Ward question too close to call, results lean toward 'no'

<p>Empower Our Neighborhoods volunteers Mike Shanahan, left;
Avianna Perez, middle; and Kristen Clarke, right, rally support for
the city ward campaign yesterday outside Brower Commons on the
College Avenue campus.</p>

Empower Our Neighborhoods volunteers Mike Shanahan, left; Avianna Perez, middle; and Kristen Clarke, right, rally support for the city ward campaign yesterday outside Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus.

After months of several court cases, controversial disputes and posting "Vote Yes" or "Vote No to Wards" signs around the city and University, Empower Our Neighborhoods and Unite New Brunswick will have to wait an extra day to get the full results of the ward-based system question.

Due to a large number of absentee and provisional ballots that have not been counted yet, the winning vote cannot yet be determined, New Brunswick City Spokesman Bill Bray said.

As of about 8:45 p.m. last night, the "No to Wards" vote is prevailing, with 2,135 "no" votes versus 1,756 "Yes to Wards" votes, Bray said.

"The ‘yes' vote has been prevailing on campus and in one or two [election] districts," he said. "But elsewhere, the ‘no' vote is prevailing."

EON's question calls for the ward-based system of six wards each with representatives and three council members voted at-large, while UNB would like the city's government to remain as is.

UNB member Kyle Kirkpatrick said although he is pleased the "no" vote is ahead, he is not going to get his hopes up until all of the ballots are officially counted.

"I'm on pins and needles here. I do want to remain optimistic right now," Kirkpatrick said. "Neither side is claiming victory right now. We really believe that voting ‘no' is the right thing for the city. We hope that voters express that in the poll."

EON President Martha Guarnieri said she is upset the results are not in yet after all the anticipation the organization was building up but will remain hopeful.

"We don't know [who the winner is] yet," said Guarnieri, a Rutgers College senior. "But I'm hopeful that all of our energy put into the early vote operation pays off and that those ballots are counted fairly."

She said she is glad to know many University students voted for wards, but she is afraid of voter fraud.

"I'm proud that the students came out and voted for wards," Guarnieri said. "[But] it wasn't a fair game today."

School of Arts and Sciences junior Robert Irven said he voted for a ward-based system because it would help the residents of the city have a voice and a person to adequately represent them, especially students who live off campus.

"I voted for [wards] because I live off campus, so to have someone to represent us and our problems would be better than just having one person from the city council represent us," Irven said. "[The ward representative's] main job is to serve us."

But some students argue a ward-based system would only represent University students, not any of the long-term city residents.

The residents who have been living in the city for a long time and plan on staying in the city deserve to have a say over University students, who come and go, said Rutgers College senior Sarah Waniak.

"The people who are working to change [the system to a ward-based one] are probably going to end up leaving and the people who are going to see the consequences … are going to be the residents of New Brunswick, who kind of have contempt for Rutgers students who are trying to take control of their city," Waniak said.

UNB member Ezra Rufino said the ward-based system would give priority to the students.

"By dividing the city up, wards are not going to be working with each other … or working with the city as a whole as they should be," said Rufino, a Rutgers College senior. "We're segregating ourselves as students from the rest of the New Brunswick community."

School of Engineering senior Dincer Dinc said he was unsure whether to vote "yes" or "no" to wards, because although he heard a lot about the ward question, he did not want to base his decision off what he read on campaign advertisements.

"I haven't read up on anything enough to know what to vote for," Dinc said.

Waniak said having ward representatives would create more bureaucracy and political crime.

"It would create more ‘I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine' among our representatives, as opposed to having them all work together for the greater good of New Brunswick as a whole," she said.

Rutgers College senior Michelle Shen said she respects the vision of EON, but creating a ward-based system is not going to help members reach their goals to have the New Brunswick community represented well.

"We understand their goals and what they're trying to achieve, but we don't think that having their ward system is going to achieve that," Shen said.

Kirkpatrick said it is unfortunate for both UNB and EON members that they were unable to get the results on time.

"I imagine that it's sad for both parties involved," he said. "You obviously want to know if you accomplished what you wanted to accomplish."

EON began campaigning for a ward-based system about a year ago to change the at-large system in the city to a ward-based system with six wards representatives and three council members elected at-large, arguing the new system would help students and the New Brunswick community receive better representation and more individualized attention.

The opposing group, UNB, was formed during the summer and had a petition approved to increase city government to a larger at-large system, electing seven members to the city council as opposed to the current five members. They argued that wards would increase taxes and crime, and would segregate the city.

But this petition, approved by New Brunswick City Clerk Dan Torrisi, was brought before Judge James Hurley and overturned in September, arguing the petition was improperly approved.


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