatively safe place compared to our surrounding towns, and the parking ban is a reason why.”
The most experienced Commissioner took a stand about the need for policing in town. Incumbent Acting Mayor Mauro Tucci is completely his fourth term as commissioner, and has also served as town manager in both Belleville and Bloomfield. He complimented Nutley’s Police, Fire and Emergency Services departments, but said he would like to see more police patrolling the streets. “People call this town an ‘oasis’ among the towns in our area, but I would like to see more police, to add to our great schools, parks and volunteer spirit,” Tucci said. “We have increased housing density, and with that comes more crime.”
A challenger with state government and emergency response credentials is seeking a post on the Commission. Fred Scalera has served as a state Assemblyman and a longtime Deputy Fire Chief who brought a lot of federal Homeland Security money to Nutley and Essex County. He said he wants to revitalize the downtown business district by developing underutilized property once used by Hoffman-LaRoche and adding smaller businesses to the downtown area. “We need a happy marriage between the Hoffman-LaRoche property and the center of town,” Scalera said.