Since I took my oath in January 2013, I have tried to stand up for you, for all my constituents, and for the principles we hold dear. It has been a fascinating and exciting term, and I want to share some highlights with you.
My Roles as a Freeholder in Passaic County...
On the campaign trail, I often get asked the question, "What is a Freeholder?" Simply put, we are Passaic County's legislature and executive, representing 502,000 residents in 16 cities and towns. We are responsible for:
- 247 miles of county roads and 341 bridges
- 13 parks and historic sites
- a community college
- a long-term care facility
- a technical high school
- programs serving seniors and veterans, children and families
- programs supporting the businesses that keep our economic engines running
Now I get to answer the more specific question, "What do you do on the Freeholder board?"
In my first term as a Freeholder, I have had the privilege of serving on most of our Board's major committees, including as:
- Chair (2014) and member (2015) of the Budget committee, which is responsible for proposing the County's annual budget to the full Board
- Chair (2013) and member (2015) of the Finance, Administration & Personnel committee, which is responsible for approving all hiring and appropriations of county funds before they are considered by the full Board
- Chair (2015) and member of the Planning & Economic Development committee, which encourages employment and business growth county-wide and considers programs related to the environment and open space preservation
- Chair (2014) of the Health, Education & Community Service committee, which oversees the County's work in areas from public health and preventive healthcare to mosquito control and the management of Camp Hope in West Milford
- Member (2014) of the Law & Public Safety committee, overseeing the County's law enforcement functions
- Member (2013-2014) of the Energy & Sustainability committee
I've also served since 2013 on the Passaic County Board of Social Services, whose programs provide essential support to our county's neediest children, families, and seniors.
... and Beyond
As Passaic County's representative on the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), which oversees $2+ billion in transportation planning and improvements from Ocean County to the New York border, I have had opportunities to bring new outside funding for major Passaic County projects, such as:
- by publicly objecting to Governor Christie when he took more than $25 million away from Passaic County in 2013 by diverting road funds allocated to improve the Routes 46/3 interchange to spend in southern New Jersey instead, I catalyzed opposition on the NJTPA Board to further delays in that project, reuslting in ...
- NJTPA's vote to appropriate $239 million in federal dollars to fund a 7-year project to transform the Routes 46/3 interchange from Notch Road to Valley Road in Clifton, Little Falls, and Woodland Park, after six prior funding delays;
- encouraging the allocation of other federal project planning funds to Passaic County, including
- $250,000 to plan pedestrian and bicycle access to the Great Falls,
- two grants totaling $1,000,000 for access, signage, and other improvements to the Morris Canal Greenway in Clifton and Paterson, and
- $600,000 to study repair or replacement of the Sixth Avenue Bridge from Paterson to Prospect Park and Hawthorne.
Connecting with Constituents
My first term was also a chance to improve communications with our constituents, so regular people can access the information and services they need. For example,
- I worked in bipartisan fashion with Wayne's mayor and township council, to host a public information session on the major county road project at Hamburg Turnpike and Valley Road,
- in cooperation with the Passaic County Advisory Committee on Disability, I hosted a public forum where Surrogate Bernice Toledo and an estate planning attorney helped more than 50 local parents and caregivers understand the topic of "Guardianship and Estate Planning for Parents of Special Needs Children and Adults,”
- the Freeholders began a new tradition of celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, recognizing community leaders and students from across the county,
- I worked with the leadership of the Northern New Jersey Council of the Boy Scouts of America on a special Freeholders' program to commemorate the 105th Anniversary of Scouting, and
- I was pleased to swear-in two new members to the Board of Social Services, representing the Arab American and Bangladeshi American communities respectively -- an increase in diversity that I hope will help immigrant communities better connect with the support services available to working-class Passaic County residents.
Doing More for Passaic County
As Freeholder, my goal is to build on the good things we're already doing and see where we can do even more. In December 2013, I announced one example: Donating a special food-transportation vehicle to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. When County equipment is ready to go out of service, we can either auction it off or donate the equipment to charity. Most items are either small or unserviceable, but every so often this gives us the chance to do something really special.
Around Christmastime, we had a Meals On Wheels vehicle going out of service. The cost of its upkeep no longer made sense for taxpayers to bear, but it's still functional, with special heated and refrigerated compartments. So I reached out to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, which asked us to donate it. When we handed over the keys, the food bank took responsibility for the vehicle, but it will continue to benefit local residents as part of the "Kids Cafe" program, providing hot meals and healthy snacks to hungry children in our area.
Standing Up for What We Believe In
Public service is a chance to stand up for the things you and I believe in. Over the course of the my first term, I've spoken out:
- against Governor Christie's attempt to take funds away from Passaic County road projects and spend them elsewhere
- about the U.S. Supreme Court's opportunity last spring to provide marriage equality to LGBT couples
- with an Op-Ed supporting all Passaic County residents' right to vote without intimidation, and
- to urge Congress to ensure stability and economic growth by solving the Federal Transportation Trust Fund crisis.
To see more of what I've said this year, and follow my future public remarks, please "like" my Facebook page.
As a Board, my colleagues and I also joined a bipartisan effort by many counties, to challenge Governor Christie's plan to hold an unnecessary extra election for U.S. Senate at a cost of $24+ million in 2013. In part because of that pressure, the State committed to reimburse Passaic County its $1.7 million cost for the extra election, and repay other counties as well.
I am looking forward to this fall's campaign as an opportunity let people know what my colleague Freeholder Director Hector C. Lora and I have been doing since we were elected together in 2012, and to introduce Passaic County to the extraordinary Sandi Lazzara, who will make an exceptional addition to the Freeholder Board.
I hope to continue to capitalze on the opportunities that ewach new day gives us to do more for Passaic County residents, build effective collaborations with neighboring counties, and continue to stand up for the things you and I believe in. As always, your support will be essential. Please contact me by e-mail, by phone, on Facebook or Twitter, or in person to share your ideas and insights. And, if you can, please contribute to our re-election campaign in whatever amount is best for you.