Mattingly: Who Will I Be Voting For, and Why?

Public advocate Jeff Mattingly offers his thoughts on Tuesday's municipal election, including firsthand experience with Melham and the Valley Redevelopment.



I was moved to write this after reading a heartfelt response by my friend Lou Pallante, a former At-large Belleville Councilman who I have great respect for and value his opinion. In his writing, Lou was declaring his reasons why he was supporting Michael Melham for mayor. He stated that he had had meaningful conversations with Michael concerning what he believed had been a severe overreach in his, and the then council’s declaration of eminent domain in the Valley section of Belleville’s 4th ward where he was councilman at the time. (Basically the main note decent that Lou came to win on in 2002). Lou went on to say that Melham convinced him that he was no longer influenced by the agenda of Richard Yanuzzi, the self-professed political kingmaker who sought to run the campaigns of others by pushing his political agenda, who he had publicly stated that he was so beholden to during his tenure as a councilman from 2000-2004. I have my own personal experiences during that time and circumstance and have had many conversations with Lou, during and after that time, that I would like to share.

Also running for mayor is Liza Lopez. The Lopez/Reyes ticket for mayor and councilman at-large has deep ties to Newark political operative Pablo Fonseca, who also professes to be able to run and win public office campaigns. Newark is 10 times Belleville’s population and the largest city in the state, whose politics have been kept at arms distance for the last 30 years. A win by Lopez and Reyes would increase Newark’s sphere of influence in Essex County and their efforts to consolidate their political weight would be expanded. What might that mean for Belleville?

The Kimble, Kennedy and Hood ticket are the incumbents, with the addition of Charlie Hood, hoping to win the confidence of the voters for a 4th term and are touting their accomplishments and hoping to build on their successes. Those accomplishments are certainly being questioned by their challengers who see things differently.

My personal experience with Belleville politics over the last 25 years as a public advocate has been so much more than casual, as I have seen all of those who are not new to Belleville Township office in action; who their associations are and have been along the way, and what and how they went about their agendas. I hope that my insights will be helpful to those who may still be undecided.

I invested all of my worldly worth in setting up my dream shop to build custom furniture in the Valley section of Belleville in 1988 along with my then partner. The expense was all we had, $65,000. And we leased a perfectly sized space in the former Belleville Can Company at 89 Roosevelt Ave, just across from Kidde Place. The economy was up and down in our area at that time, but we were growing when in 2000, a new council majority took hold.

In 2001, one week to the day after the hijacked planes brought down the World Trade Center buildings and the nation was still in complete shock, the new council declared Eminent Domain in the Valley section of Belleville. Some 150 homes and businesses were now in danger of being taken from them, without their prior knowledge that it would be coming.

Michael Melham had just campaigned one year before, for these same people’s votes to represent them by promising to better their lives. At that point in time eminent domain was still being used commonly in NJ to seize privately owned lands to extract higher tax ratables by townships. Yanuzzi’s self-made council majority sprung their surprise at that meeting to the shocked valley residents, then and there without hesitation or compassion, to those who were still looking at the smoldering “pile” in the immediate distance where the buildings stood dominant just one week before.

We would learn very quickly what Michael Melham’s promises to improve the lives of those voters in his 4th ward, who he had solicited their votes to win election, really meant to him. Our shop and our landlord’s building, who he and his partners had also invested all that they had in just one year before, was right in the sights and was slated to be demolished.

I learned much of the deceit and the indifference to the sufferings of hard working people and their families during their time of vulnerability, and about the capacities of Michael Melham and Richard Yanuzzi and their “friends” to lie, smile and talk sweet to get what they were looking for, at taxpayer’s expense. It was reinforced in the reign of Melham’s good friend Richard Yanuzzi and his – once again, self publicly credited Board of Education majority that crafted an iron clad hold on our schools, and the senior administration of it that drove our town into millions of dollars of debt, and the destruction of children’s education. What kind of people could do such a thing? And now to have the temerity to return to the scene of the crime to seek election? Let alone be Mayor?

I’m sorry Lou, but I don’t believe or trust Melham as far as I could throw him.

As I stated earlier, the Lopez/Reyes ticket have been at best, background players in Belleville politics until Lisa Lopez was elected to the school board one ago. As a candidate and BoE Trustee, Ms. Lopez has no history of advocating for anything publicly in Belleville town politics. Mr. Reyes has played bit roles in the election campaigns of others, again in the background until now. So far Ms. Lopez hasn’t done anything to define herself while on the board. Mr. Reyes has spent as much time away from his town job in the past 3 years as on the job, while working on campaigns. Not a good value to Belleville taxpayers.

Having no history to speak of, it is natural to assume that they are running on identity politics, and not earned merit with the community at large. Their associations politically are with Newark and not Belleville. Historically most of the people that have ascended from Newark to live in Belleville have followed the same path, well worn by one ethnic group after another. That is the history of America, and Belleville does it well. We get up, go to work, and live and die as a community with its own unique identity, which can be thought of like a rose living among thorns that seek to define the beauty of the flower. Belleville doesn’t live in anyone’s shadow. Belleville tries to be good neighbors to her bordering towns and cities alike. We are an old town of 2.3 square miles with 37,000 residents who live in peace with one another, and our neighbors. We aren’t waiting to be consumed or controlled by anyone.

I have had many public and private disagreements with the Kimble administration over the last 12 years and at times, with those of the council individually. I even saw fit in my dissatisfaction to run two years ago against my old friend Steve Rovell, in an effort to bring my concerns to my fellow ward residents and voters. Needless to say, I did not prevail. But I have to say, of all of the public meetings that I have attended in Belleville, Mayor Kimble has never silenced or shut down anyone for speaking their minds in Town Meetings, no matter how heated or painful to hear it became for him.

That’s a really big deal, in my opinion.

Kevin Kennedy on the other hand is always worth the price of admission, and can be counted on to speak his mind and act on his words, for the good of Belleville. Including Charlie Hood, these men are lifelong residents of Belleville. When they say “the people of Belleville”, they refer to ALL of the people of Belleville.

Finally, none of these candidates will reduce your taxes. In fact they all, bar none, will raise them. All of the towns will do the same, and for the same reasons in Essex County. The question you must ask yourself is, who do you believe will do the least amount of harm? Sad but true.

I hope this can be of help to you, should you need any.

See you at the next public meeting.


Jeff Mattingly

Just a Belleville guy and his family who likes to think he cares.




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Lee "Griff" Dorry - Founder, watchdog, and public advocate. ♫ They've got strings, but you can see, there are no strings on me. ♫

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