To the Editor:
Before too much time passes after Election Day, I want to take a minute to celebrate the historic nature of the 2017 Chatham Township Committee race. This year’s voting patterns reflect a shift in opinion that is less about party ideology, and more about the openness and inclusion with which our community wishes to be governed. I believe that as these trends continue to develop over time, they will be an increasingly important part of the 2018 electoral landscape for both Chatham Township and Morris County.
As a resident, I thank all of the candidates who ran in this year’s closely contested Chatham Township Committee race. To have six strong contenders for three open seats was truly an unprecedented event in our small town, at least in recent memory. And while I congratulate the winners, I also commend the Democratic challengers who made an impressive showing, earning over 48 percent of the vote in a town where Democrats represent only 24 percent of registered voters. It is a very positive development, and healthy for our town, for residents to have greater choice at the ballot box and to include more voices in the conversation. In the long run, I hope this trend will allow us to move past entrenched ideological differences that have no place in small-town governance, or in our community in general.
I would encourage our Township Committee to take the long view of this year’s election results, and instead of using a narrow win as an excuse to retreat into their “Vote Chatham, Vote Republican” bubble, realize that a growing number of constituents in our community feel neither respected nor heard. The reality is that in Chatham Township no one party claims a majority of registered voters (Republicans represent only 42 percent, with the remainder being Democrats and Unaffiliated). This diversity of opinions and political views can be a strength in our political process if harnessed correctly, but only if we prioritize the engagement of all voices in our community.
How to start? Here are some ideas ... Broaden and diversify the representation on boards and commissions to which you appoint people. Learn from neighboring towns like Chatham Borough and Madison, who regularly hold public discussion forums when controversial and important issues arise. Welcome people who approach you in public comment periods with different perspectives and treat them with respect. Think outside of the box to enlist constituents in planning community-building activities that cut across neighborhoods, age groups, religious affiliations, political ideologies, and ethnicities.
Finally, I would encourage all residents of Chatham Township, regardless of party, to constantly remind our elected officials that both words and actions matter. How people speak and act in the heat of a close political race speaks volumes about their character, and isn’t easily forgotten when we all walk out of the voting booth. Maybe you would say that I am naïve, or ask whether I have I ever heard the term: “politics as usual”? But to the contrary, I understand it completely and find it to be a sad excuse. If we can’t operate at a higher level in local politics, where we are all literally neighbors, then what hope do we have of changing the discourse that we are all disgusted by daily at the national level?
The motivation to be an inclusive, forward-thinking town starting from the highest levels of our local government should be simple really: we are all role models, every day and with every action, for the children of this community. I think we can all agree that now more than ever our country and our children need strong, respectful, and kind role models – ones who engage people of all backgrounds and ideas with open-mindedness and respect. And I, for one, am grateful and proud that this election cycle in Chatham Township brought us a step closer to elevating this type of discourse by providing new voices and opening up new conversations. This is truly what democracy looks like.