Meet the candidates for Town Council

Crowded field of eight vying for two, three-year seats


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  • Michael Chazukow




  • Ada Erik




  • Christopher M. Garcia




  • Patricia "Tricia" M. Gerst




  • Marilyn Lichtenberg




  • Robert E. Nolan




  • Andrena "Andie" Pegel




  • Jonathan Salzman



On Tuesday, Nov. 7, voters will choose from a crowded field of eight candidates for their next representatives on the Township Council.

The hopefuls are vying to be chosen for two, three-year terms. The council has six members and the new terms start in January, 2018.

Running on the Republican line, Row A, are Andrena “Andie” Pegel and Patricia M. Gerst. Running as Independents are: incumbent Republican councilwomen Ada Erik and Marilyn Lichtenberg, Row D (Campaign tagline: "Serving the People"); and Christopher M. Garcia and Robert E. Nolan, Row E (Campaign tagline: "Common Sense Solutions"). Libertarians Michael Chazukow and Jonathan Salzman are on Row C.

Pegel was tapped to run with Gerst by the West Milford Regular Republican Municipal County Committee in August after Steven Castronova withdrew his candidacy.

Nolan, previously ran as a Democrat, and served on the council from 2005 through 2010. Garcia, who is now a member of the Green Party, previously ran for council as a Democrat.

The candidates were asked three questions:

1) Why are you running for the Town Council?

2) What are the most important issues facing the council right now?

3) How do you intend to deal with that/those issues?

Here are their responses, listed in alphabetical order:

MICHAEL CHAZUKOW

Age: 39.

Years lived in West Milford: My family has lived in West Milford for generations. I was raised in West Milford and lived here most of my life, about 30 years total. My wife and I bought our home here in March 2015.

Education: 2011 Ramapo College of New Jersey, Mahwah, NJ, B.A. Degree, Law and Society, Summa cum Laude; 2000–2001 Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier III, Montpellier, France, Academic Certificate: “Connaissance de la Langue Français”; 2000 County College of Morris, Randolph, NJ, A.A. Degree, Humanities and Social Science; 1996West Milford Township High School.

Family info: Married for 5 years to Amber; one daughter, Mila.

Occupation: Sales

Volunteer groups: 2016 - present West Milford Economic Development Commission, secretary; 2009 – present New Jersey NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) – Board of Directors.

CANDIDATE RESPONSE: 1) In 2009, I decided I wanted to be a volunteer and joined NJ NORML. I began collecting signatures throughout the state and over the years moved up to become a member of the Board of Directors. I’ve spoken at events to crowds of thousands, lectured at Ramapo College, Rutgers University, and a very well attended public debate at Montclair University. I’ve lobbied, testified at the statehouse, and ushered bills through the legislature. I’m not a career politician, but I have experience serving our state. Now I am focusing on our hometown.

2) Taxation is the biggest issue our community is facing, but that issue is much bigger than just the council can control. Our founding fathers fought a revolution over taxation without representation. Today, people who don’t feel represented don’t revolt, they just don’t participate in politics. Over half of the registered voters in West Milford are not affiliated with one of the two old parties. As a result, governing bodies are hearing fewer voices every day. There’s a crisis of confidence in government which is causing government power to be consolidated in fewer and fewer people.

3) My experience has taught me how our little town fits into the big picture. It taught me that you should always stand up for what is right, even if it is unpopular. And if you are persistent and principled, you can persevere.

Like it or not, we have a party based political system. If we are going to solve problems that are bigger than our town and that the two old parties can’t or won’t solve, we need a new party. The New Jersey Libertarian party is New Jersey’s third largest party. We are a 100 percent member funded organization of volunteers. We are concerned citizens who advocate principles based on freedom. We want to solve problems that our government can’t control by empowering you!

ADA ERIKAge: 65

Years in West Milford: Lifelong resident.

Education: Some college.

Family information: Third of 11 children. Not married. No children.

Occupation: Retired carpenter/farrier.

Volunteer groups: Health Advisory Board; Beautification and recycling committee (27 years); Building Standards Board; ADA Committee; Snow Committee; ALF Committee; MUA liaison; CPR instructor for Highlands Family Success Center; Legislative Committee for the Jersey Access Group; C.A.S.A.

On Town Council for six years; former Zoning Board member, nine years; and former Planning Board member, 11 years.

2002 Volunteer of the Year. Emergency medical technician.

CANDIDATE RESPONSE: I am running for re-election so I can finish some of the things that I have been working on:

1) Highlands issue. West Milford was promised that if we supported the Highlands legislation we would be compensated for the loss of revenue due to the restraints that the Highlands Preservation Zone has put on our community.

2) Creating a pay-as-you-go program by changing the unwritten policy of bonding for road repairs which cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars in interest and putting that money into the working capital in order to keep costs down.

3) Continue the work to clean up voter rolls (remove from the roll those who are deceased, moved or have not voted in elections). This would force our county elected officials who are responsible for this to do their job so that the county and the state can see an accurate voting percentage.

4) Continue to build WM77 into the best local channel that it could be, featuring local programming and our community at its best.

5) Work to create a central information center for all committees and groups to allow them to pool their data and resources so that like organizations can stop spinning their wheels covering the same ground, losing time and becoming frustrated.

West Milford is a town rich with volunteers, all of whom work for the betterment of our town. I am proud to be part of such a wonderful group of people who all call West Milford home.

CHRISTOPHER M. GARCIAAge: 46.

Years lived in West Milford: 15-year resident of Upper Greenwood Lake.

Education: B.S. in Management & Psychology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Family info: Married with 3 children.

Occupation: Senior account executive and Realtor.

Volunteer groups: Planning Board (2010-present), Planning Board Chairman since 2015; Recreation Advisory Committee; West Milford Midget Football Association Treasurer (2014-present); coach for youth Football, Basketball, Softball, Soccer.

CANDIDATE RESPONSE: I’m running for Council to address what should be our Council’s greatest priority - quality of life. I’m confident my education and business success as co-founder of an award-winning environmental consulting company and a leader in technology consulting will provide a fresh perspective, allowing West Milford to achieve greater aspirations without raising taxes.

Quality of life affects everyone’s investment in West Milford, bearing a strong correlation to the desirability of being here and the return on our investment as property owners. This should be the primary barometer in making decisions on taxpayers’ behalf.

One initiative I’ll pursue is collaborating with and supporting the Board of Education to welcome a YMCA or Boys/Girls Club to redevelop the Hillcrest property into an aquatic and recreational center for our community. I’ll advocate for more places to go and things to do for our youth. This strategy makes our town a more desirable place to live, supports existing businesses, welcomes new businesses and serves as a valuable mechanism in the ongoing battle against drug and alcohol abuse.

Quality of life is affected by the services and efficiencies of our municipality. I’ll seek funding sources and cost savings that can hold the line on taxes and take advantage of more cost effective processes and technologies. One example is organic recycling. Like many communities elsewhere, we should encourage the diversion of organic waste from our municipal waste collection. This alone could save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Funding sources are available to develop a pilot program that can make this a reality.

My goal is to collaborate with other leaders, including the BOE, County and state officials to achieve real improvements in the quality of life in West Milford. Common sense solutions are within our reach.

PATRICIA "TRICIA" M. GERSTAge: 44.

Years lived in West Milford: 10.

Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts, Montclair State University, 1996.

Family info: Husband Michael, daughters Julia (12) and Michaela (9), son William (8).

Occupation: Client care specialist, Cardiac Division, Getinge Group.

Volunteer groups: Current member of Recreation Advisory Committee; co-founder and President of WM Competition Cheer; Secretary of Republican County Committee; member of WM Republican Club; coach for WM Girls Softball Association; former cheer director and coach for WM Midget Football Association.

CANDIDATE RESPONSE: In my eyes, quality of life in West Milford is the main issue facing our community. I am running for Town Council to be the voice for young families in West Milford as well as that of our senior citizens. My mother lives with my family and my in-laws reside in Bald Eagle Commons, making me in tune with the needs of our seniors on a daily basis. Life on fixed incomes has become increasingly more difficult in West Milford. We need to ensure that the services currently available to them (e.g. senior busing, nutrition, and exercise programs) are maintained while keeping taxes in check. As a mother of three active children, I fully support our recreation and arts programs that provide our youth with opportunities for social development, team building, and physical fitness. I think it is critical for all stakeholders, young and old, to be kept in the forefront of the decision making process for our local government. These programs must be supported while not burdening the taxpayers of West Milford, creating a need for our Council to perform an annual line-by-line review of the municipal budget and create efficient spending plans to minimize and eliminate waste. It is immensely important for our governing body to make tax relief as equivalent a priority as supporting local services and programs. We need to maximize the "bang for our buck" in West Milford without putting further financial burden on young families, families working multiple jobs, and senior citizens on fixed incomes.

MARILYN LICHTENBERGAge: 69.

Family info: Widow with three adult children and three grandchildren.

Years in West Milford: 56.

Education: West Milford High School graduate, real estate school, and some college.

Profession: Realtor, former corporate CEO, and former municipal treasurer.

Volunteer positions: Member of the West Milford Rotary Club, Community Against Substance Abuse, Health Advisory Board, Highlands Family Success Center Board, Senior Advisory Committee, and Beautification & Recycling Crew. Also serves as Interact Club Advisor.

CANDIDATE RESPONSE: I love this township, and have loved it since I first moved here as a teenager. I could not have asked for a better community to raise my family. I have been a devoted volunteer and served as a councilwoman precisely because West Milford means so much to me. At this stage in my life, I just want to give back. Our council must be accountable to residents, which means we all must serve with honesty and integrity, and promote transparency.

1) The most important issue right now is informing residents about the condition of the MUA. Please vote “Yes” on ballot question #3 to sell the MUA to SUEZ. They can get it functioning and brought up to current standards. If residents vote no, the MUA will dissolve and all our residents may have to collectively pay $8 million in fines and incur costs over $30 million just to get it functioning. We cannot afford this. The sale to Suez will bring us tax ratables.

2) We need to finish our township infrastructure assessment, implement an improvement schedule, and upgrade when replacement is warranted. It costs taxpayers over $300,000 each year to perform repairs that are essentially patchwork. We should inventory all equipment at least twice per year, and our municipal building must become more financially feasible. Upgrading now will save in the long run.

3) West Milford is a unique township. We are the second largest in geographical size in the state. Many of our residents do not consider sections of our township as part of one big community. Communication with the public is important. Our TV channel 77 has helped residents see how our municipal government works, but we should do more. There should be one central database for residents to turn to for all community events, links to the resources they need, or answers to questions they may have.

ROBERT E. NOLANAge: 67.

Years in West Milford: 36.

Education: B.S in Economics from St. Peter’s University. MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Family information: Married to Eileen for 43 years. Four adult daughters and eight grandchildren.

Occupation: Recently retired financial executive. Last worked for the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris as their Chief Financial Officer.

Volunteer groups: Former councilman for six years. Planning Board member for four years and current member of the Township Insurance Committee. I have volunteered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness as treasurer of the Essex County chapter and have volunteered with the Passaic County Juvenile Conference Committee.

CANDIDATE RESPONSE: I am running to make West Milford a better place for our youth and seniors. Council members who are proactive can address issues before they become problems. West Milford has many challenges, but the biggest one is a lack of recreational opportunities. The vacant Hillcrest property presents a once-in-a -generation opportunity for a recreational facility with an indoor pool.

The sale of the MUA to Suez needs to happen, otherwise all homeowners will be burdened with the MUA’s current debt and additional millions of dollars needed for infrastructure upgrades. As an MUA customer, I will hold Suez’s feet to the fire to insure it lives up to the sale agreement.

Fiscally responsible budgets don’t use surpluses to artificially hold down current year taxes, while setting up future budgets for failure. I have 45 years of experience preparing and managing budgets, and I will make the difficult decisions to be sure that spending is sustainable.

Partisan politics should not determine who elected representatives are at the local level. I will reach out to elected officials at all levels of government regardless of party and advocate for more funding for West Milford. Our state Watershed Aid has remained at $757,000 per year since 2004. This needs to change to reflect inflation and state mandates governing watershed preservation.

As a community, we need to do all in our power to address the opioid epidemic. I will advocate for resources and partner with self-help groups and non-profits to urge legislators to provide the funding necessary to deal with the scope of the problem.

ANDRENA "ANDIE" PEGELAge: 51.

Years lived in West Milford: 21.

Education: Bachelor of Science, Business Administration, Manhattan College, 1988.

Family info: Husband Tom, sons Tommy (20) and Gregory (19), daughter Allie (14).

Occupation: Vice President, New Jersey Claims Associates, LLC.

Volunteer groups: Current commissioner of Economic Development Commission, member of Insurance Advisory and Community Against Substance Abuse Committees, District 2 representative of Republican County Committee, Vice President of West Milford Republican Club; former member of West Milford Women's Club.

CANDIDATE RESPONSE: The most important issue facing West Milford continues to be taxes. West Milford's hard working residents deserve a council who can balance vision with pragmatism and hold true conservative fiscal beliefs to safeguard the financial health of our already tax burdened residents. We need to build on the success of the 2017 budget's zero tax increase through diligent and collaborative work. We must keep taxes low by further developing a strict review and accountability system for the administration and departments to monitor wasteful spending only to return the monies and provide better services to the taxpaying residents of all ages. Our local leaders must encourage economic growth and creative strategic planning to entice small businesses to join our beautiful community while dealing with the crippling development restrictions imposed by the Highlands Act. They must provide a more open line of communication and stronger support system to keep existing local businesses active and flourishing by promoting the local economy. I am running for Town Council this year because I offer this perspective to my fellow residents. I will bring nothing but professionalism, honesty, integrity, and forward thinking to our local government. I will always strive to help our township adapt to modern accommodations while working to preserve the charm and history that makes West Milford so wonderful. I will be a voice for you, as a business owner and mother who goes to work every day to help provide for her family while managing hectic schedules, commitments, and a household. I will be a voice for West Milford now and moving forward.

JONATHAN SALZMANAge: 41.

Years lived in West Milford: 12.

Education: State University of New York at Plattsburgh

B.S. in vitro cell biology/biotechnology, minor in chemistry.

Family information: Married 16 years to Nicole; one daughter, Kayla.

Occupation: Director of quality, food manufacturing.

CANDIDATE RESPONSE: Serving on a local town board has always been something I felt I needed to do. When presented with the opportunity I felt strongly that my beliefs in Libertarianism and background in root-cause analysis and process improvement would add a fresh new perspective to the Town Council. I hope to foster collaboration and consensus leading to prosperity for West Milford. This town is where my wife and I started our family. To us this is home and always will be. I look forward to being involved and serving the community of West Milford.

The most important issue: How do we lower our ever-rising taxes? That one issue compounds all the others, like how do we encourage entrepreneurship in our beautiful town? Taxes push some residents out of West Milford, and prevent new homeowners and business owners from coming in to our area. High taxes create a burden for residents beyond making it expensive to live here. Money may not solve all our problems, but every problem is easier for families to overcome when they don’t have to worry about money.

There are multiple approaches to addressing rising taxes. We must focus on areas that can bring in revenue without raising taxes to lower our current debt, like selling the MUA or Hillcrest Center building. Encouraging entrepreneurship fits our beautiful mountain lakes town well. We must not shortchange our residents by looking outside of our community for a quick fix. Attracting outside business is important, but the people who live here are what makes this town great. If we empower each other, our community will flourish causing new residents and businesses to look for ways to get into West Milford, instead of the other way around.

What voters need to knowGeneral Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. Voters can confirm their polling location and district information by looking at their sample ballot, which will be mailed by the state on Wednesday, Nov. 1; or you may visit the state's Division of Elections website at www.njelections.org/voting-information.html - and click on the “Where do I vote?” link in the center of the page. Ballots will also be cast for members of the West Milford Board of Education, the State Senate and General Assembly, governor and lieutenant governor, and county freeholders. West Milford residents will also be voting on the sale of the West Milford Municipal Utilities Authority's assets to Suez Water New Jersey, a private company.








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