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Meet the Candidates for District 5 Freeholder

Brendan Gill Believes County Government Has a Role

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, two candidates will be seeking to represent District 5 -- which comprises Belleville, Bloomfield, Nutley, Montclair and Glen Ridge -- on the nine-member Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Those candidates are Republican Steven Rogers and Democrat Brendan Gill. Today we profile Gill; Rogers will be profiled tomorrow.

Montclair resident Brendan Gill says his chief goal on the freeholder board would be to help residents maintain the quality of life he himself enjoyed growing up in District 5.

“I come from a middle-class background,” says Gill, a Montclair resident. “I think the one pressing issue is maintaining quality of life for middle-class families that live [in District 5]. I think the freeholder board and the county government have a role to play in that issue.”

Born in Belleville and raised in Montclair, Gill -- who turns 37 shortly before the election next week -- refers to himself as “a product of the 5th District.” A graduate of the Montclair public schools and Seton Hall University, Gill has worked for prominent Jersey Democrats including Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) and Bill Pascrell (D-8). Now an advisor to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Gill also sits on the Montclair planning board and is chair of that community’s Democratic Party. 
He and his wife, Alixon, have a three-year-old son and are expecting their second child later this year.

Gill said he respects his opponent, Steven Rogers, but fundamentally disagrees with him regarding the role county government can play during the nation’s ongoing economic crisis. Where Rogers seeks to cut county government, Gill says the freeholder board should come to the aid of municipalities forced to cut back on services at the local level. Gill is also a proponent of regionalization, or sharing services among the county’s 22 municipalities.

“What I’ve talked a lot about during the campaign is that communities are going to have to do more with less. That’s the economic reality we’re in,” said Gill. “County government is going to have to have a larger role in picking up the slack for municipalities....if we’re going to hold the line on costs of living we’re going to have to have more serious conversations on regionalization of services and shared services.”

Referring to public education as “the backbone of the community,” Gill said he would bring his professional experience working with federal legislators to bear in seeking outside sources of funding for local schools.

“I want to make sure the county is maximizing all available federal and state resources. That’s where my federal experience comes in, to make sure we’re lobbying our state and federal officials to do what they can for our schools,” Gill said, adding that this would be a challenge because “there’s not a ton of [grants] out there.” 

Law enforcement is another area where Gill believes he can coordinate shared services, in this instance between local police and the Essex County Sheriff’s Office, whose work in District 5 often involves patrolling county parks. “The county sheriff is doing a good job, but I think there are opportunities there to make sure collaboration exists, to make sure that type of communication and collaboration is happening.”

For at least the last decade, various Republicans in Essex County have depicted county government -- which is led by the freeholder board and the office of the county executive -- as an unnecessary, and costly, layer of bureaucracy. A related criticism involves the county’s provision of various non-essential services, including the county’s zoo in West Orange, its voter-approved Open Space Trust Fund and, recently, the county’s partnership with a restaurant owner to bring an eatery to South Mountain Reservation, which has surfaced as an issue in this year’s freeholder race.

Gill, however, is dismissive of those complaints, pointing out that many of those services ultimately bring non-tax revenue to county coffers and are, in any event, just a small slice of the county budget.  

“I think you have to be straight with people,” Gill said. “Only 8 percent of the county budget is discretionary. You can eliminate that 8 percent and still not deal with the issues Rogers is talking about.” Holding the line on taxes and providing services are not “either-or propositions,” Gill added. “We’re going to need both if we’re going to sustain ourselves and move forward.”

Gill also credits the present county government, headed by fellow Democrat Joseph DiVincenzo, for “doing a pretty good job” managing the county’s spending. Essex taxes have risen on average just three percent a year, Gill said, the third-lowest rate of increase among the state’s counties, an especially impressive feat since Essex faces particular challenges like higher-than-average unemployment and high rates of crime in its cities.

Referring to the Occupy Wall Street protests, Gill said he believes his potential constituents are among “the 99 percent”, which Gill takes to mean the middle-class, working families of District 5.

“I want my children to have the same opportunities I did growing up. That’s why I’m running.” 

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