The Bloomfield candidate’s forum boiled down to a few keywords: audits, taxes, condos and Wal-Mart.
In the forum, held Wednesday night at Bloomfield College's Van Fossen Amphitheater, the Democratic ticket of Mayoral Candidate Michael Venezia and council candidates Joseph Lopez, Wartyna Davis, Carlos Pomares faced off against the Republican team of Mayoral candidate Russ Mollica council candidates Peter Santana, Zach Smith and Maribel Perez.
Republican and Democrat candidates clashed on the need for a forensic audit of the township budget, with Democrat Michael Venezia’s team members arguing that it was an unneeded, expensive exercise and G.O.P. candidates framing it as a necessary first step for fiscal accountability.
“A forensic audit sounds sexy,” Democratic candidate Waryna Davis joked, adding that the audits cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and should only be resorted to when there is a known problem. “It’s a waste of money if it’s just used for a witch hunt.
Both sides cited property taxes as a problem, but Republicans said it was caused by over a decade of Democratic rule. In his opening statement, Mollica noted that Republicans have been absent from the Council since 2008 and haven’t had a majority since 2001.
“That’s 12 years of one party rule in Bloomfield,” Mollica said. “It’s time for a leadership change.
Disagreements over handling and plans for developing the Scientific Glass property, the Westinghouse property and the former Hartz Mountain industrial site cropped up throughout during the forum. Republicans framed the Scientific Glass Property, where a developer plans to construct housing and which the officials are exploring methods of reclaiming, as a missed opportunity.
“I’m on the record as opposing the development from its inception,” Mollica said.
Mollica and his fellow Republicans asserted that Bloomfield officials fumbled the chance to buy the property for under $2 million when it was in foreclosure and would now need to pay $15 million to acquire the property. Smith asserted that a lawsuit over the property could put Bloomfield “on the hook for millions.”
Mollica and his teammates scuttled the possibility of gaining control over the property through eminent domain. They instead suggested using the Westinghouse property as sports fields and building a medical office facility at the Hartz Mountain site.
Democrats disagreed over the possibilities for the Scientific Glass property and the potential cost. Venezia said the property had recently changed hands for $4.6 million, under the $15 million price the Republicans had quoted. In addition, Venezia and his team hammered Republicans for suggesting support of building a Wal-Mart in Bloomfield.
After the debate, Mollica said the Republicans had not suggested building a Wal-Mart.
Democrat Council candidate Pomares also noted the how the history of the Westinghouse property, a brownfield site that supplied uranium for the nuclear weapon-producing Manhattan Project during World War II, could entail complications.
“Westinghouse requires a $20 million clean-up,” Pomares said.
Editor's note: the original version of this article misstated Republican Mayoral candidate Russ Mollica's first name. We regret the error.