BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ Although a big change on the Bernards Township Committee next year will be the addition of Joan Harris, the first Democrat to sit on the governing body in about 20 years, there will be another new face on the dais as well -- Republican Joseph Esposito, top votegetter in both initial and final election results.

Despite his victory at the polls, Esposito insisted in an interview last week that he is not "patting myself on the back," although he said he appreciates the confidence that residents showed in voting for him.

"I am aware of how close the vote was," he observed. With four candidates competing for two available terms on the Township Committee, the results for the two winning candidates were 6,355 for Esposito and 6,335 for Harris.

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The vote counts for the two other candidates were 6,306 for Republican John Surano -- initially in the lead on election night before mail-in votes were counted -- and 6,076 for Democrat Robert Mascia, Harris' running mate.

None of the candidates were incumbents, since two current Township Committee members, Carolyn Gaziano and John Malay, had decided not to seek re-election.

Esposito also said he is against dividing the town, and drawing political lines, "particularly for this type of position." 

"It's about the community and making a priority of bringing people together," he said.

He said he believes his honest and consistent message to the Republican Committee back when he was endorsed last spring also resonated with voters.

He said that while he himself is interested in increasing small efficiencies throughout the township, his overall goal, which he said he believes he has in common with other officials, is making Bernards Township a "great and safe place to live with great services."

"My approach in joining the Committee will be the same I would use in any new role or job," said Esposito, who has training in information technology and a law degree from New York University, and has worked as an attorney. 

"I want to learn and understand as much as possible," he said in an email. "To me, that is the best approach to then add value. There are large scale projects that have already commenced – such as the improvements to roads and infrastructure and compliance with the affordable housing mandates – and while I have a good foundation on the issues, there is much to still learn from the other Committee members and Township staff."

"Much of politics today is about dividing and drawing lines," he wrote. "I have said and continue to believe that a priority must be to bring people together around our common vision and goal. Simply, I am focused on preserving and defending the quality of life in Bernards Township for all its residents. As I learn and grow in the role, I am optimistic that I will add efficiencies and enhancements to the process that will impact all of us in a positive way."

"I am a listener," he added during the interview.

Both new Township Committee members will be sworn in at the Township Committee's reorganization meeting in early January.

Harris will be the first Democrat to sit on the all-Republican Township Committee since former Township Committeeman Bill Allen about two decades ago.

Harris, who also sought election to the Township Committee as a Democratic candidate in 2017, added, "I am looking forward to working with all the members of the Township Committee and making local government open, transparent, and inclusive."