In just under a fortnight, Kearny Democrats (and unaffiliated voters) head to the polls to determine whom they wish to be their mayoral (and council) nominees. And, barring an independent candidate deciding to run — or a last-minute GOP write-in nominee, chances are the winner in the race between Mayor Alberto G. Santos, the incumbent, against Rosa Agency realtor Sydney J. Ferreira, will be Kearny’s mayor come January 2022.
The Observer interviewed Santos on video for close to an hour last week and shortly, we’ll bring you some highlights. (Details of the upcoming broadcast of that video are on the next page.)
Editor’s note: The Observer also invited Ferreira to participate in a similar one-on-one interview, but he declined because The Observer was unwilling to offer him the questions we’d ask him ahead of the interview (as was the case with Santos) and because we couldn’t guarantee we’d ask the same questions of him that we’d ask of his opponent.
Meanwhile, the discussion with Santos was to last about 30 minutes, but we went well over the prescribed time as we discussed everything from PILOTs to parking to plastic bags being banned here.
Santos, mayor of Kearny since Jan. 1, 2000, was very candid in his responses.
Here, now, are some highlights from the conversation, which you’ll be able to watch live on Wednesday, May 26, at 8 p.m. EDT.
ON HIS TICKET
Santos is running with Marytrine DeCastro in the First Ward, Richard Konopka in the Second Ward, Carol Jean Doyle in the Third Ward and Gerald “Jerry” Ficeto in the Fourth Ward.
“They make excellent candidates because each was involved and have been involved in many ways,” Santos said. “Each bring a different strength and skill sets to the council table when we analyze and discuss issues. For example, Councilwoman DeCastro, in the First Ward — she’s a registered nurse. That insight and that training was invaluable during the pandemic. Rich Konopka has spent his career working at … the regional utility authority. That’s been very helpful for infrastructure questions regarding our sewer lines and roadways. Councilman Ficeto in the Fourth Ward is one of the founders of the West Hudson Arts & Theatre Company. He brings a different perspective and he’s a lifelong educator. And Councilwoman Doyle. I don’t know who in this community has been involved in more organizations in our town.
ON FALSE KEEGAN
“He (Ferreira) took a selective date and a selective government action that we did in 2005 and started time in 2005. The Keegan Landfill began in 1950 with the original Keegan family. And we had duPont in town and all sorts of industry in town and they all dumped there. …There was all sorts of leaking into the marsh and it was partially owned by the Town of Kearny. And the state said several times we had to properly address and close this landfill. There were numerous fires on this landfill over the years. …We thought in 2005, with the then Meadowlands Commission a solution we thought would work. …in 2010-11, they started bringing in the construction debris for the cap. The agreement was to end in 2016 after five years of fill because you’d get the right fill of cap height. 2016 rolls around and they (now the NJSEA) need this as a revenue stream because of the cost they’d incurred so far. …So we told them no, the lease agreement ends in 2016. They filed eminent domain action to condemn the property. …We challenged it in court, went all the way up to the US Supreme Court asking them to review — we lost. They now, in 2016, own the property outright.”
Because of their own actions, the NJSEA would ultimately be responsible for all closing costs. Had they not seized the land via eminent domain, those costs would have fallen to Kearny’s taxpayers.
“Not only did we get it closed, we got the liability shifted to the state,” Santos said.
ON USE OF PILOTS
Payments in lieu of taxes have been a big sticking point in this election. We ask why Santos was right to give PILOTs out at one point.
“It is a tool to essentially redevelop areas that are essentially blighted,” he said. “The former bat factory — it blew up when I was a teenager. It had been that way for 40+ years. So we had all these sites and did the public process looking for developers. No one showed up. (Edward) Russo, who started his development in Kearny, first, the warehouse on Belleville Turnpike, no PILOT, very successful, then an industrial site on Bergen Avenue … He said I can take this if this is the structure, otherwise, it’s going to remain as-is. And then he knew Kearny. He decided he wanted to do the sites on Passaic Avenue and he negotiated his own deals with the owners of the property.”
Santos noted the town not once used eminent domain for any redevelopment, though other local communities did. Had PILOTs not been granted, much of the aforementioned land might still be blighted and/or vacant.
Santos also noted Russo paid for part of Bergen Avenue to be paved, Marshall Street to be paved, renovations to Miglin Park, and several other things.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.