By Ron Leir
A newly minted Republican has thrown his hat in the ring for Harrison’s mayoralty.
In November, Erik Brachman, the president of the Harrison Board of Health, will oppose the Democratic nominee James Fife, who was appointed mayor by the Town Council after the sudden death of Raymond McDonough Feb. 12.
Three years ago, Brachman, 53, ran in the Democratic Primary as a candidate for a Second Ward seat on the Town Council and was defeated by Victor Villalta.
Now a registered Republican – one of a dwindling breed in Harrison (of roughly 6,000 registered voters in Harrison, there are reportedly just 269 on file) – Brachman said that it appears that the last known local GOP chairman has moved out of town and, with the lack of a party leader, there was no formal nomination process by the Republican County Committee.
Brachman said he has reached out to the Hudson County and New Jersey State Republican Party headquarters, notifying them of his intentions to file and, as of last week, had heard nothing from either.
Although Fife has a full slate of Democratic Town Council candidates – incumbents Jesus Huranga in the First Ward, Anselmo Millan in the Second Ward, Laurence Bennett in the Third Ward and James Doran in the Fourth Ward – Brachman is running alone.
“On the council, everyone’s entrenched so it would be difficult to get people to jump ship,” he said.
In a letter he sent to potential campaign donors, Brachman refers to Harrison as “Moscow on the Passaic” characterized by “old boy cronyism” and “dictatorial mandate” which he hopes to shake up.
Brachman’s resume says he’s a 1983 alum of Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa., where he earned a double degree in accounting and marketing. He’s a certified tax collector and zoning officer in New Jersey. He also holds a New Jersey real estate broker’s license.
A former Wall St. financial executive, Brachman has been zoning officer and assistant planner for the Township of Roxbury in Morris County since 2011.
In Harrison, Brachman sits on the Planning Board and previously served on the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Now in his fifth term as president of the Riverpark Condominium Association, Brachman said the association has just secured, through the state Dept. of Community Affairs, a “pretransition agreement to stand on our own” after the Riverpark developer opted to switch to rental units as part of an expansion plan.
“If elected, I would try to get better terms for the town from other developers,” Brachman said.
“I would also try to do something about traffic flow in town,” he said, recalling that sometimes it has taken as long as 45 minutes to get across the Jackson St. bridge, through Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard and down Harrison Ave. before reaching his apartment at Riverpark.
“I’d also try to solve the parking issues in town,” Brachman said. “I’d investigate what grants can be tapped so we could maybe build a parking deck for our business area.”
Asked about a recent state audit that criticized certain spending practices by Harrison, Brachman said he hadn’t yet read the document but suggested that the town’s finances “need a review, from top to bottom.”
At this point, a one-man enterprise, Brachman has no campaign team or rallies lined up. “I’ll just get out there,” he said, and energize “community spirit” to push for change.
For his part, Mayor Fife, who resigned from his seat on the Harrison Board of Education (he was board president) following his mayoral appointment, said that he and his running mates – all will be aligned with the Hudson County Regular Democratic Organization on the ballot – are “looking forward to getting out as many votes as we can so that we, like Raymond [McDonough] always did, can show the county Democratic Organization that we in Harrison are a valuable asset to them.”
To that end, the Harrison Dems team has scheduled a kickoff fund-raiser cocktail party May 8 at the Polish National Home on Cleveland Ave. Fife said the locals will be following another Mc- Donough tradition by keeping ticket prices reasonably low at $25.
“Mayor McDonough ran the campaign for himself and the rest of the council and we’ll be doing that as well,” Fife said. “We’ll probably need to raise $10,000 at most – and maybe not even that, since there’s little opposition.”
Fife said that Councilman/ Superintendent of Schools Doran will be the campaign manager.
The message that the team wants to send, said Fife, is: “We feel we’ve kept Ray’s dream alive by preserving stability so the people and the developers in town know there are not going to be any wholesale changes.”
In prepping for the last piece of land acquisition by the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J. as part of the preparation for upgrading the PATH rail station in Harrison, Fife said the town is facilitating “completion of negotiations with the P.A., the Advance Co. and Supor Trucking,” which he added, should be done by this week. “It’s a small sliver of land the P.A. needs for where [PATH riders] are going to come down from the train platform onto the street,” he said.
In the meantime, he said, the P.A. contractor is occupied with “moving the PATH substation further down the track toward the river.”
As for other private developments, Fife said that there’s some concern about the pace of an environmental cleanup which, he said, Hartz Mountain is obliged to complete on its former property before developer Jeff Milanaik can proceed with his mixed-use project on that site. “They’re not dragging their feet but they’re not sprinting, either,” the mayor said. Milanaik said the area involved is a triangular- shaped nine-acre parcel between the railroad tracks on the west side of Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard. “We’re hopeful that within the next three to six months, this can get resolved,” he said.
Fife said that a hotel being built by developer Richard Miller and the Pegasus Group next to the Harrison Parking Center garage should be ready for occupancy by Sept. 1.
And Milanaik expects to break ground by May or June on another project for 104 rental apartments, mostly one- and two-bedrooms, with a combination of surface and garage parking for 104 cars, at the old 1.5-acre Century Cookie factory site, Bergen and Second Sts.
Asked about local finances, Fife said the town “hopes to get off transitional aid in the near future, once revenues start coming in from some of the developments.” He said he’d like to apply some of those funds “for instrastructure projects – we’ve got 150-year-old pipes in some of our streets.”
Asked about the state audit, Fife acknowledged that the town had paid $21,000 in hospitalization benefits for three retired employees who were deceased, but added: “What can we do if the insurance companies don’t notify us? All of that money has been repaid. We recouped it from the insurance company.” The audit alleged that some of Harrison’s employee benefit payments were overly generous but Fife said that for the most part, the town was obliged to pay them by contractual agreements or by past practices. And, he said, “At one time, I was president of the Harrison teachers’ organization so I take those things very seriously.”