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As a journalist and activist, Charlie Kratovil has documented life in New Brunswick and advocated for change for more than a decade. He’s attempting to convince voters on Nov. 8 to elect him mayor, and let him bring reform to City Hall.
Crime, redevelopment inequities and economic disparity are not new issues for Kratovil. He’s been attempting to shine a spotlight on them for years, at times butting heads with city officials. Kratovil is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today and has been involved with several non-profits.
There have been public policy successes along the way such a state Appellate Court’s August ruling ordering the New Brunswick Police Department to release information related to 20 aggravated assaults. Kratovil filed the original litigation against the city in 2021.
Kratovil recently received the mayoral endorsement of two leading progressive organizations: Progressive Democrats of New Jersey and RU Progressive. The latter is the largest progressive political organization at Rutgers University.
In the coming general election, Kratovil – running as an independent – and Republican Maria Powell are attempting to unseat longtime Democratic Mayor James Cahill.
Cahill passed on an opportunity in October to debate his challengers virtually. The mayor claimed a scheduling conflict. In years past, it wasn’t unusual for Cahill to grant interviews to Kratovil and discuss city government.
The coming 2022 general election is the second time Kratovil has attempted to unseat Cahill from the mayoralty. Cahill defeated the independent in 2018, winning 77 percent of the vote to Kratovil’s 23 percent.
Kratovil touts the fact that he’s the only one of the three mayoral candidates to put forth a campaign platform. He’s focused on three important issues – making the city affordable, curbing street crime, and dealing with climate problems.
New Brunswick is populated predominantly by renters, Kratovil notes. He’s proposed a 10-point Housing Justice Bill of Rights.
New high-rises tend to feature “over-priced luxury apartments,” according to Kratovil. His proposed housing initiatives include stronger rent control, an inclusionary zoning ordinance that ensures new projects include affordable units, and taking redevelopment power away from the New Brunswick Housing Authority. The authority, he said, “has lost its way.” He also advocates building emergency housing to serve the city’s homeless population.
New Brunswick police need to be “proactive, transparent and accountable,” said Kratovil, if the city is to properly address its crime problem. In recent years, he has pressed the Cahill administration for more timely release of information related to shootings and other major incidents.
“You have to tell the public what crimes are going on and ask for their help,” said Kratovil, “not keep it to yourself.”
Kratovil also favors formation of a civilian review panel for allegations of police misconduct. “The internal affairs system is broken,” he said. “New Brunswick has proven that again and again.”
As mayor, Kratovil would advocate environmental causes such as promoting renewable energy sources. He noted that environmental issues do affect a city like New Brunswick which suffered substantial flooding during Hurricanes Sandy and Ida.
The campaign has seen Kratovil level criticism at Cahill on several fronts. He calls it “disgraceful” that the mayor did not attend October’s virtual debate and disputes a statement read in his absence.
Cahill’s statement claimed the crime had dropped. Kratovil said the mayor appears to be citing an aggregate statistic that omits the years 2020 to 2022. More than 100 people have been shot in New Brunswick during the past two years, said Kratovil.
“It’s sad but not surprising that the mayor would use statistics that are going to paint him in the best light,” said Kratovil. He also calls Cahill “stand-offish and inaccessible,” asserting it’s been a decade since the mayor attended a City Council meeting.
Redevelopment policy, Kratovil said, illustrates how constituents have been shut out of city policy-making. “We see the same small group of insiders decide what gets built, where, and without consulting the community,” he said.
Kratovil said he is not under any illusions about his chances to topple the long-time mayor. “We’ve accomplished a lot already,” he said. “I’m going to continue to fight, win or lose, for a better New Brunswick. But I’m in it to win it.”
A journalist in Central Jersey for nearly four decades, Dave has won awards for news, education and opinion writing. Since 2017, he’s been a member of Friends of the Middlesex Taxpayers, a citizen’s group that has exposed corruption and waste in Middlesex Borough and promoted greater transparency.