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Mayoral Battle Heats Up Between McCormac and Struben

The Democrat incumbent and his Republican challenger are days away from their electoral contest. Learn what makes them tick.

Mayor John McCormac and his Republican challenger, Christopher Struben, will be battling in an election contest on Tuesday, when the mayor's seat will be up. Both politicians have very different views on how the mayorality in Woodbridge should be handled. Here is a summary of what they think, what they are proud of, what they hope to accomplish - and why they think you should vote for them.

Mayor John McCormac (Democrat, incumbent)

Even years before the unexpected death of former Mayor Frank Pelzman in 2006, Woodbridge politics had been a wild rollercoaster ride for most of the first decade of the new century, and current Mayor John McCormac has been in the thick of it.

Born and raised in the Menlo Park Terrace section of the township, McCormac - known to his friends as "Mac" - became engaged in politics in 1992, when newly elected Mayor Jim McGreevey hired him as the township's financial officer, then as business administrator.

When McGreevey won the New Jersey governorship in 2002, he took McCormac with him to Trenton to serve as the state's treasurer. 

McCormac continued to work as the state's chief financial officer under interim Governor Dick Codey, after McGreevey's resignation under a cloud of scandal two years later in 2004.

Back during this time in Woodbridge, Frank Pelzman, a highly popular Democratic councilman, became mayor after McGreevey left Woodbridge for the governorship. Pelzman won election on his own merits a year later.

In 2006, McCormac left Trenton and returned to Woodbridge to announce that he would be running against Pelzman for the Democratic mayoral nomination. It proved to be unnecessary; Pelzman's sudden, unexpected death in June of that year freed up the mayor's seat. State Senator Joe Vitale, who has his district office on Main St. right down from Town Hall, served as the town's interim mayor for several months until McCormac won a special election and was sworn into office in Nov. 2006.

In the regular 2007 mayoral election, McCormac won handily against his opponent, Republican chairman John Vtraric.

McCormac's first term in office was characterized by efforts at consolidating control over various enterprises in the far-flung township. The Avenel Colonia First Aid Squad, a volunteer emergency squad, was a case in point. It was effectively shut down when it was excluded from receiving emergency calls because of improprieties of which they were accused. After a lawsuit and a township wide petition forced the council to reestablish contact with the squad, the mayor readmitted them to the township's emergency call system, but only after he appointed a special administrator on the premises to keep an eye on their activities.

Earlier this year, McCormac shook up the police department when he hired a civilian police director and assistant director who were to report directly to him as they oversee the department. He has said he has put more "police officers on the street despite budget cuts with the money the township saved by streamlining other programs."

The mayor also introduced a new garbage collection system that utilizes one-armed trucks to collect trash from special municipally provided garbage cans, along with the introduction of single-stream recycling. This, he has said, has caused a trash system that is "cleaner, quieter and more efficient with less employees and less trips to the landfill."

McCormac also engaged in various public-private enterprises to bring businesses and revenue into the township, as well as saying his efforts have created hundreds of jobs. He announced plans to refurbish brownfield sites, most notably in Keasbey, to create businesses and eventually a waterfront park. He has also engaged the township in a variety of environmental activities, including efforts to create a "green incubator" business park to foster new environmentally conscious businesses.

The mayor also introduced the use of hybrid vehicles for employees on township business. He also implemented a township-wide crackdown on illegal housing, part of his efforts to keep up property values.

Despite the complaints of his critics, McCormac said he has cut $2 million in spending and streamlined government by eliminating 110 jobs "while improving programs and services."

The mayor has also made a serious effort to inculcate an arts environment in the township. Under his tenure, a series of concerts, an art gallery, a farmer's market and other diversions have been implemented.

There have also been attempts at getting Woodbridge residents to "buy local" with a discount program residents can use to save on purchases and services from township businesses.

McCormac said his proudest accomplishment was the recent acquisition of the land development rights to the Colonia Country Club that will preserve the 104-acre tract as open space. The $6.2 million purchase price is to be repaid to the township by a county grant over a four year period.

A lifelong resident of Woodbridge, McCormac, 53, resides with his family in Colonia.

McCormac did not return calls for this article.

 

Christopher Struben (Republican mayoral candidate)

Christopher Struben has one question for anyone wondering why he's running for mayor: "Are you better off now than you were before?"

By "before," Struben wants voters to judge if life in Woodbridge has improved under the tenure of current Mayor John McCormac.

"Our property tax rates are up 14 percent in two years. The assessed value of property has decreased by 9.8 percent, and the number of people in Woodbridge who have fallen below the poverty level doubled in four years," Struben said. 

"I wouldn't call any of this progress."

The 44-year-old Struben is an attorney and a former municipal prosecutor in Woodbridge. He won a contentious primary battle in June against Councilman Bob Luban, the only Republican currently sitting on that body.

Three of Struben's four council running mates won the primary, as Sue Boros, who signed onto the Luban slate. Since that, the party has made efforts to get over its differences, but the wounds are still raw.

Struben's team has its own website, as does Boros, and neither mentions the other online nor in their literature.

As the time is drawing near for the election, though, thoughts of internecine battles between township Republicans are fading fast. Struben said he has one goal: to oust McCormac from the mayor's seat.

He thinks the state of the town's finances give him an excellent lever upon which to do just that.

Since 2006, Struben said spending is up by almost 31 percent, the amount to be raised in taxes increased by almost 81 percent, but actual revenue - money raised by taxes and fees - dropped 17.4 percent.

"Who would spend more money when their income dropped? Why are we doing this?" Struben said.

He said he's basing his mayoral run on fiscal responsibility and restraint - his slate won the endorsement of the Middlesex County Tea Party. Struben said he's especially concerned with the borrowing being done by the municipal government and the Board of Education.

"We've borrowed $328.2 million. That's almost $3,300 for every man, woman, and child in Woodbridge," he said. "This is impossible to sustain."

Curbing spending and borrowing, and putting the brakes on the hiring of municipal workers is part of Struben's plan if he's elected. He also wants to stop what he believes is an outrageous amount of money devoted to litigation in the township.

"The legal department has cost $1.173 million last year. That's an increase of more than 30 percent since McCormac's been in office," Struben said. "Is this huge financial burden because the mayor's conduct has required so much spending on outside legal consultants?"

Struben wants to revamp the township's 'Pay to Play' ordinance, which he said was woefully inadequate to handle the financial donations people doing business with the government make to those who give them contracts. "Taxpayers deserve to receive cost effective services and to have contracts awarded on the basis of merit and performance, not political contributions," Struben said.

The Republican candidate has also made much of what he believes is the council's lack of a response to the issue of Municipal Judge Spencer Robbins voting in Woodbridge. The county Board of Elections investigated reports that Robbins, who lives in Chatham, was using his Woodbridge law offices as an address from which he voted in township elections. 

The council, and McCormac, said that there wasn't anything they could do about Robbins' judgeship. The issue was forwarded to a judicial ethics board in Trenton for review.

Struben also pointed out that Robbins held a financial stake in a bank that did business with the township.

One way Struben wants to save money is by consolidating the bureaucracy of township's fire stations. Struben's plan would eliminate many of 45 fire commissioners, most of who receive salary, medical benefits, and pension credits for their part-time work. He'd use the savings to convert some volunteer firemen into paid career firefighters who can perform fire safety inspections, engage in HazMat response, and serve as back up medical help when needed. 

Tom Maras November 06, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Part 1 Will Woodbridge Township Elect a Mayor on November 8 or will it Affirm a Caesar? How ironic that after working for three governors, it was Jon Corzine (of all people) who showed John McCormac the door at the NJ Statehouse back in 1996; thus giving rise to McCormac’s mayoral aspirations. As bad as Corzine’s financial practices appear to be, ala the latest news coverage about his stewardship at MF Global Holdings, Corzine found he could do without the further services of NJ Treasurer, John McCormac. Mac doesn’t have much to say about in tenure in Trenton these days, especially his artful handling of the bonds. In fact, he usually deflects any questions on the whole debacle by saying something like, I don’t recall that! Well Mac, the taxpayers and state pensioners will be recalling your artful bond strategies for many years to come. Of course, Mac took some of his loyal followers in Trenton back with him to Woodbridge, where people like his Chief of Staff/ Director of Redevelopment and his Communication Director found well paid position in the McCormac Administration.
Tom Maras November 06, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Part 2 So what memorable achievements has John McCormac done for Woodbridge Township during his time as mayor? Consider this: 1. Eliminated the positions of Police Chief and Assistant Chief of Police, and replaced them with retired police officers, who now get a nice pension, plus sizable paychecks for their current positions. Other key positions in the township have been, or may likely be, filed in a similar manner. Don’t all Emperor’s select and control their Praetorian Guard? 2. Shutdown St. John’s First Aid Squad because, according to some, the squad wouldn’t merge with Woodbridge Township Ambulance and Rescue Service WTARS). Reportedly, WTARS has a close relationship with John McCormac, who, in turn, has close financial contacts with financial institutions like NW Financial and Allegiance Bank. Doesn’t WARTS gets substantial financial assistance from the township, which they may well need to stay in service?
Tom Maras November 06, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Part 3 3. McCormac tried to destroy the self-sustaining Avenel Colonia First Aid Squad (ACFAS) with overblown allegation of criminal activity and personal improprieties. That didn’t work out to well for McCormac, as the squad was brought back into service by the voters. McCormac is still using taxpayer money to defend himself from a lawsuit by a former squad member. A lawsuit, by the way, McCormac apparently continues to stall until after the election. What does that say about a mayor who claims to be truly concerned about citizen’s rights? Maybe, McCormac doesn’t feel, justice delayed is justice denied, when a lawsuit is against him! And let’s not forget, McCormac has diverted a police officer/fire inspector (Approx. $120,000.00 and $25,000.00, plus pension, respectively, by position, an a police car and a fire inspectors car) to act as the Operation Manager at ACFAS, a private entity, with no reimbursement to the township’s taxpayers. Now that’s a Super McDeal! 4. The Colonia Country Club was an absolute win for the owners of the Club. McCormac’s grand scheme to own the club and run it was far from a win. However, the residents of Middlesex County and Woodbridge Township did win by acquiring the development rights to the club’s property. The property, to the delight of McCormac’s neighbors in Colonia, shall remain open space.
Tom Maras November 06, 2011 at 04:04 PM
Part 4 5. Speaking of McCormac’s neighborhood, he did get them a $500,000.00 skateboard park, next to a senior’s center. Of course that skateboard park took precedence over other important community issues, like the cleanup of the South Branch of the Rahway River (Sucker Brook). Then too, there are the monies McCormac could have used to saved residents thousands of dollars for surveys necessitated by FEMA redefining flood zones in the township. Unfortunately, for those residents in the flood zones, photo-ops of skateboard parks seem to be a higher priority in McCormacville. 6. Residents in the non-Colonia areas of Woodbridge Township are not being forgotten. Fords will soon have a $500,000.00 miniature golf course atop a capped landfill, a WAWA, a no fills super market and a nice, big, new housing project near Fords park. Decedents of Keasbey residents may one day enjoy a waterfront park along the Raritan River. And for those along the Woodbridge River, the new Evergreen housing construction in Avenel is removing part of those pesty wetlands which contribute to your flooding woes, and those of your neighbors in areas of Port Reading. While helping you, Mac is promoting construction jobs and providing economical enhancement for his developer supporters. Sewaren and Port Reading, someday, maybe, you will get a nice marina and dog park, if the grants for improving your area are not diverted to Colonia or elsewhere.
Tom Maras November 06, 2011 at 04:05 PM
Final 7. Our schools, which have the greatest impact on taxes and property values are aging and not doing too well according to the latest ASK test scores. With all the influence McCormac has on the BOE and the Superintend’s Office, why aren’t property taxes lower and scores higher? The list of McCormac notables could go on, but to what avail. As long as Woodbridge enjoys having a Caesar that controls almost all things Woodbridge, including jobs and appointed positions, why change the Administration or the Town Council (Caesar’s Senate, if you will) that support it? Apparently, Woodbridge loves having closed stores, warehouses, declining schools, increasing unemployment and more spending and taxing by its Emperor. Don’t believe me, well just wait to see the November 8 election results. McCormac believes the township can afford him and he demands another four years to prove it. But maybe, just maybe, the voters will say no more and they will take back their community. God Bless America!

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