BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Two Democratic candidates for Bernards Township Committee - Sally Booth and Joan Harris - who are seeking election to the two positions up for election on the governing body this year _ officially kicked off their campaigns at the town gazebo off Allen Street in downtown Basking Ridge last Saturday morning.

The occasion also marked the public debut of the revived Democratic party in Bernards Township, which has been scarce in offering candidates to campaign against the all-Republican Township Committee in recent years.

"We are giving the people another option at the polls...it's important that you have a choice," Harris said during a brief speech before a gathered crowd that included residents and Democratic candidates for other elected positions in Somerset County and the region.

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"For too long in this town, we have had one-party rule," Booth said during her comments. "You have to have different voices...you have to have many different perspectives." She told the crowd that democracy should be "a discourse, not a monologue."

Republican candidates plan official campaign launch this weekend

The event was held at the same location that local Republicans usually launch election campaigns. This year's two Republican candidates for Township Committee - longtime incumbent John Carpenter and James Baldassare, a newcomer chosen by the local GOP party to run after incumbent Thomas Russo decided not to seek re-election, have scheduled their official campaign launch at 9 a.m. this Saturday at the gazebo.

Although there is a full slate of candidates from both parties, there will be no contest in the upcoming June primary unless there is write-in. However, this is the first year in a long time that the Democrats have offered a full slate of candidates for the June primary, in anticipation of the November general election.

Democrats at the campaign launch on Saturday say the recent return of the Bernards Township Democratic Committee can be attributed to a number of factors. Nancy D'Andrea, chair of the committee, said some of those involved had marched in Washington, D.C. in opposition to President Donald Trump. The candidates also said that the towns has diversified and changed in the past 20 years, and the town's representatives should reflect that change.

"I would like our children to know and understand there are different perspectives," said Harris, who said she has lived in town for 15 years, and has four children, three of whom have already graduated from Ridge High School.

Harris has a background as an attorney, and has served on the township Board of Health. She also is a member of the Bernards Township Municipal Alliance Against Substance Abuse, and said that mental health issues facing young people in the community are an important concern for her. She said the community must face drug addiction as something that happens to "us," not just "them."

In her campaign literature, Booth said that she wants to bring a "financially responsible and inclusive perspective" to resolving conflicts in the township.

Booth is a lifelong Bernards Township and Ridge High School graduate who served on the township Board of Education from 1994 to 1997. She said she also previously served on the Municipal Alliance Against Substance Abuse.

She is currently a public school teacher in Somerville, and also a trustee for the BRICK Academy, which serves Newark schoolchildren.

Joining the kickoff to lend support were members of the Somerset County Democratic Committee and the Bernards Township Democratic Committee. Several other candidates seeking state and county office were on hand as well, including Lacey Rzeszowski, Shanel Robinson and Steve Peter, running for State Assembly, Somerset County Freeholder and Somerset County Clerk, respectively.

Ridge High School senior opens event with "Star-Spangled Banner"

Sydney Vollmar, a senior at Ridge High School, kicked off the morning singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in front of the gazebo, which was decorated with American flag bunting and red, white and blue balloons.

The group photo in the opening of the event includes: front row, from left: Ali Saidi, Jen Kluger, Township Committee candidates Sally Booth and Joan Harris, Kat Ma, and Suzanne Glassman; back row, from left, Bernards Township Democratic Committee's executive committee, including Gregory Begg, Catherine Santaiti, Nancy D'Andrea, and Ana McCarthy.