Election Free South Orange

South Orange Village President Candidate and Campaign Roundup & EXPLAINER

Sheena Collum (left) and Deborah Davis Ford

Two candidates are vying for South Orange Village President — incumbent Village President Sheena Collum and challenger and current Village Trustee Deborah Davis Ford.

The race has been contentious to say the least.

Collum and Davis Ford have run together in the past and share a similar public service record on the issues — albeit with Collum at the helm as Village President the last 4 years. Collum first was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2013; Davis Ford was first elected to the BOT in 2007.

CANDIDATES FORUMS

Two candidates forums were videotaped and broadcast on SOMAtv. See the videos and Village Green’s reporting here:

FIRE SERVICES

Davis Ford separated herself from Collum early in the campaign with a mailer that criticized Collum on the issue of a fire services merger between South Orange and Maplewood. Elected officials from both towns criticized the mailer, calling it misleading and false. Last week, Trustee Mark Rosner, who is not seeking re-election and who has pledged not to endorse either candidate, gave an interview disputing many of the claims made in the Davis Ford/SO Forward campaign fliers.

Davis Ford has defended her campaign’s fire services fliers, saying she is a whistleblower and a champion for civil service, as well as a voice for South Orange firefighters. Both South Orange firefighters unions have endorsed her, as has the statewide firefighters union. NJ FMBA President Eddie Donnelly spoke with Village Green, arguing that the NJ FMBA is not trying to derail the merger, but that the union is backing Davis Ford because it wants a seat at the table in merger talks. The fire union has created a website critiquing Collum’s stances on fire services (which Collum, Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca and Trustee Mark Rosner, among others, have contested).

The bottom line:

  • Collum is pro-merger and in March recommended a joint meeting structure with civil service to Maplewood, as supported by the Board of Trustees. Collum says that the best road to merging departments is by first creating a South Orange/Maplewood consolidated fire department; other towns could then be added later.
  • Davis Ford says that she is pro-merger as well, but would prefer a regional model, with multiple towns at the table simultaneously. Davis Ford would not support any merged department that is not civil service. Davis Ford contends that Collum sought to give control to Maplewood and is only supporting a joint meeting structure now due to Davis Ford’s efforts.

SCHOOL FUNDING

Davis Ford says she will seek to work with state leaders in Trenton to change the school funding formula for the South Orange-Maplewood School District, which she says unfairly burdens South Orange. With roughly 33% or the students in the district, South Orange taxpayers contribute almost 43% of the tax levy funds for the district — or about $11M more per year than Maplewood.

Collum argues that the school funding formula is equitable based on property valuation, stating that a homeowner in Maplewood with a home valued at $500,000 and a homeowner in South Orange with a home valued at $500,000 are paying the same amount to the school district. Collum says that a shift to a per-pupil formula would lead to discriminatory zoning practices and would unfairly burden low income families.

Davis Ford says she wants to look at an income-based tax to support the school district. Collum says she wants to concentrate on lobbying Trenton to increase state funding for the South Orange-Maplewood School District.

Read Village Green’s reporting on the South Orange School Funding Task Force’s report from 2016 here.

REDEVELOPMENT

Both candidates have stated they are pro-redevelopment — as a path to increasing tax ratables in the Township and lessening the impact of local property taxes. Davis Ford criticized Collum in a flier saying that many redevelopment projects are stalled and that she would do better negotiating deals with developers and would create a new committee to help support her efforts. Collum has countered that, although 4th & Valley is stalled, other projects are moving forward, and that there is an existing Development Committee working on such projects. Collum says that the pace of redevelopment has been slow because the Township is now being less generous with tax abatements to developers than in the past.

Read Village Green reporting on  Ford’s redevelopment flier and Collum’s response here. 

CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS

Both candidates have pledged not to accept campaign donations from PACs (political action committees). Collum has pledged not to accept donations from developers or their agents. See the campaigns’ filings with the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission below.

Read more here:

South Orange 2019 Candidates Address Questions About Campaign Contributions

QUESTIONNAIRES

Candidates answered questionnaires from two organizations. Click to read their responses:

THE DEBATE THAT WAS/WASN’T

The NAACP Oranges & Maplewood Unit stepped away from moderating a scheduled May 7 debate between Collum and Davis Ford on fire services after the campaigns could not agree to terms: The Collum campaign asked that additional topics be added after the Davis Ford circulated campaign materials criticizing Collum’s record on other issues.

Saying that Collum had reneged on an agreement to solely debate fire services, Davis Ford held an event sponsored by the South Orange Chamber of Commerce. Collum’s campaign contended that they were not informed of the new sponsor or moderator. At the event, Davis Ford answered questions from the moderator James Harris and from audience on various topics after Collum’s campaign manager read a statement from the candidate. Collum responded to Davis Ford on a Facebook live feed by WYZE 95.9 FM.

ENDORSEMENTS

Village Green received an endorsement for Deborah Davis Ford from former South Orange Village Trustee and temporary Essex County Freeholder Janine Bauer. Davis Ford has been endorsed by the local South Orange firefighters unions and the NJ FMBA.

Village Green has received endorsements for Sheena Collum from Trustee Karen Hilton, Trustee Steve Schnall, Trustee Walter Clarke, former Trustee Jeff DuBowy, former Village President Douglas Newman, former Village President Alex Torpey, Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, Maplewood Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee, and former Board of Education members Chris Sabin and Donna Smith.

The News-Record of Maplewood and South Orange endorsed Collum. The endorsement is not available online. Following is a photo:

Read the News-Record’s reporting on its interviews with Davis Ford and Collum here:

Collum, DDF vie to be president

LETTERS OF SUPPORT:

For Deborah Davis Ford:

For Sheena Collum:

LINKS:

Candidate Profiles:

Candidate Campaign Launches:

Campaign Websites:

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