BRIDGEWATER, NJ - He believes Bridgewater is at a crossroads, and now, after serving 12 years on the board of education, Jeffrey Brookner is running for mayor.
Brookner is running on the Democratic ticket for the four-year mayoral term.
“We can continue down the path of aggressive development that was plotted by the township council, or we can enact new rules to ensure smarter, less impactful development,” he said. “We can continue to ignore our decaying infrastructure despite burrowing ourselves deeper and deeper into debt, or we can usher in a new era of fiscal responsibility. We can continue to run the township’s government behind a veil of secrecy, or we can open the process up for all to see.”
Brookner graduated with honors from the University of Michigan Law School in 1993, and, after a brief time practicing law in Texas while his wife got her Ph.D., he and his family moved to Bridgewater in 1999.
“After 10+ years working for a couple of large law firms, I opened my own firm in Bridgewater in 2010,” he said. “I enjoy the challenge of helping small businesses solve problems, or, better yet, avoid them in the first place.”
Over the past 12 years, Brookner has served on the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional Board of Education, serving as president for three years, and at least one year on every committee of the board.
“I am very proud of the role I have played in supporting our fantastic teachers and other staff, who educate our children so lovingly and professionally,” he said.
In addition, Brookner serves on the board of directors for the Somerset County Business Partnership, and formerly served on the board of the Jewish Federation of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties. He also was appointed by the state Supreme Court last year to serve on the local District Ethics Committee, which is responsible for investigating allegations of attorney misconduct.
Brookner said he loves living in Bridgewater, between the schools, the area’s history and the terrain.
“The schools are fantastic, resulting in one of the best educated communities in the country,” he said. “The area has a rich history to explore, and continues to make new history with its broad cultural and ethnic diversity.”
“And the terrain is stunningly beautiful, with an abundance of trees, wildlife, hills and streams,” he added. “I enjoy exploring the area by bicycle, often riding 100 or more miles in a day. I have ridden 10 times in a three-day, 225-mile charity bike ride, raising over $25,000 to fight cancer.”
But with that terrain, Brookner said, he recognizes that the recent spate of development in Bridgewater has been happening without adequate safeguards to protect against traffic, flooding, removal of trees, burdens on schools and more.
“Many residents blame the planning board, but the council sets the rules that the planning board has to follow,” he said. “The council agreed to a redevelopment plan for the Center of Excellence, ignoring residents’ concerns about traffic and the impact on our schools.”
Brookner said the council zoned the entire Route 22 corridor for hotels, and adopted ordinances allowing clear cutting of trees.
“The last thing Bridgewater needs is to elect the president of that very same council as its mayor,” he said. “It’s time for new leaders.”
In addition, Brookner said, the roads in town are in horrible condition and getting worse. He said his opponents have proposed a prioritized list of repairs, which he also proposes, but that alone won’t do the trick.
“For years, the council has failed to make road repairs a budgetary priority,” he said. “In fact, the council’s budget for road repairs is actually going down this year. As mayor, I will ensure that infrastructure is given the necessary attention and resources.”
On the subject of the budget, Brookner said the township’s current budgetary process is a mess.
“My opponents were highly critical of the budget that the mayor proposed in February, but the council sat on the budget for five months without taking any action,” he said. “Money was spent for emergencies, but important expenditures like road construction were suspended.”
When the council finally acted on the budget, Brookner said, it was done with no public discussion and almost no changes.
“Their utter lack of transparency makes it almost impossible for a member of the public to know what is going on behind the scenes,” he said.
It is clear, Brookner said, that the township’s debt is spiraling out of control, increasing from $59 million to $71 million in the last seven years.
“It’s easy to balance a budget when you simply ignore problems and pass the buck to the next generation,” he said. “We need new leaders to make difficult decisions about where spending can be reduced responsibly, without impairing necessary governmental services.”
No matter who is elected in November, there will be a new mayor in Bridgewater, and Brookner said that, if he is elected, he will bring in a new era of transparency, with issues being debated openly and publicly to ensure better decisions, leading to more civility.
“When government is functioning properly, important decisions are made publicly, with full disclosure of all relevant considerations,” he said. “This enables residents and leaders alike to vent grievances as they come up. Governing this way is hard, but it works well.”
“Bridgewater’s important decisions, in contrast, have for many years been made behind closed doors by powerful Republican powerbrokers,” he added. “Whatever squabbles they may have had were kept private. But when those squabbles boiled over last year, it created a shameful public spectacle that exposed how truly dysfunctional our government is.”
Brookner said he will move toward transparency and smart decisions.
“I look forward to serving as your mayor so that together we can make the right choices and preserve the Bridgewater that we all love,” he said.