LETTER: Deborah Engel Is a Thoughtful Leader Who Gets Things Done

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Two candidates are vying for one seat on the 5-member Maplewood Township Committee in the June 7, 2022 Democratic primary: Deborah Engel and Kurt Kiley. The winning candidate proceeds to the November 8, 2022 general election. Terms are for three years. 

I’m writing in support of Deborah Engel, my former employer and now business partner and dear friend, for Maplewood Town Council. I worked for Deborah for a year at Work and Play, the coworking space with onsite childcare that she founded (one of the first of its kind in the world), and together we founded General Store Cooperative, a co-retail and incubator space in Maplewood.  Deborah is also on the Neighborhood Preservation Program Grant steering committee for which she serves as project lead for the beautification and activation of Yale Corner, an urban park on Springfield Avenue. I’ve worked under her leadership on this Yale Corner project.  Additionally, we served together as parent volunteers co-directing a skit in the Tuscan Show.

Working with and getting to know Deborah over the past six years has been like attending a master class in communication, human relations, and local process. Among Deborah’s many qualities, here are some that I feel would most directly translate into her being a superb member of the Maplewood Township Committee.

Deborah listens and seeks input. Not only does she pay attention, but she also genuinely cares about what you’re saying. She seeks input from everyone, not just people she agrees with. As we’ve made decisions together for our business, Deborah taught me to gather stakeholders and experts to gather feedback on ideas early and often.

During the process of coming up with a plan for Yale Corner, for example, she smartly reached out to a local landscape architect to join the committee who came up with a top-notch proposal. She also ensured that the committee was composed of appropriate members, including a Maplewood resident with a background in urban planning and nearby residents and business owners.

Deborah gets things done. She doesn’t just listen and thoughtfully gather information, Deborah also makes sure to take action based on what she’s heard and learned. She’s started two innovative businesses, planned and executed four retail pop-ups that lasted for a month each in three different towns to support local business, and launched a Facebook page for small businesses during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic that quickly grew to more than 1,700 members from across New Jersey and the U.S.

Deborah communicates. She recognizes that to be an effective leader, you must communicate at every stage of the process, first by listening and then by continuing to follow up and keep people apprised of changes and results. For example, when Deborah takes a meeting without me, I know I can count on her to promptly send me a list of notes or give me a call to fill me in and get my feedback.

Also by way of example, when Deborah and I co-directed the skit for the Tuscan Show, I would leave rehearsal exhausted and ready to collapse, but Deborah – always full of energy – would send updates to the parents, often going above and beyond by including pictures and video clips from rehearsal.

Deborah truly is one-of-a-kind. She’s a natural and thoughtful leader, and I know she will be an excellent member of the Maplewood Township Committee.

Amy Howlett


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