New Brunswick mayor cowers from candidate forum in pursuing ninth term

The League of Women Voters and the NAACP are planning to co-host a New Brunswick mayoral candidate forum at 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 9, even though the 31-year incumbent has indicated that he’s not going to show up.

Democratic Mayor James Cahill, who has been the city’s chief executive since 1991, was invited to participate but claimed that he has a ‘scheduling conflict’ although officials in City Hall could not identify what else is going on at that time in the city, which in recent years has become one of New Jersey’s most dangerous hotspots for gun violence. 

Independent candidate Charles Kratovil and Republican Maria C. Powell have both confirmed their participation, according to the organizers.

Powell was the Republican nominee for General Assembly in 2019.

Cahill has often run uncontested. He fended off a Democratic primary challenge in 2010, but four of every ten party members who voted that year cast their ballot for his opponent and anti-Cahill insurgents won 25 of the 58 seats on the city’s Democratic Committee.

Cahill and Council members Kevin Egan and Rebecca Escobar announced they will seek re-election this year.

During his nearly forty years as mayor, 14 of Cahill’s employees have been convicted of public corruption, including Police Det James Marshall and Sgt Marco Chinchilla, who were sent to prison for running a brothel.

A top New Brunswick utility official, Shawn Maloney, shot himself to death in 2007 after learning that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed his personal and official records.

After city officials diverted educational funding by entering tax abatement deals with developers, 29 water sources in city schools tested over the action level for lead in 2018. In September 2022, 12 school water sources were still above the limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb).

In an arrangement that would be illegal under today’s laws, Cahill retired from a job as an attorney for the Middlesex County Joint Health Insurance Fund, and began collecting a $99,735 annual pension since 2011 while continuing to draw a salary from the city government he leads.

Cahill has been in office since 1991, and works part-time. He has not participated in a debate since the 2010 primary election – more than 12 years ago. He also hasn’t given a “State of the City” address since 2019, violating New Jersey’s Faulkner Act, and hasn’t attended a City Council meeting in over a decade.

With just five weeks to go until Election Day, and mail-in ballots arriving in mailboxes this week, it’s essential that voters get a better understanding of who is running and what they stand for.

“Forums and debates are an excellent opportunity for the candidates to express their ideas and answer tough questions about the issues facing the city, like the out of control violent crime and the rising cost of housing,” said Kratovil. “By refusing to participate in this public forum, the Mayor is disrespecting the voters of New Brunswick and the organizations that are hosting it.”

Kratovil, a New Brunswick journalist and community organizer, has actively participated in over 200 City Council meetings during the same period.

Kratovil says he is eager to participate in the forum, which he hopes won’t be the only opportunity for the voters to hear from the candidates and ask them questions.

“I encourage other organizations to schedule additional public forums. I promise to participate, unlike the out-of-touch incumbent. I will always be happy to debate the issues facing our city at any time, in any place, because the people of New Brunswick deserve a Mayor who will be accessible and responsive, and serve the people of our city full-time,” said Kratovil.

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