Election contest heating up early

Left: Photo courtesy Jeff Mattingly Jeff Mattingly
Left: Photo courtesy Jeff Mattingly
Jeff Mattingly Right: Photo courtesy Mary Higgins Mary Higgins




Two Belleville residents disaffected by the policies of the current administration have picked up nominating petitions to run for the local governing body.

If they file those petitions by the March 7 deadline and qualify, then Mary Higgins and Jeff Mattingly will be on the May 10 ballot as candidates for Municipal Council in the First and Second Wards, respectively.

Should that scenario play out, Higgins will be matched against incumbent Marie Strumolo Burke, who has already filed her election petitions, while Mattingly will take on incumbent Steven Rovell, who has picked up a set of petitions.

Third Ward Councilman Vincent Cozzarelli and Fourth Ward Councilman Dr. John Notari have also collected petitions to run for re-election.

Higgins and Mattingly told The Observer they are running as part of the same team which may expand to include challengers for the Third and Fourth wards.

Both are first-time office seekers, although Higgins has served as a member of the Belleville Zoning Board of Adjustment since her appointment to the board by Mayor Ray Kimble in November 2015.

Mattingly, a custom woodworker who has lived in Belleville since 1988 and has been a homeowner since 1995, said that he and his running mate “want to reach out to voters who have been historically disenfranchised” by government insiders who have driven up taxes to the point where “it’s not affordable to live anywhere” locally.

He asserted that the local government was carrying a bloated payroll with “topheavy management” and hampered by the fact that “onefifth of our budget is wrapped up in health care costs with ‘Cadillac’ [insurance] plans.”

Both Mattingly and Higgins pointed to the township’s recent hiring of Nutley Township Commissioner Mauro Tucci as township manager – whose negotiated salary reportedly may end up close to $140,000 a year for a 25-hour work week – as an example of “cronyism.”

Higgins, a retired educator and former global tour director whose family has lived in the First Ward “since 1910,” said that she and Mattingly were “deeply concerned about the mismanagement of tax dollars in a town where the average family earns less than $60,000 and pays upwards of $12,000 in taxes for a one-family home.”

Also targeted by Higgins and Mattingly is the administration’s posture on residential development.

“It appears that the Belleville politicians put out the welcome mat for developers to come in and overbuild our town. Large-scale rental properties only increase taxes for municipal services and overpopulate our crowded schools,” Higgins said.

Both reiterated their opposition to the township exerting the power of eminent domain to seize residential properties in favor of high-density development projects that, they said, tend to ruin the character of a neighborhood.

More preferable, they said, is to allow the market to dictate infill of vacant properties, particularly with new commercial ventures.

“Several business and restaurant owners are rehabilitating the old warehouses and factory buildings in the Valley. Owner-operated stores are slowly coming back to Washington Ave. …. Without political interference such as eminent domain, Belleville can right itself,” said Higgins.

“What we hope to accomplish if elected is to overhaul [the township’s] fiscal mismanagement and funnel the money into [quality of life] improvements,” she added.

Burke, meanwhile, has been vocal in calling for the township to act on restoration of the Silver Lake firehouse, which has been closed, awaiting repairs, for more than two years. And she has also pressed the administration to begin using the newly rebuilt Friendly House in Silver Lake for recreation activities.

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