RARITAN, NJ - A graduate of Bridgewater-Raritan High School, and fourth generation Raritan resident, councilman Zachary Bray is hoping to bring that dedication to the borough to his run for mayor.
Current Republican mayor Charles McMullin is not seeking re-election, and Bray is running on the Republican ticket to replace him.
“My great-grandparents came here from Italy, had my grandmother, who then had my father and four other children,” Bray said. “My father and mother raised me and my sister right across the street, where we still live today. Growing up, we would hear stories about my grandmother, and then my father and his siblings growing up in Raritan, back in the 30s and 40s, and then again in the 60s and 70s.”
“These stories stir something in my soul,” he added. “It really was and still is a friendly town of friendly people.”
Bray said he believes everyone knew everyone else in the community back then.
“While I still think we have a tight-knit community, I think it is time to restore some of these nostalgic, neighborly feelings,” he said. “I love being a part of a community where there is a sense of pride in Raritan.”
Bray earned his bachelors and masters degrees from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and is now a teacher and soccer and softball coach at Bridgewater-Raritan High School.
He has served on the council for four years, and, prior to that, was a member of the land use board and a volunteer at the St. Ann Festa.
“I truly enjoy the ability to give back to a town that has given my family so much,” he said. “My motivation for serving Raritan is singular. It is to keep it a wonderful place to raise a family and call home. I am not after notoriety, or commendation for anything I do. Everything I have done as a councilman up to this point, and everything I will ever do as councilman or mayor in the future, will be for Raritan.”
One of his recent acts as councilman was to re-form the economic development committee, along with several others in the community, to work to revitalize Somerset Street and the business district, which he said would be his administration’s focus.
“‘Discovering Raritan’ was a product of a lot of hard work and organization by myself and my committee,” he said of the recent event highlighting businesses. “Specifically, our chair Christine Torres and vice chair Carey Marago really did a lot of heavy lifting along with me to make such a great inaugural event come together. Our committee put on the event with a $500 budget. It was a major hit for our businesses, as well as the PBA who sponsored the beer tent.”
Bray said he plans to grow the event in the coming years.
In addition, Bray said, if elected, his administration will attack the revitalization of the borough from a number of different angles, including being proactive in purchasing strategic property to create more parking for the downtown area.
“We will be stricter and more consistent in our enforcement of property maintenance ordinances to hold absentee landlords accountable for the state of their property,” he said. “We will instill a sense of pride in property appearance for our property owners to enhance the aesthetics in town.”
Finally, Bray said, they will work to foster relationships between Raritan and its business owners.
“A strong united business district, as well as an open relationship with Raritan will only benefit everyone involved,” he said.
Aside from the businesses, Raritan is seeing a great deal of housing construction, and Bray said with block 81 and development on La Grange Street, there is no need for more housing development in Raritan.
“It is time Raritan turns its attention to smarter growth,” he said. “We have to address the inadequate space for our fire and police departments.
Additional revenue that Raritan will take in from redevelopments like block 81 and LabCorp need to be used to provide such an upgrade.”
In addition, Bray said, it will be important to use additional revenue to make needed improvements downtown. He said the borough needs to be proactive in acquiring property to turn into parking to help entice businesses.
Bray said the borough also needs to do something with the Raritan Mall, and hopefully bring back a grocery store.
“This property will not be earmarked for more housing,” he said. “All of these proposals will only help raise the property values in town, thus improving everyone’s quality of life.”
Also critical to his administration if elected, Bray said, will be working with the county and state to improve roadways. Bray said he is planning to add more speed humps where needed, as well as signs, painting on roads, speed signs and strategic speed traps.
“A lot of Raritan neighborhood roads are major cut-throughs for people from surrounding towns,” he said. “We will do more to address these issues.”
Bray said they will also be proactive in looking for roads that need repaving and fixing, while also working with the state to improve the situation at the First Avenue and Route 202 intersection.
“With more money coming to the borough than ever before, budgeting for these projects will be done properly,” he said.
Bray said he is also looking to continue working to improve the walkability and bike-ability of the town.
“It is something I take very seriously,” he said. “People who plan to walk and bike from Somerville and Duke Farms will be coming straight through Raritan. If we are able to provide them with safe opportunities to do so, our businesses can then take advantage of the additional foot and bike traffic.”
Whether Bray or his opponent, Democratic nominee Pablo Orozco, win the election, there will be a new administration come January, and Bray said he is hoping to bring a fresh perspective of revitalizing the downtown and business district.
“This, as well as working to improve traffic and roadway concerns, addressing the desperately needed upgrade in space for our wonderful police and fire departments and continuing to provide excellent services while keeping the municipal tax rate flat will be my main areas of work throughout my four-year term,” he said. “The transition to a new administration will be seamless.”
Bray said he already has an excellent working relationship with citizens, volunteers, employees and members of the current governing body.
“Although everyone may not agree on each decision, I pride myself on my ability to put Raritan first ahead of any personal agenda,” he said.
Bray said he is dedicated to his service to Raritan.
“Going to a resident’s house in the middle of the night to witness train yard noise for myself, standing up and defending the board of health and library, pursuing stronger property maintenance ordinances or creating an economic development committee, fostering relationships with business owners and throwing a brand new event (‘Discovering Raritan’) and actually trying to make a difference downtown are just a few of the many examples of my sincere dedication to Raritan,” he said. “I am an open book. I am not here to play politics or games with anyone.”
As a member of the council, Bray said, he understands that he is at the service of Raritan and its residents, and he always has the best intentions for Raritan at heart.
“I may not have always gone along with some of my colleagues and may have stuck my neck out for what I felt was right, but I only act in what is best for Raritan,” he said. “If elected mayor, you are getting someone who is always honest and upfront. I have made mistakes along the way. I would be ridiculous to think otherwise, but at the end of the day I am proud of how I have represented Raritan for the past four years and would be honored to continue to do so.”