VINELAND — Five candidates for mayor answered questions and occasionally traded barbs Wednesday night during a forum held six weeks before Vineland city voters head to the polls.
Much of the event, held at the Landis Theater, was focused on economic issues in a city that struggles with an unemployment rate of 14 percent.
Reducing unemployment was a common theme for many of the candidates.
“I believe Vineland needs job creation and economic growth,” said former City Councilman Ruben Bermudez, CQ who advocated creating a four-year vocational school to create a more skilled workforce to draw new businesses.
David Mazur CQ advocated constructing what he called a multi-million complex that would provide year-round activities to the city and in turn draw attract businesses looking for new locations.
“We need to create good paying jobs and keep the ones that we do have,” he said.
Current Mayor Robert Romano CQ said the city has had some success during his administration, reducing its total budget by nearly $7 million and its labor force by 160 employees.
Romano said the city also benefited from the addition of solar panel projects and an improved electric utility.
Former Mayor Perry Barse CQ said he felt he could do a better job than the other candidates because he has a history as a job creator. He said he planned to revitalize the city in the area stretching from Myrtle Street to Route 55 and that he also planned to strengthen the city’s relationship with the school system because educating the city’s children is a priority.
City Councilman Douglas Albrecht CQ said his vision for the city’s future would be to have the city looking the same, but with an air of prosperity along its streets. Albrecht said he would like the city to be able to retain its young people as they grow instead of watching them leave for better jobs elsewhere.
He said the city had successfully cut 10 percent from its budget each year, but increasing revenues is also key to the future.
“You need to bring a quality business into this town,” he said. Albrecht said he would also solicit ideas from existing businesses, what he called economic gardening, by asking, “What do you need to grow?”
At times, some of the candidates went after Romano, criticizing what they deemed frivolous spending. Mazur said he was critical of spending to refurbish a private parking lot and a party for what he said were selected employees. “Time after time we spend money we do not have,” he said.
Romano took time to read a newspaper article critical of Bermudez’s attendance record as a councilman.
All of the candidates agreed that the city’s electric utility was an asset that should not only be maintained, but promoted to attract new corporations.
They were also given a chance to have a last word at the end of the event.
Romano, a retired police officer, said he would be a full-time mayor, unlike the others who hold other positions. “I have no other interest but the city of Vineland,” he said.
Mazur said he would work with the city’s residents to help those who are struggling to find under a difficult economy.
“It’s time for change, change in the way this government has been directed,” Bermudez said.
Albrecht said he would work to ease the tax burden on residents. “I believe in myself and I believe in my city,” he said.
Barse said there was a clear contrast between him and Romano. he said he would pay attention to the details. “Paying any attention at this point would be a huge improvement,” he said, a jab at Romano’s administration.
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