OLD BRIDGE – Incumbents and newcomers will vie for the six, four-year ward seats available on the Old Bridge Township Council in the upcoming election.
Democratic incumbent David Merwin will face Republican Kevin J. Garcia in Ward 1; Republican incumbent Erik DePalma will face Democrat Peter Shearer in Ward 2; Democrat Kiran Desai will face Republican Enid Crespo, both newcomers, in Ward 3; Republican incumbent Mark Razzoli will face Democrat Jill DeCaro in Ward 4; Republican incumbent Anthony “Tony” Paskitti will face Democrat Lance Hilfman in Ward 5; and Republican incumbent John E. Murphy III will face Democrat Nina Jochnowitz.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Edina Brown, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election.
The general election is on Nov. 2.
David Merwin, 66, has lived in Old Bridge for more than 60 years. He has two adult children.
Merwin is a high school graduate and has taken some college courses. He is retired after serving more than 25 years as a 911 operator and the last few years serving as a code enforcement officer and housing inspector for Old Bridge.
In the community, Merwin has served as a member of the Laurence Harbor First Aid Squad since 1972 and has continued serving the squad in just about every position, he has served as a co-coordinator of the Salt Water Day Festival for the past 20 years, coordinated the local Memorial Day Parade for more than 10 years, and was a member of the Route 35 Center Barrier Committee responsible for the installation of the center barrier on Route 35.
Merwin has also served on the Planning Board, the Library Board, the Old Bridge Municipal Utilities Authority (OBMUA) and is a founding member of the Citizen Advisory Group (CAG) for the clean up of the township’s beachfront.
Merwin is seeking his second term.
“I am running for councilman in Ward 1 so I can continue to serve the folks that I know as friends and neighbors,” he said, noting he is “no Johnny-come-lately” when it comes to his involvement in the township. “Unlike my opponent, I know every inch of my ward and don’t seek to pit one area of the ward against another. I treat all of my constituents the same, whether they be Democrat or Republican, whether they be from the waterfront areas or from the Cheesequake area. I am always available – as a matter of fact I freely give my phone number out and answer it, too. I am proud to say I represent Ward 1 and hope to continue to do so.”
If re-elected, Merwin said he will continue to “concentrate on the cleanup of our waterfront area, which I think is the unknown jewel of the township.”
“We have our beautiful Waterfront Park where hundreds of people come every day to get their daily exercises in or the young ones [come] to enjoy the playground and the newly refurbished basketball courts,” he said. “I also hope to continue to serve our whole township in keeping us moving forward and hopefully keep the overdevelopment in check. I would also like to see the township plan a centrally located aquatic park and increase the bulk pickup throughout the township to cut down on the illegal dumping.”
Kevin J. Garcia, 57, has lived in the township for almost four years. He has two adult children.
Garcia is a high school graduate. He is a retired police officer.
In the community, Garcia serves as president of Cheesequake Village and is a member of the Old Bridge Planning Board.
Garcia is seeking his first term.
“I am running for council in Ward 1 to keep with the tradition under the current administration of being fiscally responsible,” he said. “We have to continue keeping our taxes as low as possible. As a former business owner, I know the importance of having budgets. Also, as a retired police officer from Jersey City, I know the importance of safe neighborhoods. Every resident should feel safe in and around their homes. Old Bridge is one of the safest cities in the state and I know I can be of assistance to the administration in continuing to make Old Bridge even safer.”
If elected, Garcia said he would concentrate on the Old Bridge Waterfront at Cliffwood Beach and Laurence Harbor.
“I believe our shoreline has so much promise and beauty,” he said. “Our residents travel to many points down the shore to be around the water, whether it’s to enjoy the beach, be on a boat or walk a boardwalk, their desired destination should be within our town, not others. Revitalizing our township’s waterfront will have a positive impact throughout the town and especially Ward 1.”
Erik DePalma, 40, has lived in Old Bridge for 12-plus years. He is married with two daughters, ages 9 and 5.
DePalma earned an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, a master’s degree in public administration from Rutgers University and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Wagner College. He is employed as a financial services professional and an adjunct professor.
In the community, DePalma is a volunteer member of the Lakeridge community board, the Old Bridge Township Planning Board, a soccer coach at Old Bridge Girls Soccer League and parent volunteer for his children’s extracurricular activities.
DePalma has served on the council since the beginning of 2020 when he was selected to fill an unexpired term. He was elected in November 2020 during a special election and now is seeking re-election.
“I am running for council to continue the great work being done within our municipality,” he said. “In my life, I have a track record of never sitting on the sidelines when I can have a positive impact and this drive leads me to continue my tenure as councilman. As a council representative, I have and will continue to be committed to a number of important matters, ensuring our public safety, delivering responsible government for our residents, smart and responsible township development and to support the business and economic development of our township. When my wife and I moved to Old Bridge in early 2009, we knew this community was where we wanted to start and raise our family and we are proud to call Old Bridge our home.”
If re-elected, DePalma said he will continue to concentrate on delivering residents a fiscally responsible government.
“In 2021, the township extended a 0% municipal tax increase, and with state, county and school taxes increasing every year, ensuring that we as elected officials are doing everything we can to utilize taxpayers funds responsibly is paramount. Being part of an administration and municipal government that has made it a priority to be fiscally responsible is a great point of pride in my tenure.”
Peter Shearer, 72, has lived in Old Bridge for 36 years. He is married to Barbara and they have an adult daughter, who graduated from the Old Bridge Public Schools.
Shearer earned a Bachelor of Science degree plus some formal technical training. He owned and ran his own private company, first in Manhattan and then in South Amboy involving the import, export and repairs in the musical instrument field.
In the community, Shearer has served as recording secretary for a sports club for 12 years, a trustee for a second sports club, maintenance coordinator for a third club, and more recently he has served as a Democratic Ward 2 Old Bridge committeeman.
Shearer is seeking his first term.
“I feel some of the current council have been using the town as a stepping stone and perhaps for personal gain,” he said, stating “Old Bridge should be run for Old Bridge.”
“I find a hostile attitude from the current town council. I feel the current leadership is borrowing too much money. One time they didn’t know how much money a large and likely unnecessary HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit) would cost. That is irresponsible and not good government,” he said.
Shearer said “huge sudden overdevelopment will lead to profits for developers and in turn that will become a huge surge in financial obligations for the town.”
“Development should be planned so as to meet the ability of the township to bear, not at the convenience of or profit for developers,” he said.
If elected, Shearer said he would seek to share costs for contracts and specialized equipment with neighboring towns.
“I would certainly try to cut borrowing,” he said. “That will give Old Bridge residents a bigger bang for our buck. We need a Democratic team. The Middlesex County Democratic Committee earned its high credit rating by spending less on debt service. That comes mostly from not borrowing. In short, fiscal responsibility. Despite what the current Old Bridge leadership says, I see taxes/costs for living in Old Bridge have risen as services have decreased.”
Enid Crespo, 51, has lived in Old Bridge for three years. She has three adult children.
Crespo earned an associate’s degree from Raritan Valley Community College. She is employed as a paralegal/bilingual assistant for the Hispanic community.
In the community, Crespo serves as a member of the Rent Stabilization Board.
Crespo has a son with special needs and has been an advocate for the special needs community for many years.
Crespo is seeking her first term.
“I know I can bring a positive difference in our community,” she said. “I want to be the voice for all residents of Ward 3 and within Old Bridge. I love Old Bridge and what this town has to offer to all the residents.”
If elected, Crespo said she wants to ensure fiscal responsibility and to continue to build upon the strong foundation the current administration and council has brought to the township.
“I would also like to concentrate on our special needs community and be their advocate,” she said.
Kiran Desai, 73, has lived in Old Bridge for 40 years. He is married with three adult children.
Desai earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and accounting. He is employed as an accountant and tax consultant.
In the community, Desai has served on the Old Bridge Zoning Board of Adjustment for 12 years including 10 years as chair of the board, served on the Planning Board for one year, served on the OBMUA for six years, served on the Middlesex County Planning Board for five years and served on the Human Relations Committee for four years. He said he has donated his time to help Old Bridge senior citizens prepare and file their tax returns.
Also, he has been active in the South Asian-Indian community in the tri-state region leading various social, religious and cultural organizations. For his service on these organizations, he has been recognized as an Ellis Island Medal of Honor inductee.
Desai is seeking his first term.
“I am running for Ward 3 council because I want to give back to my community, Old Bridge and to the country that I love, America,” he said. “The price of freedom and liberty is service and dedication to the public good. I know firsthand how people living in other countries can be denied the most basic freedoms and rights. Every time that I see the Statue of Liberty or the American flag, I am reminded of what it means to be an American and it renews my desire to serve our community. For example, I believe the right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and I want to make in-person voting accessible for all the voters in Ward 3 and protect the ability of people to vote by mail or in early voting settings.”
Desai has lived in town since 1983 and he is the original homeowner in Spring Hill Village.
“My three kids went to Old Bridge public schools and moved on to successful careers,” he said. “Old Bridge has given me a lot and I have tried to give back by serving the community in various ways. Running for council is one more way to give back the community.”
How the township approaches land use policy is fundamentally important, Desai said.
“Land use decisions made today will carry forward for decades and we must use smart planning in all our land use policies,” he said. “I am concerned about how over the last eight years we have seen a number of new residential developments approved without adequate infrastructure or developer contributions in place. These actions will ultimately impact our local property tax burden whether it is an increase in the school age population, impact on our environment or the need for future municipal roads, we all wind up paying for these short-sighted decisions. If elected, I want to invest in our community and look to change these policies by injecting smart planning concepts. Similarly, as an accountant and small business owner, I will take a careful look at all our spending on the township budget. I will look for ways to reduce the property tax burden on our seniors and middle-class home owners and tenants.”
Jill DeCaro, 56, has lived in Old Bridge for 23 years. She is married with three adult children.
DeCaro earned an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. She is a licensed Realtor for Gualtieri Group Real Estate.
In the community, DeCaro has served two terms on the Old Bridge Board of Education. She is currently serving as board president.
DeCaro is seeking her first term.
“I’m running for a seat on Town Council to represent the residents of Ward 4,” she said. “Our current councilman was elected as a Democrat with my help. However, he has since switched parties and has been a candidate for higher office three times, all in his first term, while juggling multiple scandals. Ward 4 residents deserve better. They deserve a representative that will be present and who will listen to and advocate for them. They do not need divisive national politics to be the focus of local meetings. My ward’s residents need a voice and I will give it to them.”
If elected, DeCaro said there are many areas she would like to focus from “seeing the completion of the Cottrell Farms project, preserving open space, providing a township-wide bulk pickup program and providing improved services for the seniors” to “our Camp Robin program, our before/after care programs, and addressing the traffic on Phillips Drive and installing a traffic light at Valley Vale Drive and Ticetown Road.
“However, my first focus is to bring unity back to the council,” she said. “We are all so politically divided that we tend to forget we are neighbors and friends. We must get back to a culture of service to the residents,” she said.
Mark Razzoli, 49, has lived in Old Bridge for 16 years. He is married with one daughter.
Razzoli attended John Jay School for Law, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Training, FBI Investigation School, Drug Enforcement Administration (ranked first in class), Jersey City Police Investigation School, Domestic Violence Special Training, and Jersey City Police Academy (served as class president). He is a retired detective from the Jersey City Police Department.
In the community, Razzoli serves as a volunteer track coach at St. Ambrose School and is a supporter of local sports leagues and the food bank.
Razzoli is seeking a second term.
“I am running to serve another term on the Old Bridge council because I want to see our township continue to thrive,” he said. “During my tenure, Old Bridge has been listed as the 15th safest town in America. As a retired Jersey City detective, public safety is always at the top of my list. Our town is proud to be recognized for its support of the police and for its safety and security for every resident.
Razzoli said he has focused on making the best investments possible in the township’s infrastructure because safety is a priority.
“We are constantly maintaining and improving parks, roadways, drainage, and other areas for Old Bridge families,” he said. “Keeping our community safe during the pandemic has also been my focus. This means not only keeping residents healthy, but making sure that small businesses are both supported and promoted to keep our local economy healthy.”
In addition to public safety, Razzoli said he wants “to make sure our senior citizens are well cared for.
“As our residents know, Old Bridge has a fully accredited senior center, providing programs and services for our seniors,” he said. “We have the only accredited senior center in Middlesex County and one of three in the entire state.”
Razzoli noted he also sponsored the resolution to restore the Homestead Rebate Act and the Senior Freeze Program.
“It is imperative to me that those programs remain viable,” he said.
During Razzoli’s time on the dais, Old Bridge has had a 0% tax increase.
“I am committed to the continued stabilization of our taxes,” he said. “It will always be a top priority of mine to be a wise steward of our taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.”
If re-elected, Razzoli said he will maintain the same level of public safety Old Bridge families have become accustomed to while looking for areas in which to improve.
“I will always fight for the freedoms Old Bridge residents deserve as citizens of this great nation,” he said.
Lance Hilfman, 63, has lived in Old Bridge for more than 32 years, first off Route 34 and now on Route 516. He is married with two adult children who attended Old Bridge Public Schools.
Hilfman earned a bachelor’s degree in communication (speech and mass communication) from Emerson College in Boston and a master’s degree in educational administration from University of Scranton. He is employed as a special education teacher in Paterson.
In the community, Hilfman served on the Old Bridge Housing Authority for 17 years, four years as chairman; he has chaired the Cultural and Heritage Commission; and is a member of the Old Bridge Education Foundation.
“My involvement with Old Bridge is very personal,” he said. “Both of my children grew up and attended public school here and my wife was a teacher in Old Bridge for over 40 years. She is still involved at Jonas Salk School.”
Hilfman is seeking his first term.
“Old Bridge is growing rapidly and we need strong leadership to manage overdevelopment, support our small businesses and keep our residents safe,” he said. “I want to bring transparency, accountability and accessibility for the residents of Ward 5. Residents should feel informed about what’s going on in their town and they should feel comfortable reaching out to their elected officials to ask questions or offer ideas. Local government isn’t about political party affiliation, but serving the needs of your community. I’m not interested in grandstanding on national politics or serving my own political career.”
Managing overdevelopment will be crucial, Hilfman said.
“We’ve seen housing developments and apartments built at a rapid pace,” he said. “If we don’t address how to accommodate the population increase it puts a strain on our roads, municipal services and public safety. I also want to focus on how we can support our small and medium businesses. I would focus on creating resources that our entire community can enjoy. I would love to see a recreational area located across from the Old Bridge Municipal Center on Cottrell Road.”
Anthony “Tony” Paskitti, 61, has lived in Old Bridge for more than 55 years. He has four adult children.
Paskitti is employed as an inspector.
In the community, Paskitti serves on the Old Bridge Housing Authority, is a past member of the Planning Board and Commissioner of the Old Bridge Redevelopment Agency and served as president of the Old Bridge Athletic Association for six years.
Paskitti is seeking his second term.
“The subject of governing in local politics is a necessary step in holding our administration accountable,” he said. “If no one is watching how taxpayers funds are used there runs a risk of wasteful spending. Over the past four years, my Republican colleagues and I have held the line in municipal spending with a nearly zero tax increase over four years. In the meanwhile, increasing infrastructure spending for roads and parks and capital expenditures. Very impressive considering the past 20 years in Old Bridge. Another part of governing is creating laws that are conducive to residential living. We should not be over-regulated and we need to have common sense laws for all citizens.”
If re-elected, Paskitti said he would continue streamlining the township services, like the repair shop for vehicles.
“We used to have multiple repair facilities for township vehicles, but now we have a one shop that services all our vehicles, a very efficient and cost cutting move,” he said. “I’ll be keeping an eye out for ways to increase services and lower costs.”
Nina Jochnowitz, 57, has lived in Old Bridge for 22 years. She has a 16-year-old son attending Old Bridge Public Schools.
Jochnowitz earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and molecular genetics from Cook College, Rutgers University. She is employed as a neuropharmacologist, scientist, data analyst.
In the community, Jochnowitz has been supporting wildlife rehabilitation and working toward an independent license to provide wildlife rehabilitation for all of Middlesex County, which would be the first wildlife rehabilitation person for the county in 25 years.
She said she volunteers cleaning parks and local waterways, estuaries in the ward and entire township, helps families around the community, who have been experiencing challenges since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteered for Hyacinth Foundation from its inception from 1984-90, volunteered for Elijah’s Promise from 1982 to 2000, and has served as an Old Bridge Democratic County committee representative for Ward 6 since 2004.
Jochnowitz is seeking her first term.
“The council, mayor and Old Bridge administration have failed to equally serve the residents of Ward 6,” she said. “We have aging roads with sinkholes and potholes, empty stores, failed businesses, limited services, high taxes and fees and no places for our community to connect and engage with each other.”
If elected, Jochnowitz wants to reverse those trends.
“We need to get our fair share of services, address the neglected roads, invigorate our local businesses, develop and advance established new businesses, which bring in ratables and support our community,” she said. “We need bulk garbage collection in Old Bridge like in all surrounding towns. We need a more advanced recycling program.”
A long-term goal for Jochnowitz would be “to continue to help build bridges between our communities” with the construction of a centrally located performing arts center that runs year-round, preferably built on land owned by Old Bridge at the intersection of Routes 9 and 18.
“The space could provide ongoing events to support visual and performing artists, engage community events and provide a centralized location for people to connect,” she said. “It would bring local investment and support to our local businesses and create a space for cultural enrichment.”