In Uncategorized on May 4, 2008 at 4:26 pm

May 02, 2008 12:00 AM

By Steve Morris

When developers Samuel Dayton and Christopher Stuart began buying up farms adjacent to the new Godwinville train station an idyllic suburban paradise began to sprout up in what had previously been the domain of pigs, chickens, cows and corn. Some things have changed over the past hundred years; agriculture has disappeared from Bergen, Dayton and Stuart are long gone, and Godwinville is now known as Ridgewood. Other things have not, including Ridgewood’s status as a suburban paradise, and this year’s council candidates aim to keep it that way.

Incumbents Betty Wiest and Jacques Harlow will take on challengers Paul Aronsohn, Keith Killion and Anne Zusy on May 13th as the five candidates compete for three seats on the village council. Councilwoman Kim Ringler Shagin is also up for re-election but declined to run for another term.

Betty Wiest is an active environmentalist and the current deputy mayor. The Wiest family has a history of political involvement in Ridgewood; Wiest’s husband Quentin served a four year term as mayor during the 1980’s. Jacques Harlow rounds out the other half of “Team Incumbent.” Harlow’s political stock is cyclical and resembles that of many US automakers, as he won in 1996, lost his re-election bid in 2000, and rose from the ashes of defeat to the council chambers once again in 2004. Harlow has been an advocate of public utility reform and once attempted to forge a co-operative among 19 Bergen municipalities including Ridgewood to buy electricity together.

Facing “Team Incumbent” is the eclectic mix of independent challengers Paul Aronsohn, Keith Killion and Anne Zusy. Aronsohn is a former Clinton Administration policy wonk, McGreevey staffer, and currently works in private industry. Killion is a longtime resident and police officer who is self funding his campaign on principle. Zusy, an ex-newspaper reporter, has since become a community activist, a polka dot stocking clad advocate for Ridgewood’s schools.

The hot button issue in this race is the village business district and its lack of adequate parking. Team Incumbent wants to build a parking garage while the challengers all want to build a parking lot. This is not a new issue, as the parking garage question has come and gone numerous times over the years, much to the chagrin of Ridgewood’s business owners. The fact that this issue continues to smolder lends credence to the notion that the village’s government is slow moving and sluggish, a notion possessed by all three challengers.

Aside from the question of “to build or not to build” their doesn’t seem to be any further overarching issues that all of the candidates are campaigning on but rather a series of “pet issues” that are unique to each candidate. Team Incumbent’s message stresses fiscal responsibility and stewardship while Paul Aronsohn wants to put the breaks on the Valley Hospital’s planned expansion. Anne “A to Z” Zusy wants to invigorate village hall with her volunteer spirit and speed up the pace of constituent services, while Killion, in typical cop-turned-politician fashion, is focused on public safety.

In 2004 only a paltry 2,782 of the village’s 15,097 registered voters came out to vote, about one in every five. It is hard to pick a front runner, as the candidates all appeal to different portions of the electorate. Team Incumbent aren’t just incumbents; they have lived in the town for many, many years and have been active in politics for decades, however so has Keith Killion, and Killion will be hard to beat amongst voters with ties to the town’s emergency services. Anne Zusy’s numerous “letters to the editor” and involvement in the village school system have made her a household name amongst parents and teachers alike. Paul Aronsohn’s 2006 house run coupled with his big-time credentials, slick website, and flashy signs have given him a lot of exposure, perhaps closing the gap somewhat between himself and the more established denizens he is running against.

Although political strife in the county has rendered some towns into political footballs, politics in Ridgewood seem to be refreshingly local these days. No matter who wins, it appears the fair citizens of Ridgewood will end up with a council that really does care about making Ridgewood a better place, not exactly something you see every day.

  1. How can the town condemn the property on Franklin Ave because it does not fit in with the other Village buildings – and then build a flat parking lot? A blacktop parking lot is just as much an eyesore as the original buildings. Actually the current buildings don’t really look so bad.

  2. Were Sunshine laws violated when meetings about the parking lot development were held with the current owners of the property? Were deals made in private?

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