LETTER: Deborah Engel Is the Leader We Need Now in Maplewood

by Malia Rulon Herman
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Please mark your calendars for Tuesday, June 7th, and make a plan to vote in the primary election. There is a competitive race for the Maplewood Township Committee. Two candidates are running for one seat. My friend Deborah Engel is one of the candidates and I believe strongly that she would be a wonderful addition to our local governing body. Let me explain why.

Deborah Makes Things Happen

I’ve lived in Maplewood with my family for almost 10 years, and I’ve known Deborah almost the whole time. I met Deborah through another mom friend and was immediately intimidated by her — this young, confidant woman who had just started her own business! Incredible. I have come up with some great ideas over the years, but Deborah not only comes up with these ideas, she makes them happen. At the time Deborah had just opened Work & Play, a unique co-working space that also offered childcare.

Around that time, a mutual friend of ours was on vacation in California and posted on Facebook about an amazing brunch spot that not only offered up amazing food — but also provided onsite childcare as well. Deborah loved the idea, and before I knew it, she had sprung into action and found a food truck, designed a menu, and created a pop-up restaurant at Work & Play that came with childcare. With the snap of her fingers — she brought value to our community.

I remember when she and Amy Howlett first started talking about The General Store. She described it to me like an Etsy.com site for local makers and businesses. Another amazing idea! Before long, she and Amy had a website up and running. Then, they hosted two pop-up shops and now they run the amazing storefront on Springfield Avenue called General Store Cooperative.

I want someone with this kind of energy and self-starter attitude in our local government. Looking at these amazing ideas that she put into motion in SOMA, I can’t think of a better person to lead our town, put ideas into action and, ultimately, make our community better.

Deborah Understands

Some of you know me as a Tuscan mom, a Marshall mom, an MMS mom, a softball mom, a Moms Demand Action mom, president of the Special Education Advisory Committee or a Girl Scout leader. I am writing this letter under none of those titles, but as “just a mom,” or “just a parent” (shout out to the awesome SOMA dads, too). We parents have had it rough these past two years. I swear if anyone says the words “virtual school” to me, they will be sorry.

Here’s the thing. It’s hard to be a parent. It’s hard to be a working parent. When your kids are young and you are in the trenches, it’s hardest of all. Deborah is in the same boat. With three kids in the 3rd, 4th and 6th grades, Deborah knows intimately what it’s like to walk in our shoes. She knows what it’s like to look for summer camp options, to grimace as you pay for costly activities, and to worry about how your kids are doing in school.

Right now, the Maplewood Township Committee is made up of some really wonderful public servants. I am thankful for their dedication. But if Deborah is elected, she would be the only one on the committee with young, grade-school-age kids serving on the committee. I believe it’s important for local government to be representative, and with all the new families moving into Maplewood, it’s a no-brainer to me that we need someone in local government who understands.

Deborah Listens

Here is one thing you might not have known about Deborah: her first half marathon was in Atlantic City and it was run with yours truly! We had a blast. And let me tell you, if you can listen to someone talk for 13.1 miles, then you are a born listener. Because, let me tell you, I was the one doing most of the chattering and Deborah was the one listening.

Throughout the years, Deborah has continued to listen, as I have shared with her some of the things that have been challenging for us as a family. Specifically, I have talked to Deborah about how I wish more town events had sensory friendly options and how it’s hard to sign up for camp or activities when you have a neuro-diverse child. Deborah immediately understood the need and suggested that sensory-friendly areas would benefit so many children, seniors, as well as adults.

We have also chatted about the Maplewood Community Pool and ways it could be more inclusive, both with swimming lessons for all and in opening up programming to non-members. Deborah sees these issues as important to both families with young children as well as to seniors. After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone could use more socialization. I believe one of the hallmarks of a good leader is their ability to listen. If Deborah can listen to me for two (or so) hours, while running a race, she can listen to anything and anybody.

If you have read this far, thank you. I should add a disclaimer that I am also one of Deborah’s co-campaign managers. I have a lot on my plate, as does my co-campaign manager Erin Scherzer. But when Deborah asked us to help her run for Township Committee, saying yes was easy because we believe she is the perfect person for our town at this unique moment in time. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we need leaders who have compassion and understanding, leaders who have expertise and the ability to get things done, and leaders who know when and how to listen. I believe Deborah is this kind of leader.

I hope you will join me, Erin and many others in voting on Tuesday, June 7, for Deborah Engel, lifelong Democrat, for Maplewood Township Committee (Line 3A).

Malia Rulon Herman
Maplewood, NJ

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