WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield’s primary election on June 6 has eight candidates running for four open seats on the Town Council.
Incumbent Democrat Scott Katz is one of two candidates running in the uncontested primary for Ward 4.
Other candidates include Democrat Emily L. Root for Ward 1; Democrat Erika Vargas-Garrisonand Republican Michael Armento for Ward 2; Democrat Dawn Alicia Nichol-Manning and Republican Michal D. Domogala for Ward 3; and Republican David William Kiefer for Ward 4.
All of the candidates are running for a three-year seat on the Town Council.
Are you running for office in Westfield? Contact Alexis Tarrazi at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on being featured in a candidate’s profile and submitting campaign announcements to Westfield Patch.
Town of residence: Westfield
Position sought: Councilmember, Ward 4
Party affiliation: Democrat
Family: My wife, Caroline, and I have been married for 21 years and raised our two children in Westfield. Our son Nate, 19, is finishing his freshman year as an engineering student at Virginia Tech and our daughter Amelia, 16, is completing her junior year at WHS.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA.
Occupation: Regional sales manager for Maximum Quality Food.
Previous or current elected appointed office: Councilman Ward 4, 2020 to present.
Campaign website: katzforwestfield.com
Why are you seeking election to the Town Council?
It has been an honor to serve Ward 4 residents for the past four years and to spearhead projects and initiatives that have moved the town forward. I am proud of my leadership on the Recreation Commission in delivering the Edison Fields project in a first of its kind shared service agreement with the Board of Education. These state-of-the-art fields will provide enhanced facilities for our student athletes and band members, increase much-needed local playing time for our town sports leagues, and help to close the sports gender gap by allowing for the expansion of girls teams and sports such as field hockey and flag football.
This is only part of the necessary improvements to meet the needs for all of our residents, regardless of age, gender, or ability, and I am committed to working with my Ward 4 constituents to make sure their voices are heard as the Town creates a more inclusive parks experience.
One Westfield Place is the biggest project that Westfield has undertaken in many years. This project will help to rejuvenate our downtown with the addition of much needed 55+ housing and class A office space, which will help to increase foot traffic for our downtown businesses. Furthermore, the mass timber office building — the first of this type of world class building in New Jersey — will attract tenants who will further increase the shopping base of our downtown. When I ran four years ago, rejuvenating the downtown was part of my platform. One Westfield Place delivers on this promise.
I am proud of the process we undertook for this project. The outpouring of community involvement and input, the passion for the project and the interaction with the developer are encouraging. There have been concessions from the developer that addressed many of the community’s concerns. However, we must continue to hold the developer accountable as the project advances. I am committed to closely monitoring the next phases and making sure the developer follows through on their obligations.
I am proud of Westfield’s diversity and through my work with the Mayor’s Human Relations Advisory Commission (HRAC) and the Library Board, I am part of the positive energy working to highlight our commonality. I requested to join the HRAC in 2022 as they did not have a counsel liaison. HRAC was created following an uptick in religious and racially motivated hate incidents with a mission to serve as a resource and community partner to uproot, dismantle and eradicate hate, prejudice, and racism, to foster an inclusive and supportive environment, raise awareness, and build a community that appreciates our commonalities as we celebrate our diversity.
Recent activities that I am particularly proud of include the Houses of Worship Tour and our Chalk the Walk events at the schools, which have been positively received by the community. Equally as impressive are the many lectures and events at the Westfield library. I encourage everyone to visit the library website and take advantage of this wonderful resource.
Hurricane Ida highlighted the need for improvements to Robinson’s branch of the Rahway River as well as some other areas in Westfield that experienced excessive water during the storm. This is an extremely important issue for the adjacent neighborhood. After Hurricane Ida, I toured the Ward and spoke with residents to learn about the problem areas. We have since purchased and started using apparatus that can take video and analyze the condition of our underground pipes, which assists the Department of Public Works (DPW) in making improvements and debris removal as needed. We are working with the state Department of Environmental Protection to secure permits to remove debris from Robinson’s Branch, which will begin once we have the approvals.
Balancing the town’s budget becomes more difficult each year with inflation and the loss of revenue since COVID. How do you plan to address this?
I have been a member of the finance committee for the last two years and I’m proud that we have been able to maintain a healthy budget in light of many challenges.
Our surplus was replenished to $9.35 million this past year. We also reaffirmed the Town’s AAA bond rating, one of only 44 (out of 564) New Jersey municipalities to achieve and maintain that distinction. In addition, we conducted a remarkably successful bond sale yielding a net interest cost of 2.49% in an unfriendly interest rate market.
We also met our capital budget goals, with 15 miles of road paving (5.5 miles by the Town, 9.5 miles by utilities), drainage improvements, Windsor Park enhancements, new public works and public safety equipment purchases.
Having trust and transparency in the town government is important to residents. How has the town improved on this or how would you improve this?
This administration has improved transparency at every level, starting with a public process for board and committee assignments, where qualifications and resumes are submitted and reviewed yearly. This ensures merit-based, high-quality selections.
The redesigned website is user friendly and allows for sign-up for alerts and emails. Most notable are the Nixle alerts providing updated emergency, paving and leaf removal information. There are also online forms to register and apply for many town-sponsored activities and the See Click Fix App that allows residents to report various problems directly to DPW with notification when these items are fixed and closed out, usually within a 24-hour window.
This administration now streams all town council meetings online. We recently upgraded the technology at the municipal building to improve the sound, as well as adding four television monitors to make presentations easier for both the council and public to view.
What other issues do you feel need to be tackled in the township?
We need to further what we have started in the parks with improvements to Tamaques Park. We have the ability to create new recreational opportunities for residents of all life stages and abilities – from passive enjoyment of the park, to meeting the needs of our seniors, as well as advancing the growth of girls’ sports by accommodating the expansion of girls’ flag football, field hockey, and ice hockey programs. I plan to continue working with the Recreation Commission to solicit input from all stakeholders — including my Ward 4 neighbors, sports leagues, and general park users — to ensure the final plan delivers on the needs and desires of our residents.
What sets you apart from the challenging candidates?
What sets me apart is my commitment, experience and unabashed pride in Westfield. When it came time to start my own family, Westfield was the only town Caroline and I considered. We both are from Edison, and we knew Westfield well. Like so many, we were drawn to Westfield for the downtown, the housing stock, and most of all, the community. We have lived here for over 20 years, and our children have attended Westfield schools from kindergarten through high school. As a result, I am very familiar with Westfield’s ever changing needs.
My work as a sales manager provides me with a different perspective than many who pursue elected office, and my focus is on making connections with people. I enjoy hearing from my constituents and getting to know the people in my ward. At the end of the day, we are all neighbors and I want to create the best Westfield for all.
What else would you like to share about yourself or your campaign?
Joining the town council at the start of a global pandemic helped me see the importance of a strong, skilled government that works for residents. This administration pivoted and the work continued unhindered.
As I run for re-election, I look forward to continuing the community building of my first term. Events like the Tour de Westfield bike ride, the House of worship tour, Chalk the Walks at multiple schools and Forest Bathing at Brightwood Pak were all great successes and, with another term, I will continue to build on these accomplishments.
I view my role on council through the lens of a resident, a father, a husband, a friend and a neighbor. I look forward to continuing my service and doing what I believe is in the best interest of our community.