Mayoral Campaign Coverage | Democrat Derek Armstead: The Change Linden Needs

Mayoral Campaign Coverage


Two familiar faces on the political scene are looking to serve as Linden’s mayor for the next four years.
Mayor Richard Gerbounka, an independent and former councilman, is seeking re-election to his second four-year mayoral term. He is being challenged by Democratic 4th Ward Councilman Derek Armstead, who is seeking his first citywide office.
Gerbounka and Armstead share similar views as they work to stabilize taxes in a city which recently saw a $344 municipal tax increase for the average homeowner.
“I’m trying to stabilize taxes,” said Gerbounka, adding municipal taxes have increased 14 percent in the last year.
“It’s not the industrial town it was,” he said referring to General Motors and other industries which once paid the bulk of city taxes but have since left Linden.
As mayor, Gerbounka has worked to cut spending by reducing the number of city employees and attracting new revenues.
“We have far too many employees,” said Gerbounka of the 679 employees including 98 part-timers and 50 school crossing guards. There are 531 full-time city employees.
He said 42 positions have been eliminated through attrition, along with eight part-time positions, for a savings of $3.7 million.
Gerbounka said the city’s fire department was heavily staffed, with 123 firefighters at four firehouses. Plainfield, which has a larger population, has 103 firefighters at three firehouses, he said.
Approval was recently granted to lay off seven firefighters and eliminate five vacant positions in the fire department. All city department heads have been asked to cut 10 percent from their budgets.
Gerbounka said he is not looking to fill nine vacant positions in the police department, even though it will impact the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program.
“The primary factor has to be staffing in the street,” Gerbounka said.
Efforts also are under way to create one garage for police, fire, and public works department vehicles.
To generate revenues, Gerbounka is looking to move forward with plans for a coal-degasification plant to generate electricity, use real-estate brokers to find occupants for stores, and attract more restaurants to the downtown.
Gerbounka is also looking to change the city’s form of government from the Wildwood Act, in which the mayor doesn’t prepare the budget or have veto powers, to the more modern 1950 Faulkner Act, in which the mayor would.
“I have no say over a $95 million budget,” he said, adding policies are made by the council committee chair. Under the Faulkner Act, the mayor and business administrator work together. He’s also like to see the city’s 10-ward system reduced.
Armstead said changing the form of government is where he and Gerbounka part ways.
“I think the form of government is fine. We’re a unique form of government with 11 council members,” said Armstead, who feels that makes for more representation.
By switching to at-large council members, there would be members with roots in particular wards.
“We don’t need to have a powerful figure in town,” said Armstead. “We need to elect leaders and build consensus and get results.
Armstead, who has served on council for 17 years, said if he and council president candidate James Moore are elected, they would work together as a team. Armstead said he would give up job working for Union County.
Armstead said he knows the tax impact felt by other city residents. He’s seen taxes on his two-family house increase from $8,000 in 2004 to $14,000.
To increase revenues, Armstead would focus on the polluted land in the city’s industrial section and convert it for use in “green” industry such as manufacturing solar panels or other clean technology.
“Linden wants to be known as the green capital of the world,” said Armstead, who also plans to go after the executives of the companies with plants left in the city’s industrial area to get them to clean up their properties.
He wants to get private investors to develop the area around the Linden Train Station, to create a Soho-type district just a 25-minute train ride from New York City.
“The downtown area on Wood Avenue is never going to be what it was, with shopping malls in Elizabeth and Linden. We have to look to create something else,” said Armstead, who would like to see a “transit village.”
Armstead also is looking to reduce crime, especially robberies by street gangs involved in drug trafficking. He’d like to persuade the Legislature to make it mandatory for first responders like police and firefighters to live in the town they serve. He said police officers wouldn’t condone crime in their neighborhoods.
“If you have stock in the town, the town will do better,” said Armstead, who would also like teachers and city employees to live in town.
“If you get a paycheck in town, this town is good enough to live in.”

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