Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. kicked off his re-election for Essex County Executive today during a spirited press conference at the gymnasium at Essex County College in Newark. The college was transformed into a rally for DiVincenzo, who was joined by Democratic and Party and elected officials from the federal, state, county and local levels of government.
First elected in 2002 and seeking his fourth term, DiVincenzo is the fifth and
longest serving County Executive in Essex County history.
Local leaders in Essex County attended the event to show their support for DiVincenzo.
Elected officials and Democratic Party leaders from throughout Essex County stood on the stage behind DiVincenzo, taking their turns to talk about the transformation of Essex County and their support to have him returned to office for four more years.
“When people ask Joe about his legacy, he tells them it’s about leaving Essex County in a better fiscal state than when he took office. But I say he will leave his mark so future generations will have a better quality of life,” NJ State Senator Teresa Ruiz said.
NJ State Senator Nia Gill said her grandson refers to DiVincenzo as “Mr. Turtle Back Zoo” because of the way the Zoo has rebounded. “I support Joe because of his commitment to open space and his commitment to listening to all sides, even if he has a difference of opinion with you,” she added.
“Joe DiVincenzo has been my partner in government for 17 years, and together we have worked to get this county headed in the right direction,” Freeholder President Blonnie Watson said. “There is no one better to finish this work than Joe D. He has faced all the challenges with integrity and strength and has the vision and foresight for the job,” she added.
“Joe’s accomplishments are a matter of record. If you ask people to look at his record, his re-election as County Executive should be unanimous,” Sheriff Armando Fontoura said. “Joe D. is the best thing to ever happen to Essex County,” he added.
Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin listed the transformation of Turtle Back Zoo, the South Mountain Recreation Complex, the Government Complex, the Historic Courthouse and the Parks System as among DiVincenzo’s accomplishments. “Joe D. is a bureaucracy’s worst enemy and the taxpayers’ best friend. He loves Essex County with all his fiber and is the one who all future county executives will be judged,” Durkin said.
Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren spoke on behalf of the eight Democratic Mayors who attended the event. “We are here to stand behind the man who has transformed Essex County and we’ll be standing with him to continue Putting Essex County First,” Warren said.
D. Bilal Beasley, who serves as Chairman of the Irvington Democratic Committee, as well as Freeholder and Irvington Councilman, represented the 21 municipal chairmen. “Winning elections is one thing; governing effectively is a different set of skills that our County Executive possesses,” Beasley said. “Joe has responded to all corners of the County and enhanced the quality of life for all our residents,” he added.
“Since I first took office in 2003, we have accomplished more than any other administration in Essex County history, including raising the County’s bond rating from junk status to AA2, its highest status ever; revitalizing each of our 22 County parks; completing significant infrastructure upgrades that provide us with a new Correctional Facility, Psychiatric Hospital Center and Government Complex; and continuing to provide essential services to assist our residents during one of our nation’s most difficult economic eras,” DiVincenzo said.
“We have transformed Essex County into a model government. However, there is more that has to be done and together we can obtain the highest AAA bond rating, provide cutting edge classrooms where our students can learn and modern facilities for our employees to work more efficiently, and deliver first class services that empower adults to become independent, assist seniors and develop our youth."
Three members of Essex County’s federal delegation gave their support to DiVincenzo.
“Today, politics is too much of a distraction. I’m concerned about people and progress. That is why I stand with Joe DiVincenzo. Look at his record. He is the most competent and qualified leaders,” Senator Cory Booker said.
“Putting Essex County First is not a promotional catch phrase,” Senator Robert Menendez stated in a letter read during the event. “There is no doubt that people in Essex County are in a much better place today than they were 10 years ago. That’s why I am endorsing Joe DiVincenzo,” he added.
“The work accomplished by Joe DiVincenzo is commendable and the results can be seen throughout the County. No one can argue with his performance and the results,” Congressman Donald Payne said. “It is a privilege to stand here in support of Joe D.,” he added.
Endorsement also came from political leaders outside of Essex County, including NJ Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker-Elect Vincent Prieto and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.After inheriting a $64 million deficit in 2003, DiVincenzo restored financial stability to the County’s budget. Unnecessary contracts were eliminated, the workforce was streamlined through attrition and layoffs, and debt from previous administrations was restructured to reduce annual debt service payments without extending the life of the borrowing.
Under DiVincenzo's leadership, the County has received six bond ratings upgrades over the last 11 years and it now has an AA rating. In addition, DiVincenzo has held the county’s annual property tax increase to just 2.7 percent over the last 11 years, making it the fifth lowest percentage increase of the state’s 21 counties.
County’s new Correctional Facility was just 40 percent completed when DiVincenzo
took office. The building was completed within a year and professional
leadership was hired to manage the facility.
Earlier this year, the facility received its first-ever accreditation from the
American Correctional Association, which sets the highest operational standards
for correctional facilities and detention centers.
Another success story is at the Essex County Hospital Center. After plans to build a new psychiatric hospital were stalled for over two decades, a new facility that opened in February 2007 took just 25 months to design and build. Essex County currently receives about $10 million in revenue through a cooperative agreement to accept patients from the State, Passaic County and Mercer County.
Essex County has expanded its holdings of parkland by opening four new parks: Essex County Riverfront Park and Essex County Veterans Memorial Park in Newark, Essex County Kip’s Castle Park in Verona, and Essex County Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Upper Montclair. In addition, upgrades have been made in every park and recreation facility in the historic Essex County Park System. Turtle Back Zoo has been completely overhauled with new animal exhibits, a carousel, playground and amenities; twice received accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums; and set attendance records the last nine consecutive years. For the last six years, revenue generated has exceeded operating expenses, making the Zoo a self-sustaining facility. After being closed more than a decade ago because of budget constraints, a new Environmental Center opened and quickly became the epicenter for environmental programs for people of all ages. Richard J. Codey Arena was expanded and received its first facelift in over 40 years.
“Putting Essex County First has been more than just a slogan. For me, it is a reminder of why I became an elected official and an inspiration to continue our work on behalf of our 800,000 Essex County residents,” DiVincenzo noted. “I made a commitment that I would leave Essex County in better condition than when I arrived. While we have lived up to that promise, there are still a number of projects underway that have to be seen through. Working together we will build on that progress and continue Putting Essex County First,” he added.