Teaneck Candidates Grapple With Police Issues
By David Voreacos, Record Staff Writer
(From: The Record, May 7 1992, Thursday; page D-5)
The Township Council election may turn on how the six candidates differ over garbage pickup, the performance of Mayor Eleanor Kieliszek, and relations between the community and the Police Department.
Kiellszek is seeking her sixth term on the council. The only other incumbent in the race is Councilman Peter Bower, Kieliszek's leading critic, who is seeking a second term in the non-partisan election on Tuesday. Gerald Goldfischer, Mel Henderson, Andrew Nestor, and Ron Schwartz are also in the running for the three available seats, which carry four-year terms. Deputy Mayor Charles Grady is not seeking reelection.
The candidates have clashed over relations between the Police Department and the township's diverse population. Those relations have been strained since the fatal shooting in April 1990 of black teenager Phillip C. Pannell by Officer Gary Spath, who is white. Spath was acquitted on a charge of reckless manslaughter.
Kieliszek, 66, is a homemaker who was first elected to the council in 1970. She said police-community relations have improved since Manager Gary Saage and Police Chief Donald Giannone were appointed recently.
"I'm convinced the manager and police chief are working at this area consistently," said Kieliszek, who was chosen by the council as mayor in 1990, her second stint in the post.
She pointed to the recent inception of the department's ride-along program and the stationing of an officer at the high school. The ride-along program allows residents to accompany police officers as they patrol.
Bower, 46, is chairman of the environmental science department at Barnard College and has served as deputy mayor. He said relations between the Police Department and the community are "at an all-time low, not just because of the shooting two years ago but because of 10 or 15 years of neglect. "
Bower said the township should begin an "adopt-a-cop" program in which police would visit elementary schools, revitalize the Police Athletic League, and encourage foot patrols.
Goldfischer, 48, is an agent for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and a member of the township's Community Relations Advisory Board. He said police need ongoing sensitivity training.
"The Police Department has to be sensitized to Teaneck's various cultural and ethnic differences on an ongoing basis," Goldfischer said. "There has to be a tactful and diplomatic way for them to listen and reach the community. "
The township of 37,000 is 28 percent black and includes substantial Jewish and Indian communities.
Henderson, 54, assistant principal at Hackensack High School, helped coordinate an anti-violence committee for Englewood, Hackensack, and Teaneck youths. He said the police have "adopted the posture of us against them. "
He said officers should "take an active, positive interest in the town, which they are not doing. " The only black candidate in the race, Henderson said more black officers are essential and that residents must better understand the job of police. Seven of the 90 officers on the police force are black.
Nestor, 61, is an assistant vice president for New York Life Insurance Co. who serves on the Planning Board. He said officers should have more sensitivity training and should become more involved in the community. Such involvement could be encouraged, he said, by offering tax abatements or more pay to officers who choose to live in Teaneck.
Schwartz, 46, is an attorney who has helped investigate allegations of illegal dumping in the township and stealing in the Department of Public Works. He said police-community relations are "characterized by mistrust and lack of respect on both sides. "He would encourage walking patrols, an "adopt-a-cop" program, and flexible scheduling for officers so that they could coach youth athletic teams.
The six gave mixed support to a council proposal to overhaul Teaneck's garbage-collection system. Ten haulers now charge between $21 to $36.55 a month. To level prices and spur recycling, the council proposed keeping the 10 haulers but charging residents $14.15 a month and $1.59 per 32-gallon bag.
Kieliszek said the proposal is "an innovative program" that will work well "once we get all the kinks out." She said it would be cheaper for everyone.
Bower said the per-bag proposal does not incorporate the garbage fee into the tax rate or offer more of a way for the township to control tipping fees. Such advantages, he said, would be possible if the township sought proposals for a single hauler or had the DPW collect trash. Bower favors collecting bids as a first step.
Goldfischer said the trash plan is "headed in the right direction." But he said the charge should be included in the tax rate and that the township should collect bids for pickup in each of Teaneck's four quadrants. He also said the township should include a second, smaller per-bag charge along with the proposed one.
Henderson opposes the plan because "it doesn't offer any real incentives for recycling. He favors bids by one hauler or one for each Teaneck quadrant.
Nestor said the trash plan would create an "administrative bureaucracy" that does not address bulk trash pickup. He said Teaneck should take bids from a single collector and include the fees in the tax rate.
Schwartz said he does not like the idea of selling tags for bag pickup, as the plan proposes. He prefers a system involving one contractor, and including garbage fees in the tax rate. "I see no need to keep the 10 carters in business," Schwartz said.
Several candidates have persistently criticized Kieliszek.
But the mayor said she has done a good job during an extremely stressful period in Teaneck's history. "I think I've been able to handle the crises," she said. "I'm not flashy, but I'm steady.
Bower said: "Having been here for 22 years and failed to speak out on a whole host of: issues, she's very responsible for what's happened in town.
Goldfischer said the candidates should stop attacking Kieliszek. "I don't think our interests are served by the attacks that have taken place," he said.
Henderson said Kieliszek has done "a very poor job" and that "there's a great denial by the mayor that things are not well in Teaneck.
Nestor said Kieliszek should retire. "We need some new, creative thinking," he said. "We can't enjoy any more of the same old stuff.
Schwartz criticized Kieliszek and the council. He said they "seek to ignore problems and run away from them.