Last year the Democrats were successful in winning the mayoralty in Berkeley Heights thereby taking control of the Town Council with essentially a 4-3 majority. While clearly this was not the outcome I had hoped for, I can say with confidence that although we may not always agree, everyone I serve with on the Town Council wants what’s best for our great town.
This year there are two open seats up for election and, as a seasoned Councilwoman with 8 years of experience, I encourage voters to continue to support a balanced and diversified Council by re-electing Manny Couto and electing Gentiana Brahimaj.
There’s an old saying: Rome wasn’t built in a day—and the same goes for Berkeley Heights and our evolving downtown. And here’s my addendum to that adage: Rome also wasn’t built by one Administration.
Some people would like to suggest that everything good in this town happened in 2019—but for those of us who have been here a while, we know this journey has been a focused work in progress for about 10 years. The progress we have seen in the aesthetics of our downtown, and our town in general, has been the result of prior Town Councils’ and volunteers’ savvy decision-making and hard work, as well as the continued commitment of our current Town Council to finding new and improved paths forward.
If there is one thing I have come to really appreciate as a Council member it is that most folks in this town really don’t care who did what, or whether it got done by a Democrat or a Republican—they simply care that stuff gets done and gets done well. So ensuring that we have a balanced and appropriately credentialed Council of strategic thinkers and decision makers is essential to getting things done well and continuing a positive path forward together.
So, with that as background, here is what I think: I value teachers and believe we have many of the best educators right here in Berkeley Heights. But if Julie Figlar and Rina Franchino are elected, we will have three public school teachers on the Town Council representing 50% of our members (Susan Poage, a current Council member, is also a Berkeley Heights public school teacher). In addition, Stephen Yellin, another current Council member, is a public employee of Union County.
So, together with three teachers, this potential complement would result in a two-thirds majority of public/union-based employees serving on our Council. These are all good people with good intentions; however, in my opinion, this duplication of skill set and singular perspective will not serve the best interests of our residents and ensure the best path forward. I say that because it simply represents too many people looking at important issues through too similar a lens—with potential conflicts and biases that we need to avoid.
Electing Manny Couto and Gentiana Brahimaj will ensure that we continue to have a balanced and diversified Town Council comprised of people with a range of relevant skill sets and perspectives (and not majority paid by taxpayer dollars.) This Council will bring more to Berkeley Heights than just well-intentioned people.
Manny Couto, a local real estate businessman and experienced Council member, and Gentiana Brahimaj, an accomplished business manager and para-legal both bring important and diverse business-related qualifications to the Council table. As long time residents, they have energetically demonstrated their commitment to Berkeley Heights through a myriad of volunteer activities over the years and look forward to continuing to work hard for their fellow residents to ensure the best path forward.
That’s why I urge you to vote for Couto and Brahimaj, Column B, on November 5th for a better and more effective Berkeley Heights.