Letter of Support: Vote Greg Lembrich for Maplewood Township Committee

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Local elections have monumental implications on resident’s lives. They govern some of the most important and intimate issues we face as a community. Municipal governments are responsible for property taxes, the quality of public education, public safety, infrastructure/maintenance and creating a strong and diverse community.

Many of the choices we make for our families revolve around these core issues:

  • Should I send my son to public school?
  • Should my daughter walk home alone at night?
  • Do we stay in Maplewood as the kids get older?
  • Can we still afford to live in this community?
  • Does this community reflect our values?

We debate these issues at dinner parties and block parties. And yet, municipal elections typically have the lowest voter turnout. Ironically, we seem to vote in inverse proportion to how much our vote actually matters. According to the Bipartisan Research Center, voter turnout in U.S. Presidential elections has ranged from 50-60% of eligible voters over the last 15 years. Voter turnout in local elections is often a tiny fraction of that number. According to FairVote, an organization that monitors voter turnout and provides election analysis and educational tools, “Low [voter] turnout is most pronounced in primary elections, off-year elections for state legislators, and local elections.”

But why do we turn a blind eye to the elections that affect us most closely? The core issues around public education, safety, taxes, infrastructure and community impact young families profoundly. But frequently, we decline to vote in primaries and local elections. On some level it makes sense. We have competing priorities. We are juggling careers, children, school, activities, and travel. But if we cannot carve time within our calendars to vote, we cannot expect elected officials to focus on the issues that matter to us.

The Maplewood Democratic primaries are a week away. Maplewood has not voted for a Republican in 20 years. On June 2, we have a contested primary with three candidates vying for two seats on Maplewood’s Township Committee. The Democratic primaries, especially a contested primary, have implications similar to a general election. The primaries are the most direct way for voters to express their views on critical issues the town faces.

What’s at stake for this election?

1) The Post Office Redevelopment Project – which involves demolition of the current building and construction of an apartment/retail development in Maplewood Village.

2) PILOTS (payments in lieu of taxes) that have been offered in connection with development projects. PILOTS allow developers to avoid paying their portion of school taxes (which means other citizens must make up the difference).

3)  A more inclusive and transparent local government, open to new ideas and opinions.

Your vote matters 

At least three elections in South Orange and Maplewood in the last 30 years have been decided by closer than 50 votes. In Maplewood’s 2005 primary, less than 10 votes determined who joined the Township Committee. The margin was fewer than 30 votes between the winner and runner-up in 2006’s primary in Maplewood. For a more recent example, in 2011 in South Orange, the election for Village President (similar to mayor) was decided by fewer than 30 votes; residents assumed the frontrunner would win and did not turn out to vote.

There are currently no other contested races on the ballot except for Township Committee; no public questions on the ballot, and no big star power names to attract people to the polls. So all indications point to a low voter turnout year. In fact, common wisdom assumes that instead of focusing on new voters, campaigns should focus on those voters who are most likely to vote. That’s what’s predictable. But what is predictable does not need to be inevitable. If you have never voted in a municipal election before, make this your first.

I plan to vote for Greg Lembrich for Township Committee. A key reason Lembrich is running is to represent young families, like mine. One of the major reasons we moved from New York City to New Jersey was because of the public education system. I agree with Lembrich’s goal of improving coordination between the Township Committee and Board of Education (the South Orange Maplewood Education Association recently endorsed him as well). He best represents my views in his approach to responsible tax management through shared services (e.g. combining fire departments and senior services with South Orange) to provide tax relief. I admire how committed Lembrich is to fostering transparency and accessibility; he aims to create a standing committee to bring younger citizens into local government, leverage social media to engage citizens in discussion, and provide greater access to information. Further, I support his views on taking another look at the Post Office Redevelopment Project and limiting PILOTS for incoming developments.

Carefully consider which issues matter to you and your family. On June 2, I invite you to vote. When the margin between the winner and the runner-up is slim, every vote counts. Your vote can have a pivotal impact for our town.


Reshma Ketkar and her family have lived in Maplewood since 2010. Reshma is a volunteer and supporter of the Greg Lembrich for Township Committee campaign.


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