Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Passaic Freeholder Race Down to Wire

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Passaic Freeholder Race Down to Wire

Article excerpt

The race for three seats on the Passaic County Freeholder Board appears headed for a tight finish, with the candidates scrambling for every last vote in an off-year election that is expected to produce a light turnout.

With state Assembly races topping the ballot, no one is expecting a stampede of voters at any district on Tuesday. Most observers agree that a low turnout gives the Republican challengers, Joseph Cupoli, Joan Walsh and Sami Merhi, the party's best shot at breaking through on the freeholder board where Democrats control all seven seats.

Long out of power in Passaic County, a low turnout would play to the Republicans' strength in suburban towns upcounty, and limit the influence of Paterson and Passaic, where the Democrats usually pile up huge pluralities.

With little money to spend to get the vote out, Republicans are hoping for a tax revolt. The GOP has posted signs all over the county blaming the Democrats, who have controlled the freeholder board since 1998, for increasing taxes in each of the past 15 county budgets.

Democratic incumbents Hector C. Lora and John W. Bartlett say the tax increases were necessary to balance the budget, keep the government operating, and maintain the county's AA credit rating. Newcomer Sandi Lazzara, a teacher from Little Falls who joined the Democratic ticket when Freeholder Ronda Casson Cotroneo decided against running for reelection, has largely been spared the Republican's rhetorical wrath on taxes.

Lora pointed to four recent upgrades in the county's credit rating as evidence that the Democrats have put the financial house in order. "We did what we were supposed to do on your behalf," Lora told the audience that attended the recent freeholder debate in Wayne.

Democrats have also taken heat from the Republicans for the way they handled the Friends of the Passaic County Parks, a non-profit that began operating the county fair in 2014. The non-profit was started by Bartlett, who was chairman and remains a trustee.

Records of the non-profit, which were kept by the county, show that the Friends received $265,423 through various corporate grants, vendor fees and parking concessions in 2012, '13 and '14. …

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