LETTER: Deborah Engel Will Truly Listen, Take Action & Lead With Integrity

by Sarah McNamara
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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. Find out more about the election, as well as how to submit your letter of support, here. 


When Deborah told me she was running for Township Committee, I first thanked her, and then I offered to write a letter to the editor. I have lived in Maplewood for nearly 30 years and I have never been more genuinely excited about a candidate for local office. I hope you will join me in voting for Deborah, a life-long Democrat, in the primary on June 7th.

I first met Deborah in early 2017 when she hired me as the Community Manager at Work and Play, the groundbreaking coworking space with onsite, licensed child care she founded in South Orange. It was one of the very first coworking spaces with childcare in the world, perhaps the very first with licensed care, with a mission to serve and support local, working parents who were juggling work and parenting young children.

Having worked in organizations with stated missions of supporting workers and families but with leadership that didn’t implement policies to support those values, I was initially hesitant about what working there would be like. To my great happiness, I soon understood that Deborah walks her talk and leads with integrity.

In working closely with Deborah, it also became clear that she is a visionary, tuned-in to the social, emotional and business needs of the community. She doesn’t just understand these needs, she then builds something new to meet them. Like Work and Play, General Store Cooperative is another example of how Deborah created something brand new, a co-retail
space that serves to support small, local businesses and provides a community gathering space.

When the pandemic hit, Deborah immediately pivoted and created a FB group to provide information about federal and state support for freelancers and small business owners to “withstand the tide” of covid. Initially aimed at locals, this group provided critical support and information to people both locally and around the country.

I know that Maplewood will be strengthened by the new programs and community building Deborah will usher in when on the Township Committee – including things most of us haven’t even thought of yet.

But to say simply that she is a visionary and tuned-in misses a key quality about Deborah. She is a connector, someone who brings people together to bring more joy and more success to all.

And how does she do this?

Well, primarily by being a really good listener. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the different kinds of listening, from the worst kinds (ignoring, pretending to listen, and preparing to speak) to the best: empathic listening in which the listener is not listening to respond, or talk about themselves, but is seeking truly to understand. Deborah is the personification of empathic listening; she truly seeks to understand first. A quality that will serve us all when she is on our Township Committee.

Her ability to listen actually goes beyond this. Over the 3 years I worked for her, there were a few times I got my nose out of joint about our working relationship. I brought these concerns to her, and like a true empathic listener, Deborah sought first to understand. And then she did something that most people find hard to do – she didn’t get defensive. She didn’t make excuses.

Rather, she engaged me in real conversation, always leading to a resolution and a strengthening of our relationship.

We all know that the Township Committee members will hear from upset community members, perhaps you will be one of them? Deborah is someone you want on the other end of these conversations – she will hear you, and she will find a good way forward that respects everyone’s perspective and preserves everyone’s dignity even when each person’s desire can’t always be

Truly listening, making connections that improve lives, creating new spaces for growth and community, and leading with integrity. This would be enough. But you should also know that Deborah’s energy for being involved is bottomless.
It didn’t matter if Deborah was simultaneously running two businesses, acting as the president of what was then called South Orange Village Center Alliance (now South Orange Downtown), organizing the speakers for her two Mom Owned Business Groups, training for her first marathon, and making connections for all she met non-stop, she would always say yes when asked to help, to do more, to support our community.

She will continue to say, “Yes!” to Maplewood and Maplewoodians. She will listen. She will hear. She will act. She will make Maplewood an even better place to live, raise children, start a business, shop, connect with others, and stay put when the children have moved on.

It’s hard for me to imagine a more qualified person to serve on our Township Committee. Please do join me in voting for Deborah on June 7th!


Sarah McNamara
Maplewood, NJ

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