Mayor Jim Cahill is running for re-election, seeking his ninth term in New Brunswick’s highest elected office.
But you might not realize it.
Cahill, who’s served as mayor continuously since 1991, has been out and about this fall, according to his Twitter feed. He’s appeared in photo ops for a Telehealth pilot program, the Sustainable Health & Wellness Festival and the Rutgers Democrats. He promoted the topping off ceremony for the new Jack & Sheryl Morris Cancer Center, which marked completion of the project’s steel construction. He’s been on social media hoisting a beer glass on the stage at an Oktoberfest event.
In terms of taking on his two mayoral foes, however, Cahill can’t be found. The League of Women Voters and NAACP sponsored a virtual candidates’ debate on Oct. 9. Cahill’s opponents – Republican Maria Powell and independent Charlie Kratovil – discussed the issues without him.
A Cahill spokesman explained that Cahill had a scheduling conflict. He instead submitted a written statement that was read in his absence.
The mayor also declined an opportunity to discuss his 2022 campaign with New Brunswick Today. A phone message left in the mayor’s City Hall office for New Brunswick public information officer Bert Baron was never returned. Baron also did not reply to an email. That email asked if Cahill would be interested in touring the city with a journalist and discussing the benefits of its redevelopment boom.
Keith Jones, the city’s director of human and community services, has been a big Cahill booster on social media. Jones also did not respond to an emailed invitation from New Brunswick Today to tout the mayor’s initiatives.
What to make of Cahill’s reluctance to engage? After eight terms in office and having the Middlesex County and New Brunswick Democratic Party machines behind him, the mayor likely believes it’s not necessary to hold any open-ended conversations about his record.
That is a little puzzling. Cahill’s political opponents would no doubt relish the chance to pounce on certain issues. But there’s areas where the mayor could claim accomplishments.
Redevelopment has produced tens of millions of dollars in direct tax relief, thousands of new homes have been built, and jobs have been created for city residents, according to his debate statement.
The Cahill statement read at the Oct. 9 debate claimed that crime has decreased. Powell and Kratovil, however, strongly dispute there’s been any improvement in New Brunswick in terms of crime during recent years. The two opponents, in fact, contend that the level of street violence has escalated.
It might be a matter of statistics – which ones you choose to look at, which ones you choose to ignore, and how you interpret them.
Numbers might be key in how different aspects of the New Brunswick community view the long time mayor. Should you consider the level of homelessness in judging Cahill or the number of new apartments being constructed in redevelopment projects? Should you look at the health care-related firms and organizations that call New Brunswick home, or the economically distressed without jobs who don’t have medical coverage?
Less than a week before the election, Cahill was on Twitter thanking New Brunswick’s police, firefighters and emergency service crews for their efforts serving the city. That’s a sentiment many city dwellers would share.
But those constituents might not know that first responders were among the reliable early financial supporters of Cahill’s latest campaign. In July 2019, the first campaign finance report was filed by the Friends of Mayor Jim Cahill for the 2022 mayoral primary. It was a primary for which the mayor had no opponent.
Interspersed among the attorneys and business owners who donated, was a total of more than $10,000 received from contributors who listed their employer as City of New Brunswick. Those municipal employees included firefighters and city administrators.
Again, which numbers to put more stock in? Emergency calls answered or money generated for the mayor’s campaign coffers?
Some in New Brunswick support the mayor. Others assert it is time for someone else to hold the city’s highest elected office. Has Jim Cahill moved the city forward or ignored problems? The debate figures to continue regardless of what happens on Election Day.
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.