With all the media headlines focusing on the complicated and stress-inducing activities of the nation’s highest elected officials, it is equally – if not more – important to focus on the politics in the local community, where citizen involvement can really make a difference. Below are the incumbent council members running for re-election on the Democratic ticket. The non-incumbent candidate Herb Gross running as a Republican could not be reached for comment in this article, but he as run before and he is a dedicated resident participant at most council meetings. All the candidates should be praised for the many hours they spend working to improve the health and well being of all Highland Park’s residents.
But first, a brief review of the voting options in District 18 and in Middlesex County.
Legislative District 18
The 18th District includes seven communities in Middlesex County: East Brunswick, Edison, Helmetta, Highland Park, Metuchen, South Plainfield, and South River.
Forty-three percent of voters are registered as Democrats, 15 percent as Republicans, the remaining voters are unaffiliated.
Three Democrats represent the district and all are seeking re-election: Sen. Patrick Diegnan Jr., a South Plainfield attorney; Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, a former East Brunswick councilwoman, and Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak of Edison.
The Republican slate consists of Lewis Glogower of South River for Senate, and April Bengivenga of South Plainfield and Zhiyu “Jimmy” Hu of Highland Park for Assembly.
Sean Stratton of East Brunswick is the Green Party’s candidate for Assembly
The Democratic candidates for Middlesex County offices are: Surrogate- Kevin Hoagland, running for a sixth five-year term; Freeholder Charles E. Tomaro of Edison for a third three-year term; and Freeholder Shanti Narra of North Brunswick, now filling the unexpired term of Freeholder James Polos since October, for the remaining year of the term.
The Republican candidates Middlesex County offices are: Mina Kolta – freeholder; Priti Pandya-Patel – freeholder; and Susan Zellner Hogan – freeholder; Karim Nicola – surrogate.
Below are the Highland Park Borough candidates:
A complex claims unit manager of Environmental and Energy Programs at York Risk Services Group, Councilman Fine is the council liaison to the Community Development Block Grant Committee, Digital Data Task Force, Ethics Board, Finance Department, Public Library, and Shared Services Commission. In 2014, Councilman Fine was elected to a three-year term on the borough council and currently serves as the council chair for the Finance Committee. In 2015 and 2016, Councilman Fine served as the Council’s liaison to the Board of Health, Commission for Universal Access, Community Food Pantry, Housing Authority, Human Relations Commission, Mayor’s Wellness Campaign and Public Library and as Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. During his tenure as Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, Councilman Fine successfully introduced ordinances to ban sale of tobacco and electronic smoking devices to people under 21, license establishments that sell electronic smoking devices, and create a Highland Park identification card program, and a resolution supporting the designation of Highland Park as a HeartSafe Community. He is passionate about enhancing the quality of life of Highland Park residents and is specifically interested in exploring ways to stabilize property taxes, encouraging mixed-use development in downtown Highland Park, and focusing on preservation to protect our environment. Councilman Fine will be running for a full three-year term in the upcoming election.
Name one new initiative that you hope to see implemented for the community in the next year.
I would like for our Park Partners Grant program to be expanded.
What do you love about Highland Park? What motivates you to work at a very demanding community service job for very little remuneration?
I love Highland Park because it is a wholesome place to raise a family and for its diversity. I am motivated to serve on council because I believe that the greatest possibilities of enhancing the quality of life for our residents may be achieved at the local level.
- Since all four of you are running on the Democratic Party ticket, the Planetneeds each of you to choose a significant long-term issue on which you want to comment. The four issues up for commentary are: taxes, immigration, development/redevelopment, infrastructure. Please choose among yourselves who will comment on which issue
I believe the most significant long term issue for Highland Park residents that the council must address is the stabilization of property taxes. In 2017, the council adopted a budget that met our goal of stabilizing municipal taxes for our residents. The 2017 budget was well within the state mandated two percent cap. The total tax billing for the average assessment was about $60 less this year than 2016. As municipal healthcare and pension costs continue to rise, and as Highland Park doesn’t receive the Energy Property Tax receipts it is owed by the State of New Jersey on an annual basis, we must consider additional ways to create revenue, including downtown redevelopment, and to share additional municipal services with other municipalities.
Matthew Hersh and his wife, Christine, moved to Highland Park in 2008 and are now proud parents to three children, Rubin, 8, Ilana, 6, and Philip, 2.
A journalist and strategic communications consultant, Councilman Hersh chairs the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee and is a member of the Finance Committee and the Public Safety Committee. He serves as the liaison to the Highland Park Housing Authority, the Highland Park Board of Health, the Highland Park Human Relations Commission, the Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, the Commission for Universal Access, HP Gives a Hoot, the Highland Park Community Food Pantry and the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign.
Before joining the Council on November 1, 2016, Mr. Hersh served as commissioner on the Board of the Highland Park Housing Authority and was the founding chair of the Borough’s Public Information Committee.
Outside of municipal government, Councilman Hersh is a trustee of the Highland Park Educational Foundation, a member of the Bartle PTO executive board, and a U10 Boys’ Soccer coach with the Highland Park Soccer Association.
Matthew Hersh views municipal government as a tool to achieve socially, culturally, and economically equitable, accessible communities and hopes to further his work on council as he runs for a two-year term this November 7, filling out the term of the late Councilman Jon Erickson, who passed away in October 2016. Councilma Hersh credits Jon Erickson for showing him how municipal government can be a place to responsibly try new ideas and to innovate.
In 2017, Councilman Hersh received the endorsement of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and was awarded a Progressive Distinction from the NJ Democratic State Committee’s Progressive Caucus.
- Name one new initiative that you hope to see implemented for the community in the next year.
In the coming year, it would be hard for me to limit my response to just one initiative. I look forward to doing the following:
- Working with our partners in the community development field to establish an independent, social services for our new immigrant community that will provide access to immigration resources, and more.
- Through our Human Relations Commission, launching our Sister Cities initiative, designed to promote cross-cultural education and awareness.
- Working with our Highland Park Housing Authority to providing necessary capital improvements to our public housing stock.
- Strengthening and finding new storage space for our Highland Park Community Food Pantry, and helping to bolster our HP Gives a Hoot program, which provides a free lunch for school-aged kids when school is not in session. Special thanks to Global Grace Cafe at the Reformed Church of Highland Park for being an amazing partner in that effort.
- Continuing our work with the Board of Health, Commission for Universal Access, and re-launching the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign as we place a renewed emphasis on health determinants and outcomes.
- What do you love about Highland Park? What motivates you to work at a very demanding community service job for very little remuneration?
I love that there are so many entry points to getting civically involved. When my wife, Christine, and I moved here 10 years ago, we didn’t know anybody. But we were quickly able to become part of the community, thanks to the many ways to interact – through the schools, through the assortment of service opportunities, and through the community-building events that take place all year long. We are deeply involved with the PTO and Highland Park Educational Foundation, and enjoying our life here with so many fantastic friends.
As a former reporter and having attended thousands of municipal meetings, I’ve seen people try to make a difference locally, only to be told “no” or to be shut out. That’s not what it’s about here. It’s about inclusion and acceptance. But we can’t assume those things. We have to fight for that every day.
Just as a “p.s.”: I love our downtown and I love that our downtown will grow and become even more economically vibrant in the years to come. It’s one of several cornerstones of our community and supporting and growing our downtown is such an exciting prospect.
- Since all four of you are running on the Democratic Party ticket, the Planet needs each of you to choose a significant long-term issue on which you want to comment.
The four issues up for commentary are: taxes, immigration, development/redevelopment, infrastructure. Please choose among yourselves who will comment on which issue.
I’ve spoken about why it’s so important for New Jersey to address the needs of its immigrant population, from a cultural and an economic standpoint. But as a Council, we don’t work in silos, so even if we’re not working specifically on redevelopment or finance, our committee structures are so that we provide input in all areas.
As a member of the Finance Committee, I look forward to working with my colleagues on stabilizing taxes, bringing in new sources of revenue, and identifying more shared services with our municipal neighbors.
As a member of the Public Safety Committee, I am appreciative of the opportunity to work with our Highland Park Police Department, the Highland Park First Aid Squad, and the Highland Park Volunteer Fire Department. Highland Park was just ranked the third-safest town in New Jersey, and for good reason: our amazing police and first responders. I look forward to working with my colleagues in all aspects of public safety, including pedestrian safety and mobility, automobile safety and awareness, and establishing and promoting a more bike-friendly Highland Park.
There are few economic and quality of life issues as important as downtown development. Again, supporting and growing our downtown, through a careful deliberative process, is critically important to the long-term economic viability of Highland Park.
As the chair of our Health and Human Services Committee, I have worked extensively on issues related to immigration and social inclusion. I have to say how proud I am of what our community and our new Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs accomplished with our Inclusive Communities resolution. The resolution outlines a policy suite intended to engage and provide resources for all Highland Parkers, and particularly our most marginalized and underserved immigrant populations. Part of that suite included our municipal ID effort, which we just rolled out this week. The ID is intended to provide official proof of residency and identity for all residents, allowing them to provide this ID (instead of a driver’s license) for access to any municipal agency, including our public library, our recreation programs, food pantry, and more. Also, our Highland Park Police Department will accept it as a primary form of identification.
The purpose of this card is multi-faceted. I think the most important details are, first, it’s intended to remove any fear or intimidation from approaching our municipal agencies. When we have residents living in the margins and not employing public services and not reporting possible crimes, it hurts the entire community. Second, the ID will serve as our library card. All you need to do is acquire the card, bring it to the library, and they’ll stick a bar code on the back (you can still use your old library card, though, if you so choose). Third, the ID will be woven into merchant incentives and Main Street Highland Park programs. Stay tuned for more on that end. Finally, it’s a mark of community pride; a unifying form of community identification.
As New Jersey continues to grow, we need to make sure Highland Park, and all of New Jersey is culturally accepting. This will help to grow our economy and will make our communities safer.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my ideas. I encourage your readers to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!
As branch manager and Business Development Officer for BCB Your Community Bank, Ms. Kim focuses on business development, assisting people seeking to launch or expand their business. She was appointed to the borough council in 2017 and serves as the Council Chair for Recreation, the Arts Commission, and the Council on Aging. Ms. Kim has served as a Democratic Committeewoman for District 13 and a member of the Planning Board in Highland Park as well as a government affairs committee member for the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce, treasurer for the NAACP Metuchen-Edison Area Branch and the Middlesex County Young Democrats, and a legal policy committee member for the Indian Business Association. Ms. Kim is looking to continue using her business knowledge and experience with helping others succeed as she runs for a one-year-unexpired term in November.
- Name one new initiative that you hope to see implemented for the community in the next year. I am hoping to bring a new recreation program next year for our youth. In May, I received numerous letters from first graders in support of a spray park in town. The mayor and council have been working with the County of Middlesex to find a location suitable for a spray park. With the help from a Highland Park parent, the idea of a Sprinklerfest has been proposed as an alternate of the spray park. Stay tuned for more details!
- What do you love about Highland Park? What motivates you to work at a very demanding community service job for very little remuneration? I love the diversity in Highland Park. My fiancé and I do not have children yet, but I know that once we do. Our children will be woven into the fabric of this community with friends from all over the world. I see the growth of Highland Park in the pipeline and I know our town has yet to reach its peak.
- Since all four of you are running on the Democratic Party ticket, the Planet needs each of you to choose a significant long-term issue on which you want to comment. The four issues up for commentary are: taxes, immigration, development/redevelopment, infrastructure. Please choose among yourselves who will comment on which issue. Redevelopment: Through simplifying the zoning and planning process, working with Main Street Highland Park and conducting outreach and gaining perspective from local merchants, we can have the downtown all Highland Parkers envision.
Elsie Foster-Dublin is the president and CEO of Aunt Elsie’s Homestays, an international student housing organization. Since becoming a councilperson in 2000, she has served as council chair for numerous departments, served as borough council president for eight years and as acting mayor for several months. While the Borough of Highland Park is her primary focus, Ms. Foster-Dublin has served in leadership roles in state, federal and international capacities. She is also the legislative liaison to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission and a founding partner of JamPhil Consultants, LLC. Her community service work includes speaking engagements and facilitation of numerous community projects within the state.