Tuesday, November 8, is an election day. One of those odd, off-year elections filled with a lot of names you don’t recognize who have been running for seats without, for the most part, actually campaigning. There’s one state Senate seat up for grabs in our district and two state Assembly spots.
One race is is different though, both in number of seats involved and the energy that has been expended to get them: that for the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The Freeholders are supposed to function as an independent legislature that reviews actions by the Essex County Executive. There are Freeholder seats tied to specific districts in the county and four seats that are “at large”–anyone, anywhere in the county can run for them. Marilynn English, a Verona resident who ran unsuccessfully for County Executive as an Independent last year, is one of nine candidates in the “at large” race. In the race specifically for our district, Joseph Chiusolo, a Republican who has been both a council member and mayor in Cedar Grove, is challenging Leonard M. Luciano, Democrat. Luciano became the default incumbent this summer when Linda Lordi Cavanaugh retired before her term ended and he was appointed to the spot.
Both English and Chiusolo have grounded their campaigns in an objection to Essex County’s high level of public debt and that debt’s high cost to taxpayers. ” This administration is bankrupting us,” says English, a former assistant vice president in J.P. Morgan’s M&A department. “Our bond debt in 2010 while at $1.1 billion cost us $90 million in payments. We now have bond debt of $1.5 billion.” Chiusolo, who owns a uniform supply company, echoes those concerns. “As a business owner, if I went and ran my business the way Essex County is run, we would have been out of business and I would have been responsible for 25 employees being out of work.”
In one of those odd campaign twists that New Jersey politics seems to excel at, Luciano says he, too, is opposed to the debt. ” I have made a pledge that I do not want to participate in accumulating any more debt for Essex County”, he says. An academic by background, his priorities are getting the county to do more business with American-owned companies and being more accessible to constituents by setting up a satellite office outside Newark. He would also like to help small businesses to take greater advantage of county grant programs. “If you make your business more desirable, more people will come to it,” says Luciano, who chairs the Freeholders’ Economic Development committee.
English, who got into County politics through a visceral opposition to the deer hunt in County park lands, contends that nepotism and cronyism are rampant in Essex County, and that many employees have multiple jobs that do little more than boost their pension payouts. “I could weed $25 million from the budget in four minutes”, says English. ” I wouldn’t approve anything they [the Freeholders] want to spend without a thorough feasibility study.”
Chiusolo is also aiming to trim the County’s budget. ” There has been a lot of frivolous spending on the Freeholder board that has not been properly debated,” he says. If elected, he would seek a one-year spending freeze and an audit of all buildings owned or leased by the County. He would also strive to make the Freeholder position more visible and accountable to the district. “When you have people representing you they should respond to your concerns,” he says.
The Freeholder race has generated more than its fair share of sparks. At a debate in Verona in October, Luciano accused Chiusolo of “being on the take” because of a business transaction his company had had with the County. Chiusolo, whose company had won a publicly bid County uniform contract two years ago, responded to the accusation by calling for the Freeholders to investigate the charge. Luciano said in an interview over the weekend that there will be no investigation and that he did not “infer or insinuate” any corruption. Chiusolo says his lawyers have put Luciano on notice that he faces possible legal action for defamation.
You can vote at your regular Verona polling spot from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. The ballot also contains a public question to expand sports betting in New Jersey.