CANDIDATES FOR THE CITY COUNCIL SHARE THEIR THOUGHTS, Candidates D-E
Election day is coming up on Tuesday, November 8th, and voters in Clifton have the opportunity to make big changes to our city council this year. All seven seats are up for grabs and just five of our current members are running, Mayor Anzaldi and Councilman Peter Eagler are not on the ballot.
Members of the Facebook group, Clifton News and Community, submitted questions for the candidates, revealing some of the topics that were of interest to the community. All seventeen candidates responded to the questionnaire and their answers were copied and pasted, exactly as submitted. Due to the large number of candidates, they will be presented in several separate installments.
Following is the second set of three candidates, alphabetical by last name, and their responses as entered. Candidates who offered their website or Facebook page will be linked to their media page. You can click on their names to take you there.
Chris D’Amato, ballot position #13
Why are you running? Please limit your response to one or two sentences: Clifton is a great place to live, but it's become apparent that we need some fresh perspectives on the council. After the devastation of Hurricane Ida, I went to the council with ideas on improving communication and disaster relief. They praised my ideas up and down, but didn't implement them or even work with me on it, so I realized then that I had something new to offer Clifton as a council member.
How have you educated yourself on the workings of our City Council and kept up with current issues facing the city? If you are an incumbent, how long have you held a seat on City Council? The best way to learn about the workings of our council is to be active, engaged., and show up. I've gone to meetings. Spoke at meetings. Stayed until the end. Read through the meeting agendas. Read the council rules. Followed the local news. Read everything I could find about the council on Clifton's community groups. I talked to several council members directly and established a rapport with them whether I agreed with them politically or not. My thought is that when you want to know about something you go right to the source. Some of the employees at City Hall would even joke that Tuesdays at council meetings was "date night" for my wife Lily and I.
What is your plan to improve communication and transparency with the citizens of the city? Communication is my thing! My plan is to hire a communications director, develop a comprehensive social media strategy, implement easy and affordable new protocols like translation QR codes on paper notices so we can better reach our linguistically diverse population, and overhaul our outdated and confusing website. This next part I'm very excited about - I want to link our new website with a Clifton app! The app can be a hub for all things Clifton in the palm of your hand. It would be able to notify you of non-emergency events in your area, it would have a ROAD CLOSURE MAP that would update in real time, and it would have a city calendar that you can link to the calendar in your smart devices. You could also auto-submit quality of life complaints or OPRA requests at the tap of a button.
Transparency is actually quite easy compared to Communication. You just need a council that wants it. I will insist that *ALL* municipal meetings that can legally be streamed online and broadcast on television are streamed and broadcast. I will call for a vote that would allow residents to call into the council meetings from home during the public portion. I will host live Q&As on social media on the alternate Tuesday nights that we don't have council meetings so that residents can ask me questions and have them answered in real-time. I will also continue my neighborhood based campaigning and set myself up with designated "office hours" in city parks for no reason other than to meet and chat with residents. I will also call a vote to make sure that our oft-used committee process is always transparent and that all committee members are known to the public. It wouldn't hurt to invite more civilian participation on these committees either.
What are your plans to address the flooding problem within our city, which has increased over the years? Fixing the floods is my top priority. If we don't resolve this catastrophic flooding in a way that is real and long-lasting, little else will matter in the coming years. I'll be even more frank - the solution won't be quick, it won't be cheap, and it won't be easy. This is why it's imperative that it be dealt with seriously by the people elected this year! I will work with my colleagues to prioritize a full re-development plan that will be a key part of a long overdue update to our master plan. I'm all for smart development, but we need to hold developers to higher standards before they can build here, and we need to re-tool our zoning laws as much as we can to make sure that developers aren't allowed to pillage every last inch of green or open space in Clifton. I will also push for a "use it or lose it" policy when it comes to our extra sewer tax. We either allocate this money properly NOW to fix our ailing sewer infrastructure, or we stop charging people for the privilege of having their streets flood. We need more storm drains. We need to regularly clean the basins. It's hard work, but this can all be done!
What are your thoughts on the possibility of garbage being picked up only once a week? Pros and cons? I am not in favor of switching our garbage pick up to once per week. Twice per week works for just about everyone. Once per week will not work for any Clifton residents with children or pets, even with the larger cans. While we're on that subject, the larger cans will present a problem for seniors or people with disabilities who live on their own. They're quite bulky. The argument in favor of garbage being picked up once a week? It will save money. If we're making budget cuts, this is not the area I would start. To save a few bucks we can trim elsewhere, you'd be inviting a whole slew of stench, disease, unwanted pests, etc. Not worth it. Penny wise - dollar stupid.
What is your stance on opening legal cannabis businesses in Clifton? How did you arrive at that position? I am in favor of inviting safe, legal Cannabis businesses to Clifton. Funnily enough, I actually spent a majority of my life staunchly opposed to Cannabis. Over time working in the arts, I got to know people who used Cannabis both medicinally and recreationally. These were good people, people who thrived in their careers and personal lives, and people who did not slip into harder drugs. Seeing this reality over time changed my perception and I began doing more research on Cannabis, which led me to where I stand on the issue today. I don't understand how anyone can look at Cannabis data in good faith and not see that it is vastly less harmful to our society than alcohol, and yet we have found a way to mitigate harm caused by alcohol. We continue to sell alcohol despite it causing thousands more deaths per year than cannabis. Ask any police officer how many volatile drunks they lock up on a Saturday night vs. Potheads. If we can mitigate alcohol, we can surely do the same with Cannabis.
We have too many serious problems in Clifton to leave Cannabis revenue on the table. All of the risks the detractors are concerned about? Odor? Kids getting it? People driving high? It's all happening in Clifton already! Ask any Clifton High School student how easy it is to get pot. Let's not kid ourselves. Cannabis is here. All that is accomplished by continuing to prohibit Cannabis businesses in Clifton is that we will continue to assume all of these risks, and gain none of the benefits. That's a terrible deal. Why must Clifton always get the short end of the stick?
Last thing I will leave you with is the most important statistic that any candidate will give you on this subject: There is not one recorded instance of cannabis laced with fentanyl being sold from a licensed dispensary in any state that has legalized cannabis. Not one. Scour court records. Search the web. Check the press. You won't find it. Fentanyl laced cannabis is purchased off the street. In addition to the financial benefit for our city, having safe, legal cannabis options available for consenting adults will save lives.
Residential use of fireworks - where do you stand on banning all types from residences? The firework problem is real and needs to be addressed, but we also have to be careful and precise with this. Do I think that people should be setting off fireworks at all hours of the night, scaring pets, triggering PTSD, and keeping people awake? Of course not. Do I ever want to see a scenario where cops are called on a bunch of kids using sparklers in their yard under parental supervision at 8:30 PM on the fourth of July? Also no. For that reason, I'm not in favor of a blanket ban on "fireworks." There is a fix though! Fireworks that disturb neighbors do so for one of two reasons: First is, they make a lot of noise. The noise is currently in violation of our noise ordinance. The fact that we're not on top of that suggests to me that there is an issue on the enforcement end that bears looking into. The second piece of this are that many fireworks pose a serious potential danger to life, limb, and property. We could absolutely set an ordinance here in Clifton that prohibits residents from setting off fireworks in residential zones. We just have to define them in our code in a way that won't punish people for little things like sparklers or snake pellets. Here's a definition I found from another municipality that covers it pretty well: "Any hand-held or ground based firework device that creates an explosion, detonation, loud noise, that launches a projectile, or moves along the ground under its own power." Here's the deal. You want to take those out to the country somewhere and set them off? Go for it. You want to coordinate with the city to set them off at an official fireworks event? Be my guest. You get caught setting them off in a residential zone, you suffer a stiff financial penalty for your first offense, and escalate from there on subsequent offenses.
Do you plan on tackling the problem of brown water throughout Clifton? How? Yes. It's water. Last time I checked, people need clean water to live. Recently I listened to the new ED of PVWC Jim Mueller at the council meeting on 9/20. He's new, he seems like he's got a good head on his shoulders, and I want to give him a chance to fix this. That being said, I can't just cross my fingers and hope for the best. This issue is too important and has been going on too long. I would first request that Mr. Mueller hold several public Q&A sessions with residents in areas that are drastically affected by the brown water. That would allow for direct accountability and open dialogue. Secondly, while I want to believe Mr. Mueller's assessment about our water situation, it would be irresponsible of us to not look into things on our own as elected officials. In the interest of transparency and accountability, I would like Clifton to commission an independent study of our water here in Clifton with a focus on the trouble areas. If the findings of the study are in line with what we are being told by PVWC, then I will work with them however I can to ameliorate our water woes as soon as possible. If the study shows us something shocking that we aren't being told, then all options are on the table at that point, including getting together with leaders in Passaic and Paterson to address top to bottom systemic issues at PVWC. We can't play around with this.
In the short term, many of my communication plans will help. I like Mr. Mueller's idea of an opt-in phone alert system for water issues rather than an opt-out. We also can't lose sight of the classic communication methods! PVWC has all of their customer's addresses on file. If they're flushing hydrants in a given area, a social media post the night before isn't going to cut it. Paper notices need to be given to affected homes as far in advance as possible.
The city is creating a Civil Rights Committee. How do you envision using such a group, made of volunteers from all sections of Clifton? I am in full enthusiastic support of the Civil Rights Committee, but I also think we're close enough to the election that the current council should scrap what they are doing and let the next council put this committee together. I feel this way because I always envisioned this committee as a purely civilian effort. I don't want council members on it. I don't want city employees on it. This committee should be about making sure that all of our residents are respected and considered in the decisions made by our council. In my vision, the committee would still only serve in an advisory capacity. The council would still pick the members from the pool of applicants. The members of the committee would change every so often. That's enough power for the council to have over a body that exists to hold government accountable. The committee would meet and discuss civil rights concerns independently, then bring their findings and opinions to the council at regular intervals throughout the year. I also see no reason why the committee shouldn't be given a platform to publish their opinions and community work. This would keep the public informed and make sure residents are able to keep the committee accountable to their own words and deeds should it somehow go astray. Freedom + Transparency + Accountability = Progress for all.
If you are elected, what are your top TWO priority projects - the things you most want to tackle in your first year? What do you see as the biggest issue facing the current Council? Please limit your response to no more than three sentences per issue. As stated earlier, my top priority is the flooding. Little else will matter in the coming years if we don't fix this meaningfully.
Second priority for me is a communication overhaul! My background is in media and communications, so this is where my particular skill-set will be most useful in bettering quality of life in Clifton. An informed population is a powerful population!
The biggest issue facing the current council as a group is a staggering lack of humility. Individually, many of our council members are decent, hard-working people who do care about Clifton, but as a group this mix of seven people are very frustrating to watch. Don't get defensive when the public comes to you with issues, acknowledge the things you don't know, and for God's sake please work respectfully with your colleagues, even the ones you can't stand, because our city deserves better than the bickering we've gotten, and the office you hold is bigger than yourself.
Avraham Eisenman, ballot position #17
Why are you running? Please limit your response to one or two sentences: I am running to be the people’s voice on council. Clear communication and accountability to voters is key.
How have you educated yourself on the workings of our City Council and kept up with current issues facing the city? If you are an incumbent, how long have you held a seat on City Council? I have either attended or watched every council meeting for the past year or so. I have reviewed the cities outdated masterplan as well as parks masterplan. Further I have met with elected officials in Clifton other candidates and the city manager. All this was to prepare for and be ready to work with whomever is with me on council come January.
What is your plan to improve communication and transparency with the citizens of the city? There is a several pronged approach to improving communication. First is upgrading existing communication infrastructure like the website and city Facebook pages. Second would be getting text and email communications to keep residents informed in real time. last would be looking into the feasibility of hiring a communications director to oversee all these methods.
With better communication we are more transparent. With an upgraded website we can easily share all city documents like budgets in an easy to use and searchable database.
What are your plans to address the flooding problem within our city, which has increased over the years? First is the recognition of the issue and that the problem is getting worse. FEMA recently announced they need to redraw their flood maps as they are out of date. Next is bringing in experts like environmental engineers to identify the cause of the problems and specific fixes to the issue. I had a meeting with the head of environmental engineering at Rutgers to better understand the issue. Once we have clear projects that are ready to go, such as storm drains, catch basins widening waterways, comes part two of the plan. Which is working with the cities amazing grant writers to apply for and get state and federal funds to address the issue.
What are your thoughts on the possibility of garbage being picked up only once a week? Pros and cons? I am not a fan of once-a-week garbage pickup as it does not define the needs of all neighborhoods in Clifton. Where I live in Rosemwar section with wide streets and single-family homes people can easily store the garbage on their property for once a week pickup. However, when walking and talking to residents of other neighborhoods like Botany Village this plan is not feasible. Lots of narrow streets and multi family dwellings with no real place to store garbage necessitates twice a week pickup.
What is your stance on opening legal cannabis businesses in Clifton? How did you arrive at that position? I have struggled with this issue since I decided to run. On one hand it is legal in New Jersey, and several towns around Clifton have legal distribution centers. There are no walls separating us and our neighbors and stopping people from going from one town to the other to purchase. Also, there is the monetary incentive in that towns get 2% of sales tax on cannabis. Yet when you do the math, this is not a lot of money at all. In the first quarter this year New Jersey collected 4.6 million is sales tax on cannabis. Of which 2% went to local municipalities about 9k per town or 36-40k annually not a lot of money for a high-risk endeavor. Further some people will travel but our students won’t. However, the state of New Jersey has 6 levels of cannabis 4 of them are business to business. Allowing these types of cannabis sales in areas away from schools houses of worship and parks. Along with ensuring no detriment to residential areas like odor will allows us to tap into the funds without putting our residents at risk.
Residential use of fireworks - where do you stand on banning all types from residences? Ban it. As an emergency medicine provider, I have seen far too many devastating injuries caused by fireworks to allow it.
Do you plan on tackling the problem of brown water throughout Clifton? How?
Absolutely, clean water is essential to humanity. The first with any issue addressing the source and that is Passaic Valley Water commission. They did a great presentation at a recent council meeting on how they are lining pipes and replacing the open-air reservoirs. As a city we can support them and facilitate the change they need. As well as work as a team with them to fight for state and federal money to upgrade the infrastructure in a faster timetable.
The city is creating a Civil Rights Committee. How do you envision using such a group, made of volunteers from all sections of Clifton? The formation of the Civil Rights Committee is an important step forward for the city of Clifton. A recent survey showed that Clifton was the 25th most diverse city in the United States. I envision the group as a melting pot of the many ethnicities, cultures, and groups that make up our great city. The committee will advise the city in all manners to ensure what we do as a city is sensitive to all people and their beliefs. From simple things like ensuring that city events are not held on religious holidays, and therefore excluding a segment of the town. And further ensuring ordinances or even resolutions allow all people to feel welcome in Clifton.
If you are elected, what are your top TWO priority projects - the things you most want to tackle in your first year? What do you see as the biggest issue facing the current Council? Please limit your response to no more than three sentences per issue. The first thing is to establish team work to ensure all members of council communicate openly and honestly with each other for optimal outcomes for the city . As an emergency medicine provider, I have experience of building diverse teams united around a common goal.
The first issue I would like to address is flooding. While this won’t be fixed in my first year on council the longer, we kick the can down the road the worse the flooding gets.
The second is recreation. The city sorely needs a recreation center as well as community pool, and I will start working on this important project right away.
Alessia Eramo, ballot position #4
Why are you running? Please limit your response to one or two sentences: I’m running for Council because I care about Clifton’s future and because I know about the challenges Clifton faces. I have the right skills, the right motivation, and the right disposition to fight for a Clifton that we want to stay in, and people want to come to.
How have you educated yourself on the workings of our City Council and kept up with current issues facing the city? If you are an incumbent, how long have you held a seat on City Council? City Council meetings and city issues are not new to me. After moving to Clifton 11 years ago I started watching City Council meetings. I learned the government structure, functions of City Council and Manager, and the legislative process. I also kept up with the decisions that were made in Clifton and how they affected our lives. Over the years, I considered and researched all issues facing the city. I have spoken at many Council Meetings. When I wasn’t speaking, I was still paying attention, learning, and discussing. I joined the Beautification Committee and the Environmental Commission, attended city events, and became familiar with council members and city employees. By also participating in Board of Adjustment and Planning Board meetings, I learned about and provided feedback on building applications. These experiences taught me about city ordinances, the operation of city boards, and Council’s role in development.
What is your plan to improve communication and transparency with the citizens of the city? Once on council, I would work on improving the public comment process and engaging committees on topics relevant to their focus. I would like to expand and enhance public input for important City decisions. I would seek input from residents, city departments and administration, business owners, and others with a vested interest in Clifton. On the city level, I would work towards a proactive approach to communication, addressing gaps and investigating ways to incorporate technology into the city’s messaging. I would also investigate adding a dialogue between citizens and officials to the format of Council Meetings. Finally, in my role on the City Council, I would learn as much as I can to address issues effectively and communicate accurately. I would use my time at City Council meetings and my website to clarify issues and inform the public.
What are your plans to address the flooding problem within our city, which has increased over the years? Flooding is a complicated problem without just one cause or solution, but there are many things that can be done to address it. My plan is to work hard to investigate all options for their feasibility and potential impact and then work hard to implement solutions. These are some of the things we can do to address the flooding problem in the city:
We can increase water storage. Options for this include expanding culverts, creating overflow areas, and installing water collection and attenuation systems. We can implement green infrastructure initiatives, which help with water collection, such as those that promote permeable pavement, green roofs, and gardens. We can plant trees.
We should preserve permeable surfaces such as parks and wooded areas and decrease the amount of impermeable surface we have. We should ensure developments are not approved that put an additional strain on flooding, and that drainage plans are scrutinized.
We can apply for assistance from state and federal governments to fund projects that address flood prone areas. We can ensure our sewers are clean. The city can also have programs with the residents that empower and teach them how to manage rainwater on their own properties, such as through workshops and rain barrel or tree giveaways.
Finally, any entities that contribute to flooding situations should be held accountable.
What are your thoughts on the possibility of garbage being picked up only once a week? Pros and cons? Any change in city operations should include a cost benefit analysis and an understanding of how it will affect taxpayers. I would always want to ensure taxpayer dollar are used efficiently and effectively. A pro of weekly garbage pickup could be reduced costs compared to biweekly pickup. As we are faced with the increased cost of garbage disposal, less money would have to be taken from other areas to compensate. A con could be that the residents face the inconvenience of accumulating more garbage at their properties over a weekly period.
What is your stance on opening legal cannabis businesses in Clifton? How did you arrive at that position? Back when Clifton’s Council voted to ban all classes of cannabis licenses, they were up against a deadline to either opt in and not be able to change their minds for 5 years or opt out and be able to change their minds at any point. Under the circumstances, I may also have wanted more time to consider things, such as zoning ordinances pertaining to the different businesses. But now, after over a year, we have the example of neighboring towns (Montclair, Bloomfield, Paterson, and others) who have opted in. We can learn from them and revisit that discussion in Clifton in a thoughtful, intelligent manner, addressing and taking into consideration the concerns that the residents have. For example, there are rules in place regarding legal cannabis sales that protect children and the community. Guidance from the State has also been released. Legal cannabis represents untapped tax revenue that can be collected directly by the municipality. Over 60% of Clifton citizens who voted in the 2020 election voted to approve the legalization of recreational marijuana. Based on the will of the people, the regulations in place, and the income potential, cannabis licenses appear to be an asset for Clifton.
Residential use of fireworks - where do you stand on banning all types from residences? New Jersey state law governs the use of fireworks from residences. Explosive and aerial fireworks are not permitted for private use in New Jersey. If there are applications made for the use of fireworks in Clifton I would address them on a case by case basis.
Do you plan on tackling the problem of brown water throughout Clifton? How?
Anyone running for Council in this election should plan on addressing this issue. As an environmental engineer, I have a good understanding of water testing, treatment, and distribution. I would want to understand of the cause of brown water, know the neighborhoods affected, and ensure communication and follow-up with PVWC. PVWC is responsible for maintaining the distribution system and providing a safe potable product. Residents experiencing brown water should have an opportunity to report these issues to the city so that the city can liaison with PVWC. I would advocate for these residents and demand a timely and thorough response when issues arise.
The city is creating a Civil Rights Committee. How do you envision using such a group, made of volunteers from all sections of Clifton? The purpose of the Civil Right Committee should be to address civil rights and discrimination issues in our city. They should identify civil rights issues and exchange ideas with the City Council. They should provide training and guidance. The Civil Right Committee should establish a dialogue and awareness so that civil rights concerns can be addressed proactively and effectively, and so that all Clifton residents feel welcome and respected in this city that is so proud of its diversity.
If you are elected, what are your top TWO priority projects - the things you most want to tackle in your first year? What do you see as the biggest issue facing the current Council? Please limit your response to no more than three sentences per issue. The issues that are most important to Clifton residents would be at the top of my list. I would have to listen to the electorate and learn as much as possible to decide on the priorities for the first year. In general, the issues that most impact the quality of life, safety, and pockets of Cliftonites would be my priorities.
The biggest issue facing the current Council is the absence of a vision. The Council addresses issues as they arise, but I would like to see the City Council proactively work together towards overarching goals, such as those in the City’s Master Plan and those that consistently challenge the people of Clifton.
The Clifton Democrats Club is hosting a Candidates’ Forum at City Hall on Wednesday, October 12 at 7 pm. This will give the community a chance to hear the candidates speak live. This event is open to the public.