Letters to the Editor, May 7: On the Montclair election
Editor’s note: The May 7 Montclair Local was our final print edition before Montclair’s municipal election day, this Tuesday, May 12. As we have done in previous election years, we did publish letters advocating for or against any of the candidates in this week’s print edition. Those letters have been collected and published below. Additionally, any election-related letters received and approved prior to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 9, will be added to this page.
For the sake of our students: Commit to a blanket recusal
We have been blessed in Montclair with good government these last number of years with one glaring and massive exception: the uneven oversight of the Board of Education and its unfortunate impact on our public schools. The condition of our schools has been deteriorating for several years. While there are islands of excellence, there is much to be concerned about. The achievement gap continues to not only linger but to grow; the physical plant is mostly old and has not been well maintained; and the BOE itself continues to be an entity of toxicity, lacking any ability to provide oversight and mindful direction to the revolving door of superintendents. And yet to stakeholders outside of our community, the Montclair public schools maintain a decent reputation based mostly on perceptions that were shaped years ago but not informed by the current reality. Without question, our public schools should be the number one issue in our upcoming municipal election.
In Montclair’s form of government, the mayor, and the mayor alone, may choose BOE members. Indeed, on other township issues each council member has an equal vote to the mayor, but on BOE appointments, it is only the mayor who votes. One of the candidates for mayor — Sean Spiller — is employed by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). The NJEA has a strong point of view on public education, and its mission is to preserve the jobs of its members, including the teachers of our public schools.
Because of Mr. Spiller’s built-in conflict of interest on issues facing the Montclair Board of Education, it seems only right and fair that he makes clear how he would manage his relationship with the Board of Education should he be elected mayor. It is, however, not just Mr. Spiller’s challenge, it is an issue that every candidate running for town council should consider and have an explicit and publicly stated position about.
If Mr. Spiller is elected, he must, at a minimum, commit to a blanket recusal from all township business related to the BOE. This would include the mayor’s authority to appoint individuals to the Board of Education and to the Board of School Estimate – the committee that annually prepares and authorizes the BOE’s operating budget.
As noted earlier, this is not just on Mr. Spiller as a candidate for mayor, but all the candidates running for town council. If Mr. Spiller becomes mayor, it will fall to the council to determine a path forward on how to provide good and proper governance of a BOE with a mayor who is generously compensated by the most powerful union in the state and touches the inner workings of every school system in New Jersey — including Montclair.
I am sure that Mr. Spiller cares about our children and their education. He is trained, after all, as a teacher. But being a senior executive with the NJEA brings a point of view and a bias. A bias, by the way, that any one of us would have if we were one of the leaders of the NJEA. I think Upton Sinclair said it best: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.”
Sean Spiller is only human. His perspective on K-12 public education via the lens of the NJEA is one viewpoint on how to administer our schools. But it cannot be, nor should it be, the prevailing opinion. Let us save every parent (and taxpayer) and their children the grief of our possible next mayor and town council wrestling with such issues as they relate to the future of Montclair’s public schools.
If he were to become mayor, Mr. Spiller, during his four-year term, should recuse himself from all dealings with the BOE and delegate such decisions to the town council, whose members should also unanimously agree that he should recuse himself. This commitment to eliminating a major conflict of interest would save all of us in Montclair from a swirling pool of confusion and allow our political leadership, BOE, and new superintendent to focus on restoring our public schools.
The problem with “progress”
In a couple of weeks, the township will be counting ballots for the Montclair municipal election. For me this is a problem. This election is critical. It will determine our fate as a wonderful small town. It is not to be taken lightly. Consequently as a voter, I need more time to fully absorb the positions of these candidates, especially the ones who are running for mayor. Montclair residents need more opportunities to speak face to face and ask the hard questions of our candidates.
Apparently, there are two camps. One camp with Sean Spiller as the mayoral candidate takes the theme Progress in Action. The other camp, with Dr. Renee Baskerville as the mayoral candidate, takes the theme Your Voice, Montclair. Also, there is one independent candidate.
I have been inundated with Sean Spiller’s campaign propaganda. Spiller is everywhere. He is on television, the web, and social media. However, there is an unanswered question concerning Spiller’s campaign. The question: What does Spiller mean by “progress”?
I have a problem with that word as a theme for his candidacy. To me, the word “progress” is a dog whistle to developers who have overrun this town, building massive residential apartment buildings. “Progress” is really a buzzword to me for more outrageous development to come.
Just look at Spiller’s ward. The Third Ward stands as the epicenter for the overdevelopment of Montclair. The majority of the development in the Third has taken place during Spiller’s time as this ward’s councilor. So I am worried about Mayor Spiller’s position concerning future development in the town.
In addition, I need to know what Baskerville means by “Your Voice.” It sounds fine. However, will “your voice” mean hearing the “voiced” concerns of residents over the Lackawanna development? Will the “your voice” candidates if elected take a firm step toward suspending or permanently halting any more residential development in Montclair?
For me as the election draws nearer, the questions remain unanswered. I know in the upcoming days I will be personally contacting Sean Spiller and Renee Baskerville to get answers to these questions. It is my recommendation that Montclair residents make this same call before casting their votes.
Candidates’ views on aging in place
In the lead-up to the Montclair local elections, most of the discussion on housing issues in these pages has focused on rent control. As more than 40 percent of our residents are renters, tenant protection is an important issue.
But there are others the candidates must address.
Repeated surveys have established that a majority of Montclairians 55 and older wish to “age in place,” to remain where they have grown up or raised families, where their friends and memories are. However, they often find they lack the affordable options that address their needs. Montclair’s zoning and land use regulations greatly limit their opportunities by restricting such facilities as housing appropriate for older residents, multi-family dwellings, etc., in many of the township’s zones. These and other restrictions especially handicap the retired, but negatively impact down-sizers, young couples, and singles as well.
Similarly, the restrictions imposed on accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and infills — small, freestanding or attached cottages in the rears of homes —deprive down-sizers and empty nesters the opportunity to remain on their property while renting their homes to supplement their income and meet their property tax burden.
The Montclair Housing Action Group, of which this writer is a founding member, advocates a thorough reexamination of the housing policies of the township to promote a wider range of options, including ADUs, infills, missing middles, and shared housing. And we invite all our municipal candidates to declare their positions on these matters.
We especially want to know their position on form-based codes, that is, zoning codes that shape development by defining the characteristics of building forms, streets, and open spaces as opposed to its use as the defining principle. Form-based codes offer a development strategy that pairs growth and continuity.
Housing — adequate and affordable housing — is a human right, necessary to health, survival, and a viable community. This is a value our candidates and our subsequent township government must address if Montclair is to continue as a model of ethnic, economic, and age diversity. We are pledged to work with all appropriate town agencies and officials to uphold this value, through cooperation where possible and opposition when necessary.
Democracy doesn’t pause
I'd like to thank and acknowledge all of the candidates running in the municipal election. Clearly, this is not how any of us thought we would run a campaign: no shaking hands, no kissing babies, no meeting voters, period. But thanks to Montclair Local, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Montclair Public Library, and the countless Zoom meetings held in kitchens across town, we have been able to have a thoughtful discussion about issues that are important to all Montclarions.
Democracy doesn't pause for a pandemic, and I’m encouraged by the fact that even in the midst of this crisis, the essential interaction of local government, voting, endures. Your voice is important to this process, so please don't forget to fill out your ballot and return it before May 12.
Even though we are physically isolated, we are not separated from the fundamental values that make our community unique. Lately, my thoughts have turned to a Montclair tradition, the July 4th parade. I’m not sure if we will be able to hold it this year, but I’ve never missed one in my 32 years in town.
If you’ve never been to the July 4th parade, brace yourself. It’s a grand and sweaty mess! Political groups from the left and right rub shoulders with senior citizens, soccer kids, PTA parents, local businesses, marching bands, tow trucks, veterans, bubble dancers and pranksters with squirt guns. To me, it sums up exactly what Montclair aspires to be: diverse and inclusive. Everyone’s welcome.
I’m running for councilor at-large and I would like to bring that spirit of collaboration and civic participation to local government. I bring to this endeavor a deep and abiding love for Montclair and all that the community stands for. I would be humbled to serve my hometown. Thank you for your consideration.
The author is a candidate for councilor at-large.
A vote for the independent
I wish to ask my friends and neighbors to consider voting for Carmel Loughman for Montclair councilor at-large. She is running independent from either slate and will be a strong, thoughtful, and pragmatic advocate for all of Montclair.
Carmel has been an appointed, dedicated member of the Montclair Planning Board and has deservedly been reappointed. I have worked with her for the past four years in an advisory capacity in my role on the HPC as well as on a joint committee for redevelopment.
Carmel is the kind of person we all would hope would enter into politics. She is independent, thoughtful, and well-reasoned in her thinking and her actions. She has the intellectual competence and conviction to think through and solve problems. She asks the tough questions that need to be asked, always seeking to arrive at the best solution and outcome for the benefit of all Montclair residents.
She was one of the minority members of the planning board who voted NO to the deeply flawed Lackawanna application. She saw through the misinformation and resisted the unprecedented political pressure to support what is now well understood to have been an extremely ill-conceived development. Her strong independence and her deep inclination is to do the right thing.
I only recently learned she earned her MBA from NYU Stern and has been an accomplished finance professional. It appears no other candidate for any council position or mayor brings this critical set of skills to our town's stewardship. At this time of fiscal challenge, we will all be well-served by her proven dedication to our town and her specialized expertise in finance and management.
You do not need to, nor should you feel obligated nor inclined, to vote for an entire slate. Every council seat represents one vote. Carmel will do the listening, the reasoning to do what is best for our community, free of any outside agenda or influence.
Lastly, Carmel is a tough (but really sweet), smart Irish woman. In my experience, you can’t do better than that!
Carmel Loughman assuredly deserves your vote for council at-large for her proven character and competence.
This endorsement is shared 100 percent at my own unsolicited volition, with no agenda other than to share my conviction based on my direct firsthand experience, and as a resident of Montclair since 1966.
I respectfully ask for your support for Carmel Loughman for councilor at-large. I would greatly appreciate if you would share this with your friends. All of Montclair will be well-served by Carmel's leadership.
DAVID M. GREENBAUM
Watch out for outside interference
When shadowy outsiders start to meddle in local elections, local residents should watch their backs. That’s why I’m so concerned that the so-called Sunlight Policy Center, a neoconservative and anti-public education front group associated with people like Dick Cheney and Chris Christie, is trying to interfere with the Montclair mayoral race.
Councilman Spiller has promised that as mayor he will appoint school board members who share his passion for public education and will work to make sure that our schools remain both a great resource and a great value for all Montclair residents. That’s why Sean has been endorsed by New Jersey Working Families , Mayor Robert Jackson, Democratic Activist Marcia Marley, Democratic Governor Richard Codey, as well as by the Montclair Education Association. People who care about great public schools support Sean Spiller for Mayor.
With the exception of a handful of high school seniors, the students in our public schools don’t get to vote for who represents them. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure we keep their schools strong, successful and free from the kind of outside interference that pads corporate bottom lines but robs children of the education they deserve.