ROSELLE — Mayor Garrett Smith, facing a strong challenge from former Councilman Joseph O’Halloran, is defending his record and questioning the qualification of his opponent.
Bolstered by a strong endorsement from Rep. Donald Payne, Smith said he has sought to improve the quality of services and opposed the annual tax increases imposed by council members who are allied with his adversaries.
“There are people in office who refuse to look for productive alternatives,” said Smith. “They hire unnecessary lawyers and incompetent administrators for political purposes instead of acting in the community’s best interest.”
The problems that ensued after council members fired Smith’s choice and “hired an incompetent chief financial officer are a prime example of the behavior that causes trouble,” said the Mayor.
Some observers say Councilman Jamel Holley’s ambitions faltered because he was caught engaging in absentee ballot fraud, which resulted in a year’s probation, but others claim O’Halloran — who is white — has benefited by division among black voters.
Political insiders had initially lined up behind Holley, but the organization-backed candidate’s campaign appears to have evaporated as it is increasingly clear that Smith — the borough’s first black mayor — is locked in a tight contest against O’Halloran.
Disputing O’Halloran’s claim that he is the best qualified candidate, Smith noted that the ex-councilman shared Holley’s close connection with former Assemblyman Neil Cohen, who is in prison for distributing child pornography.
Smith also pointed out that while O’Halloran was in charge of the recreation committee, the borough failed to obtain bids and paid a for-profit company for services without a contract, without establishing program fees and without adequate documentation.
At the time, O’Halloran said he was “flabbergasted” to learn that anything was done wrong and claimed his actions were taken “with the purest intentions possible.” A criminal investigation into the Blue Chip Sports Camp snafu after it was exposed by auditors did not result in any indictments, but authorities castigated officials for their ineptitude.
O’Halloran has garnered substantial support among many activists once associated with Holley, including a majority of school board members, but Smith says he has never relied on support political insiders — who he says turned a fender bender car accident into an attempt to force him out of office.
“I represent the people and not any political organization, so I am counting on voters who want the best for our community,” said Smith. “Times are tough and we are facing serious problems, but Roselle is not going to be victimized by ‘divide and conquer’ strategies or political trickery. People are paying attention because they know this election is going to have significant consequences.”
“We are sure that on June 7th (the voters of Roselle) will come out and vote for the candidate they feel will do the best job,” said Debbie Esposito, O’Halloran’s campaign manager.
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