BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ Three candidates, one of whom will join the Bernards Township Committee as a new member after the Nov. 5 election, are vying for the one three-year term on the governing body that will begin in January 2020.
The new Township Committee member, whoever wins the election, will replace Republican Carol Bianchi, this year's mayor, decided not to seek re-election.
Republican Janice Fields, Independent Todd Edelstein, and Dr. Sophia Chadda, a Democrat, will each be listed on the ballot line for Township Committee that will be presented to township voters in this year's general election.
The three candidates have been campaigning by releasing information, handing out campaign literature, and reaching out to voters. for the one three-year seat up for grabs on the Township Committee. The candidates recently appeared at a forum held at Ridge High School at which they answered questions from the public and gave overall statements about their goals if elected. [Some comments from the forum have been added below on Sunday, Nov. 3.]
The five-member Township Committee, the primary governing body in Bernards Township, now is made up of four Republicans, Bianchi, James Baldassare, Jr., John Carpenter, and John Esposito. The fifth, Joan Harris was the first Democrat to be elected in 20 years when she won election last year, and was sworn in at the beginning of 2019.
The candidates summarized their positions, and described their background:
Sophia Chadda, Democrat
I am running for township committee because I would like to see local government that is more inclusive, transparent, and innovative.
I’m concerned about our increasing property taxes and decreasing property values, and want to ensure Bernards Township continues to be a place where people want to live, work, shop, and bring their business. I’ve met with more than 100 business owners in town and propose creating an Economic Development Commission to stimulate our economy and protect our property values.
I am running because I have loved this town for 20 years and see opportunities for the Township Committee to be more innovative and forward-thinking, while maintaining our community’s charm and character. I will bring fresh ideas to energize our community, ensuring Bernards Township is the premier place to live!
I am forward thinking, proactive, collaborative, and diligent. I have lived in Bernards Township for 20 years and have a small business on Stonehouse Road, where I have practiced as a periodontist for 16 years. I graduated from Columbia University and SUNY Buffalo Dental School and completed my Periodontal residency at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, where I later worked as an assistant professor of periodontics.
I have held leadership positions in my field, serving as president of the Tri-County Dental Society of N.J. and vice-president of the New Jersey Society of Periodontists. I was awarded Top Dentist by New Jersey Monthly magazine in 2014 and 2015. I am on the Board of Trustees of a nonprofit organization called the International Foundation for Progress which provides free education and healthcare for 175 children in Pakistan with a goal of supporting children in impoverished countries worldwide.
I was a member of the Bernards Township Board of Health (2005), and am a current trustee of the ISBR [Islamic Society of Basking Ridge]. I volunteered at my children’s local schools over the last 20 years, am active with my alumni organizations, and am also very proud to be a participant in our county’s Leadership Somerset program whose goal it is to produce leaders who are dedicated to their communities.
As a local, small business owner, I understand the challenges associated with owning and running a business, providing service, managing employees, balancing a budget, and cultivating relationships. I have the business acumen that would benefit our town.
I believe leadership is about providing service, and I have been serving people professionally for my entire career. Our leaders should represent all of us and I’m confident my skills, experience, determination, and ability to motivate others would bring positive change. I’m eager to give back to our community and look forward for the opportunity to do so.
I would like our Township Committee to be more inclusive, transparent, and innovative. Elected office carries the responsibility of informing, listening, inviting dialogue, and collaborating with residents. Although residents are engaged and expect to be represented in the decisions that impact their lives, this has not been the case in Bernards Township. Over the last several years, residents have been left out of critical conversations only to be surprised by new plans for development, and have had to mobilize quickly to be heard at the very last moment. As a result, the township was involved in costly and often unsuccessful litigation, and suboptimal development. That is not representative government. I will give residents more opportunities to be informed and involved with critical issues so that township committee decisions are more collaborative and better meets the needs and desires of those served.
Residents are very concerned about over-development and the lack of transparency during the approval process for new housing developments. I will help ensure these projects are executed well and supported by our existing infrastructure. Contrary to current practice, I will work to proactively assess and address potential strains on traffic, schools, emergency services and public works before the projects are completed and, for future projects, before they are approved. Immediately upon my election, I will work on solutions to meet potential affordable housing mandates in the future so the township is not again forced to accept builder’s remedy, developing hundreds of market value units and only a small percentage of affordable housing units. In 2018 the Township Committee had no plan to address the affordable housing mandate, and we were forced to accept builder’s remedy. I will ensure the township committee begins working now on innovative solutions so we are not stuck with builders remedy in 2015.
Residents are also concerned about our increasing taxes and declining property values, and rightfully so. Our schools, library, parks, police and public safety initiatives, and community programs certainly reflect the resources we dedicate to them, and not many people want to curtail those services and facilities. However, our township relies too heavily on homeowners for tax revenue. I propose creating an Economic Development Commission tasked with developing a strategic plan to revitalize our business districts. An Economic Development Commission would organize a coordinated effort to bring new and desired businesses to our township, and revitalize and support our business sector. This will ease the tax burden on residents while providing more conveniences at lower cost, ensuring Bernards Township is the place to live and work.
I want to preserve what we love about our town and will bring the needed forward thinking solutions. Our Environmental Commission recently started educating our residents, and we have a responsibility to do more. I’d like to start with our own facilities: our schools, municipal buildings, and pool. Our township facilities should take the small but impactful step to stop using styrofoam and plastic straws that are not recyclable. I’d like to also look at how we can support our businesses in voluntarily reducing their use of single use plastics and motivating residents toward reusable options. We have one of our nation’s ecological treasures right here in Bernards Township, the Great Swamp, 7,000 acres of protected land that our own residents fought to preserve. We take great pride in preserving this natural wonder and I will work on the township committee and with residents and local agencies to extend our pride and concern for the environment throughout the rest of our township.
I will work with parents, schools and the community to effectively identify and address mental health issues as well as opioid and substance abuse. The suicide rate among our youth is at an all time high in 20 years, and researchers are pointing toward the opioid epidemic and social media as likely causes. As a healthcare provider and parent, this latest report is deeply alarming. We teach our children about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, and have an active prevention and intervention programs. Yet we provide our children with smartphones equipped with an array of apps, social media, and information technology. We we must also provide appropriate guidance and monitoring. I will advocate for more education and outreach to parents, schools, and the community on this issue. We need to work together and support one another.
We choose to live in Bernards Township because it is a wonderful community -- beautiful, conveniently located, friendly, and safe. But I challenge the idea that this is the best our town can be. The truth is our property values are on the decline. We cannot afford to continue doing the same old things month after month. I will question the status quo and work diligently to make sure Bernards Township is the most desirable place to live. That takes innovation, forward-thinking and collaboration! And that’s what I bring to the table.
At the Oct. 24 candidates' forum conducted by the League of Women Voters, together with members of the Ridge High School Student Government Association and Ridge High School Empowerment for Political Participation (REPP), Chadda also said township officials need to be more pro-active in planning for affordable housing before the next round of required numbers in 2025. She pointed to a neighboring community's plan to have non-profit groups build on small pieces of land, which she said she feels in a good idea. Chadda said a strength of the township is that, "We have a lot of innovative and creative people to make change happen."
Todd Edelstein, Independent:
If you are looking for someone to show up, stand up, ask questions, offer suggestions, ideas with real world experience, true law enforcement experience and a strong sense of community service, then people should vote for me.
I have been going to the Township meetings for many years, where I have questioned the committee on many issues, especially concerning financial matters, something my fellow candidates have never done. I am the financial conservative the others wish they were. When the rubber hits the road, I have been the one constant at meetings. Not only do I go to the Township meetings, but constantly go to the Planning Board meetings, Board of Adjustment meetings, and the Environmental Commission meetings.
I've lived in Bernards Township since 1999 with my wife and two step-sons. I grew up in West Orange where I was a volunteer on the first aid squad for many years. I enlisted in the USMCR [United States Marine Corps Reserve]. Afterward, I went to Union County Voc-Tec for Machine Learning and graduated as a machinist and continued towards being a tool & die maker. I went to the Essex County Police Academy, graduating second in my class, and became a police officer in the City of East Orange. After retirement, I became a union plumber in the construction industry. Between riding on a volunteer first aid squad to being in the military, to being in law enforcement, I've a strong sense of community service plus knowing how to work as part of team, and working towards a goal. I don't believe the other two candidates have the same background or history of service to the community and a team player which they will need to be in order to work on the town committee with four others towards keeping Bernards great.
Where are they at Mountain View Project at the Board of Adjustment? Where were they at the new additions to the Master Plan at the Planning Board? Where were they for the discussions about the drop in the membership and the poor conditions of the golf course at the Golf Advisory Committee where I suggested contacting the USGA [United State Gold Association] for help. You know what _ the USGA came through with suggestions that would help the course and in turn help with the membership and I don't even play golf.
I contribute at those meetings when possible and necessary, unlike the other candidates who claim to have ideas to make the town better, but never shared those ideas. In fact , I've never seen them at those meetings. When I have an idea I certainly never keep it to myself, I share it! Why keep it to yourself? The idea may of been kicked around before, or it may not be practical because of laws that govern the township, but if you don't contribute you'll never know.
If they spoken to as many people as I have, then they should know that opinions go from one gamut to the next. You may not satisfy everyone, but if you are working towards keeping Bernards great, then you should accept the fact not everyone will vote for you. Just don't let it prevent you from doing what is best for the town. If you are looking for a candidate that sits on their hands in fear of losing votes, then vote for the other two candidates.
At the Oct. 24 candidates' forum, Edelstein said, he supports a recent decision by the township and the volunteer first aid squads to hire professionals to provide ambulance service during on weekdays. "They know what's best for the town in covering emergency services," he said. Nevertheless, he said he would like volunteers to be welcome to pitch in more to help out the township. He also said he would like to see more industry in the town to help relieve the tax burden. He also urged residents to vote for an independent person who doesn't have a party behind them.
Janice Fields, Republican:
I am Janice Fields and am very excited to be running for Township Committee. My focus as we near the end of the campaign and reach the election remains what it was the day, I declared my candidacy _ "Community First." I am committed to small government that functions effectively on a zero-debt budget model and that works with the community to find solutions to problems. I am focused on lowering taxes through increasing efficiency and exploring shared services wherever possible; I will work for home rule in the area of affordable housing to ensure that the voices of our residents are louder than those of politicians in Trenton and judges in Somerville. I will work toward a relationship with Trenton where Bernards receives its fair share of state support considering how much Bernards taxpayers provide to the state.
I have lived in Bernards for the past 27 years. My husband Barry and I have been married for 24 years, and we are parents to twin sons, Jeremy and Avery, who are Ridge High School graduates and currently sophomores at the University of Delaware. I am a successful former small business owner and have worked with government and non-government organizations at the community, county, and state level. I currently serve as the Chairwoman of the Somerset County Commission on the Status of Women and I am the Somerset County Republican State Committeewoman.
My extensive experience in business and as a former business owner, and my community involvement means that I have developed relationships that will help us get things done. My relationships with county officials and state legislators will be a tremendous resource in helping us tackle critical issue here in Bernards.I will work to bring dollars back to Bernards leveraging my relationships at the state level to lobby our legislators to get our share of money back that Bernards residents send to Trenton. I will work with legislature on both sides of the aisle to put the affordable housing mandates in the hands of our local officials.
I will work with local businesses to address the needs of the business community and to bring new businesses to Bernards that provide both employment and consumer opportunities. I will work to develop programs for our future leaders, our youth, and for our senior population who have earned through a lifetime of work our support. Finally, I will work with our local law enforcement and first responders as well as the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office to maintain a safe environment for our residents. Please consider voting for me on November 5 and ensuring your voice is heard in order to put Community First.
I have spent over 20 years dedicated in many ways to our community. I have decided to run because the best way to apply my knowledge, my relationships at the state, county and local level, and my passion for our community is through dedicated public service by serving on the Bernards Township Committee full-time.
"Community First" _ it's not just a slogan it’s a philosophy. I believe communication and transparency are paramount in government. Your voice will be heard, and I guarantee you a seat at the table. Whatever I do, I will always make sure it’s in the best interest of our community and the health, safety, and welfare are our top priorities.
_ The number one concern in our community is taxes.
_ I will continue the tradition of 100 percent debt free pay-as-you-go government
_ I will oppose overdevelopment and will continue smart planning
_ I will continue to keep public safety a priority
For those of you who know me, you know my commitment to our community. You know my extensive Community Service here in Bernards, my experience at the County and State level, my ability and desire to bring people together, my relationships and resources that can help us get things done, and, my tremendous passion, work ethic and energy.
If given the opportunity to serve you on Township Committee, I will continue our tradition of being 100% debt free and pay as you go government, continue smart planning and oppose overdevelopment. I will bring people together to address the substance abuse crisis, continue to keep our town one of the safest communities, and, continue to work with our business community to ensure that they continue to thriv.
Our community deserves an open government, where our voices are heard, and we are guaranteed a seat at the table. My campaign is about "Community First." Whatever I do, I will always make sure it’s in the best interest of our community and where your health, safety and welfare are my top priorities.If you believe in smaller government, less taxes, a better quality of life for you and your family and my "Community First" vision, cast your vote for me."
At the Oct. 24 candidates' forum, Fields also reiterated that she would work with state officials to try to bring more funding back to the township for local schools and for the increased ability to make local decisions regarding state-ordered affordable housing. Fields, who noted she founded the township's first responders appreciation night, said residents should be urged to show more support for the Basking Ridge and Liberty Corner fire companeis, which are still 100 percent volunteer staffed and organized.