Q & A With State Senate Candidate Joe Cupoli Of Clifton

cupoli head shot 2
State senate candidate Joe Cupoli of Clifton.

Joe Cupoli, Clifton businessman and former city council member, talked with Baristanet today about his plans to unseat Montclair’s Nia Gill, and become District 34’s next state senator.

Why are you running for state senate?

I have a lot more to offer than the representation you’re currently getting in the 34th district. In general, government doesn’t run like a business, and it should. There need to be more business people in government, rather than just politicians. I look at the taxpayer as a customer, and that’s a good thing.

What experience do you have in government?

I was a city councilman in Clifton for four years, until 2010, and I was very good at it.

What were your biggest accomplishments on the Clifton City Council?

At one point, we closed the firehouse in Clifton because the union was asking for pay raises and we couldn’t afford it. They were very upset, and said people would die. But after a month, the union came back, took a zero percent increase, and went back to work. It was the right thing to do for taxpayers and for the firemen because they kept their jobs.

Another big accomplishment was the development of a corner property near Costco. It needed to be developed to become a ratable. Credit Suisse came in and we made a great presentation. My wife made a pitcher of iced tea, and we welcomed them with a nice spread of appetizers because we wanted them in our town. We romanced them and it paid off. They built a data bank that employs over a dozen people in a behemoth building. Now it’s a huge ratable with no extra strain on our police force or schools. That’s smart development.

If elected, what would be your main objectives?

I’m a huge proponent of public education–my three kids and I went through the public school system. So one of my primary goals would be to establish a statewide teacher evaluation system that isn’t based primarily on test scores. That’s unfair to teachers.

Cupoli with a supporter.
Cupoli with a supporter.

And I’m in favor of shared services. But when you try to do that, everybody gets squirrelly because you’re dealing with unions. Hypothetically speaking, if we combine the Clifton and Montclair police force, what happens? You’re eliminating a chief, maybe two deputies and some officers. Everyone is like: “Wow. Why are you getting rid of all these people?” It’s very hard to do.

Do you have any specific ideas for improving Montclair?

No. But what I’d like to do is build on the success achieved here over the past ten years: the redevelopment of downtown Montclair, and the growth of the food district. Montclair could be a business model for other towns in the district.

How do your beliefs differ from those of your opponent?

I’ve met my opponent several times. About 85% of our beliefs are the same. But her long tenure in the senate is somewhat stale and complacent. You need to change things at some point, and come up with new ideas.

What are your chances of winning?

It’s possible to beat Nia Gill if I can get my word out. The Republican Party has been branded by its positions on social issues, but I believe social issues are personal. I’m fiscally conservative, but socially progressive. For example, I’m in favor of traditionally liberal ideals such as marriage equality.

There are great differences between Montclair, Clifton, Orange, and East Orange. How will you represent such disparate communities?

As senator, you need to have a strong relationship with each town and the governing bodies of each town. I’d reach out to mayors and ask: “What are your needs?” As a Clifton councilman, we never got any assistance from Trenton’s senatorial side.

Any final thoughts?

I’m very energetic and engaging, and I’ll work hard to apply business practice to government. I ran a business for 25 years, so I know what it takes. I’ll work really hard, understanding the diversity, to fill the needs of the district.

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  1. To be clear I gave the hypothetical example of a Clifton/Montclair police dept merger to illustrate what shared services are. It’s not a proposal.

    Thank you to the great people at Baristanet for giving me a chance to
    tell a little bit about myself. I’m looking forward to more chances to
    connect with Montclair voters in the coming weeks.

    Joe Cupoli

  2. I worry when people assert that government should be like a business, or that taxpayers are customers.

    A business is all about profit. Customers are a means to that end. True, treating customers well is often a path to profit. However, we’ve seen plenty of examples where businesses do very poorly for at least some of their customers but manage to thrive anyway. Consider medical insurance as but one example.

    One reason for the poor reputation enjoyed by medical insurance companies is their treatment of “more expensive” customers. Measured exclusively by profit, this is a reasonable – and business-like – approach for these companies to take. In contrast, government is responsible to all citizens: those that use a lot of government services as well as those that use very little.

    Businesses will emphasize their most profitable customers. Should government pay less attention to citizens that pay less in taxes? This is an especially important question to ask of a GOP candidate, as there would appear to be plenty of evidence that this party would answer “yes”.

    A similar idea arises when one compares private or charter schools to conventional public schools. The former can cherry-pick students (albeit indirectly in the case of the charter) while a conventional public school cannot. Should our public schools be permitted to mimic this practice? That’s more “business like”, after all, and it absolutely can reduce costs.

    Part of the flaw in this reasoning is to view “the taxpayer as a customer”. This is twice wrong. It should be “the citizen as a shareholder”. That Mr. Cupoli uses the former betrays his perspectives: citizens’ import is measured by the taxes they pay, and government is merely a service provider to people rather than being something of which we’re all part.

    It’s not “government providing services to people”, but “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”.

    Mr. Cupoli may not suffer from the same twisted prejudices as so many of his comrades nowadays, but he does apparently share the current GOP perspective of what government is. Bringing in a low-cost ratable is no small achievement, and I’m glad that he was able to do this with iced tea and appetizers. Yet I must still question what he’d mean for us as a state senator.


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