South Orange 2015 — a ticket containing Trustee candidates Deborah Davis Ford, Howard Levison and Mark Rosner and Village President candidate Sheena Collum — hosted a campaign kickoff event on Sunday, March 15, at Above Restaurant.
The entire first floor of Above was crowded with friends, families, supporters and Essex County officials, as well as South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education members.
The candidates were introduced by Larry Hirsch, former president of Community Free Democrats and a former New York State Committeeman (now a South Orange resident). Also in attendance were Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, a number of County Freeholders, business owner Ben Salmon, Trustees Steve Schnall and Walter Clarke, South Orange Village Center Alliance Executive Director Bob Zuckerman, Village President Alex Torpey, former Village President Doug Newman, former Trustee Janine Bauer, and Board of Education members Jeff Bennett, Johanna Wright, Madhu Pai, Wayne Eastman and Donna Smith, among others.
Davis Ford, Rosner and Levison all noted their long careers serving South Orange on the Board of Trustees — 8 years, 8 years and 16-1/2 years respectively. They noted accomplishments such as a reorganized village administration structure, lower tax rates, reduced debt, infrastructure investment, continued diversity, senior outreach, and the use of technology to improve services.
Davis Ford, Rosner and Levison are running unopposed.
Trustee Sheena Collum took the podium last and longest. Despite being the member of her ticket most recently elected, Collum is known for her drive and energy. She catalogued initiatives that she has been involved in through her 16 years in South Orange — from the time that she moved to town to attend Seton Hall University. Collum said that, as president of the student body, she became involved in local governance. “I knew 1000% that I wanted to be here,” Collum told the crowd.
Collum talked about economic development and planning (she is executive director of American Planning Association-New Jersey), community outreach and partnerships — including initiatives in the Village Center and on Irvington Avenue. She extolled the accomplishments of her running mates. She talked about a vision for South Orange and “$165 million in new investment in our community.” She noted that the the township has been averaging less than .67% in spending cost increases annually. Collum highlighted her work on public safety and credited the South Orange Police with a 24% drop in Part 1 crimes from 2013 to 2014.
Notably, Collum talked about the need for the municipalities to work with the South Orange-Maplewood School District. Saying that “what will define the next four years is partnerships,” Collum said that “when the school district struggles, we struggle…. We move together.” She pledged to work with the Board of Education and state representatives on school policy.
Later in a phone conversation, Collum said that she was interested in sharing payments in lieu of taxes (or PILOTs) from major development projects with the school district — something she has stated in Trustee meetings. “Nothing stops municipalities from doing voluntary contributions to school districts.” Referring to tax increases, Collum said, “If we are under 1% and [the school district is] over the [2%] cap and cutting positions, how does that help anyone?”
Collum will face off for Village President against Emily Hynes, a 10-year resident of South Orange who practiced law in New York and New Jersey. Hynes said she recently began pursuing a career in real estate in order to focus on her family and local community volunteer work.
Collum was elected Trustee in 2013; she ran on a slate with Steve Schnall and Walter Clarke, both of whom were also elected for the first time that year.
The South Orange Board of Trustees is comprised of six Trustees and a Village President, all of whom serve four-year terms. Three Trustees are elected biennially.
In the event that Collum is elected as President, the Board of Trustees can appoint someone to fill her Trustee seat until the next municipal or general election (whichever comes first) when a new trustee can be elected to fill the seat.
Election Day is May 12, 2015.