Cunliffe, Coles, Gonzalez in race for 2 nominations

BY JOYCE BLAY Staff Writer

Staff Writer

LAKEWOOD — Incumbent Democratic Township Committee members Ray Coles and Charles Cunliffe will try to hold off the challenge of Ada Gonzalez in the June 7 primary.

The top two vote-getters in the Democratic primary will gain spots on the November ballot and earn the right to seek a pair of three-year terms on the governing body.

Cunliffe, 52, was elected to the committee in 1996 and has served three consecutive terms.

“The most important issue I ran on and what I consider my platform today is to be fiscally conservative,” said Cunliffe. “For 20 years prior to my election, there was a tax increase for 20 years in a row. I’m proud to say that for seven of the nine years I’ve been on the committee, we’ve reduced the tax rate.”

Cunliffe said the primary focus of a fourth term in office would be attention to quality of life issues in town, which he has made the centerpiece of his current year as mayor. As part of that initiative, Cunliffe promised he would preserve the town square by finding an alternative site for an elevated garage.

“I am not in favor of removing the town square,” he said. “I think that is one of the genuine qualities of downtown. We use it for many public gatherings and public events, as well as holiday gatherings. I am in favor of using the public parking lot on 2nd Street as an elevated parking garage, somehow, someway.”

He said he also hopes to provide additional parking in the downtown area by relocating youth baseball teams to a new sports complex being constructed near Vine Street and using the old field on Clifton Avenue between 9th and 10th streets as a parking lot.

Cunliffe said he would continue to advocate for revisions to the state formula which determines funding for school districts. Cunliffe takes credit for a $1 million state grant that was awarded to the Lakewood school district last year to address funding disparities.

Cunliffe said he would also concentrate on finding an alternative to property taxes to fund education in Lakewood.

Coles, 46, is a co-owner of Tek-Net Inc., a Lakewood company that repairs medical equipment. Coles was appointed to the committee in December 2001 to fill an unexpired term. He won a full-three year term in 2002 and is now seeking a second three-year term.

He has previously served as chairman of the Lakewood Development Corporation, which administers the Urban Enterprise Zone, as well as vice chairman of the Lakewood Housing Authority.

If re-elected to the committee, Coles said he would continue to work toward building out the completed Cedar Bridge corporate campus, which is adjacent to FirstEnergy Park. Coles said he would work to make the town’s second industrial park as successful as the first, which is almost entirely built out.

Last year, Coles spearheaded the

committee’s affordable housing initiative. He said his work in proposing a pair of affordable housing developments to be constructed by NJHAND and the Lakewood Housing Authority were his proudest accomplishments as a committeeman.

At the May 19 committee meeting, members added a third affordable housing development to the two already on the drawing board. At that time, committeemen approved the transfer of two parcels of land off Oak Street to Solutions To End Poverty Soon (STEPS), a statewide organization advocating jobs and homes for minorities. Individual homes planned on the 7.5-acre and 4-acre sites will be constructed by Homes for All, a nonprofit organization in Toms River.

Coles said he is committed to bringing the people of Lakewood together as a community, not just a neighborhood of homes.

“If we all work together, none of the problems facing the town can’t be solved,” the committeeman said.

He would also like to continue reaching out to adult communities, where several committee meetings were held during his term as mayor last year, and to the school district.

“It’s far too easy for people to take opposite sides and fight with each other,” Coles said. “The only way we’re going improve [test] scores and lower property taxes is to work together.”

Coles said he is committed to improving residents’ quality of life.

“I’m very proud of the quality of life ordinances passed last year that require property owners to maintain their property or else the town will hire someone to do it for them and charge the cost of the cleanup to the owner,” he said. “We’re going to continue our fight to get the town cleaned up and make property owners take responsibility for their property and their tenants.”

Gonzalez, 54, believes she can do a better job of bringing the town together. She is employed as the director of bilingual services for the Lakewood Community Service Corp. under the supervision of Rabbi Moshe Z. Weisberg. She is also the first chairwoman of the industrial commission; a board member of the human services advisory board; head of a women’s issues advisory panel to the Ocean County freeholders; a board member of the Ocean Health Initiative clinic on 2nd Street; board member of the micro-loan committee of the Lakewood Development Corporation; and a member of the traffic and safety committee. Gonzalez is a rape victim advocate with St. Francis Center of Long Beach Island, providing advisory information through referrals from police and the county prosecutor’s office.

“I think I have a lot to offer,” she said earlier this year. “People sitting up there [on the dais] don’t have a clue unless someone tells them. I think I’ll be the bridge between the community and the committee. I feel I know both sides and what I don’t know, I’m fast to learn.”

When contacted on May 29, Gonzalez said she still feels the same way.

“I have high regard for both Charlie and Ray, especially Ray Coles, but it’s time for a change,” Gonzalez said.