East Windsor Deputy Mayor Perry Shapiro, Councilman Alan Rosenberg, and Councilman Hector Duke filed to run for another term on the Democratic ticket. The incumbents will face Republicans Anna Lustenberg, TJ Berdzik and Albert P. Grupper.
All of the candidates were asked to answer the same questions about themselves and their political stances for East Windsor Patch. Patch will be running these candidate profiles up until the election.
TJ BERDZIK CANDIDATE PROFILE
Name: Thaddeus “T.J.” Berdzik
Education: BA, University of Pennsylvania; MBA Rutgers Business School
Occupation: Distressed Securities Trader, StockCross Financial Services
1. Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background and why you should be elected.
My name is TJ Berdzik. I moved to East Windsor in 2003. I’ve spent much of my career commuting to Philadelphia and New York. East Windsor offered a location that was equidistant to the two cities with easy access to the Turnpike, the Princeton train station and the Park and Ride in Cranbury. East Windsor is a great place to live and raise a family.
I am a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Rutgers Business School (MBA). I’ve spent the past 15 years working in finance, analyzing, trading and investing in microcap and distressed companies. I have analyzed hundreds of companies across a wide range of industries. I know how to analyze a budget and offer strategic advice.
In many ways, local government is like running a small business. The political touchstone issues of national politics do not apply. The township generates revenue and provides services to its residents. With regard to experience running a small business, I have spent most of my career working for small companies, analyzing and investing in small companies and offering strategic advice to small companies. I started my first company at 24. Compared to my opponents, my experience analyzing and running small businesses far surpasses theirs.
What Anna, Al and I plan to bring to our town is new ideas and new vision. I would bring a greater focus on operational efficiency to our town. Put simply, how can we do more while spending less?
Our council has been under one-party control for roughly 16 years. The council votes as a unanimous block in virtually every vote with no discussion of ideas or debating alternatives. Consider that our shift to one-party control pre-dates the iPad, smart phone, social media, wifi, and the modern internet. It is no wonder that our council seems to have grown very stale over the last couple of decades.
My opponents have been on council for over 16 years on average. The town has changed greatly in the past couple of decades. Since 2000, under the watch of Messrs. Duke, Rosenberg and Shapiro our town’s spending has increased by 62%, our property taxes raised by the town have increased by 184%, our debt, pension and healthcare liabilities have exploded and our town’s surplus savings have plummeted. Our town is not on a sustainable path. I am the parent of two young children, Julia (13) and Connor (7) and I want to help our town plot a sustainable course for the future.
2. What do you think distinguishes you from other candidates? What do you bring to the table?
The differentiating factor between me and the other candidates running in this election as well as the current one-party council as a whole is my financial background. I’ve spent the past 15+ years engaged in financial research, trading and investing in distressed and microcap companies. Over this time, I’ve covered hundreds of different companies across a wide range of industries. I’ve consulted with private companies, offering strategic advice. I excel at quickly identifying value drivers and offering creative solutions.
The number 1 complaint that I’ve come across from our residents is the high cost of property taxes. East Windsor’s council controls a budget in excess of $20MM. Since 2000, total spending has risen 62%, almost twice the rate of inflation. Total property taxes raised by the town are up 184%. This is not a sustainable pace. If we are to offer the same services and control spending, we must operate more efficiently. We need a member of our council with a strong financial background to offer different suggestions and options. We need to bring new and creative ideas to managing our town’s revenue and spending.
3. What are the most pressing issues facing the community today? How would you approach and resolve these issues?
Taxes: This is the top issue raised by our fellow residents. We need to bring business style decision making to our town’s government. This includes reviewing township operations and working to expand our use of shared service to capture economies of scale.
A change in culture in any entity takes time. To show a commitment to efficient operations, one of the first things that I would do if elected is to propose a reduction in the pay for council members from more than $10,000 per member down to $5,000 per member (a more than 50% decrease). I believe that for our form of government, our council receives far more than the council members of comparable communities.
Operational Efficiencies: This has been the push from the state for several years now. Shared services or consolidation of certain services may allow us to capture savings via economies of scale. Look at the work of the New Jersey organization, Government Efficiency Movement, run by former Roxbury Township mayor Tim Smith. GEM lays out a number of suggestions for cost savings utilizing out of the box thinking. The current stale administration needs new voices and new ideas!
School Board liaison: Anna Lustenberg has been pitching this idea in this election. I believe that this is a great idea. The school makes up a majority of the local taxes paid by our residents. It only makes sense to keep the channels of communication open. Our council has stated many times that they do not control the school board’s spending. While the council does not have administrative control over the school district, they are not prevented from working with the school board to identify cost savings measures for our town. It is important to be proactive, not reactive.
Transparency: A good government is a transparent government. Our current council votes as a unanimous block in virtually every vote. Under the spirit of the NJ Sunshine Law, discussion of resolutions must take place during council meetings with the minutes recorded. This will allow the residents of East Windsor to follow and respond to council activities. Currently, there is little to no discussion of proposed resolutions during council meetings before they are approved. Since the council does not readily make available materials for community review, there is little to no community input. I suggest regular posting of council materials on-line before council meetings. This is done by many towns in New Jersey, including Hightstown. We need to allow local residents the ability to read proposed resolutions before meetings so that they can participate in their government. Their questions and concerns can be raised and alternative suggestions proposed.
Our township has been under one party control for nearly two decades. As evidenced by the lack of discussion and debate during meetings, there are few to no checks and balances in our current council. As General George Patton said, “if everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking”. Given our council’s voting record, they’ve shown that they clearly think alike, so who isn’t thinking? Al, Anna and myself will bring a new team and new ideas to our local government.