To the Editor:

My intent was not to get involved in this 2019 election campaign for Township Committee. But as one of the moderate incumbents targeted by the conservative Republican candidates and their supporters -- and specifically targeted in the recent “Bailey Brower Election Watchdog Report” – my intended non-involvement was not to be. (More on the Watchdog Report's fabrications later. But first, let's get to the important stuff.)

During my nearly 40-year career as a community newspaper editor, I have researched and endorsed countless candidates. I always focused on what they did, not on what they said. I always looked at their history of commitment and involvement with their community, not on empty campaign promises of what they would do if elected.

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By those criteria, Mark Hamilton is simply not qualified for election to the Township Committee in 2019. He may be a great candidate at some point in the future. But based on his track record, he is not even a mediocre candidate now. Consider:

He has lived in Chatham Township for less than a year. How could he imagine he has the experience and local knowledge to intelligently tackle township issues?

In the eight months since he announced his candidacy, he has attended perhaps three public township meetings. What does this say about his interest, his time availability, or both?

In his own campaign literature, the top credential he cites is “Outdoorsman”. How does that relate to service on the Township Committee?

And in the same campaign flier, the only community service he cites is “volunteer coach” for youth sports. Coaching your own child's sports team doesn't distinguish you from hundreds of your fellow parent-coaches each year, and is a weak qualification for service on the Township Committee.

Mareza “Rez” Estevez has no more history of township service and involvement than does her recently-arrived running mate. The only credentials she cites are her profession as an immigration attorney and some undergraduate environmental courses which she perversely uses to justify her opposition to the recently adopted plastic bag ordinance.

When comparing their track records of community service, the weaknesses of Hamilton and Estevez and the strengths of the two Democratic candidates for Township Committee are clear.

Stacey Ewald is past president of the Chatham Education Foundation. She is past president of the Southern Boulevard School PTO and chairperson of the SBS After School Enrichment Program. She currently serves on the Municipal Alliance Committee of the Chathams. She is a 23-year Chatham Township resident, and her professional experience is as an investment audit senior manager for a Fortune 100 company.

Celeste Fondaco was a charter member of the township's Open Space Committee and is a past member of the Tree Committee and the Chatham Emergency Squad, where she currently serves on the Emergency Squad Auxiliary. She is past president of the Art League of the Chathams and is current president of the Drew Art Association. She is a third-generation township resident, and her professional experience is as a data analyst for a publishing house and in tax preparation with a Fortune 500 firm.

Political partisanship may be red hot on the national level. But when it comes to electing a neighbor who will best serve the township, the least important qualification is a candidate's political party. When you enter the voting booth on Nov. 5, cast your vote for the candidates who have proven they love the township and have a track record of working to make it better. Vote for Ewald and Fondaco.

Now lets talk about that scurrilous Watchdog Report. Bailey Brower, an endorser of Hamilton-Estevez, has a long history of publishing these newsletters shortly before township elections, dripping with fabrications and inaccurate scare tactics targeting candidates he opposes or fears.

This fall, even though I am not a candidate, he targeted me in his newsletter with accusations he knew were blatantly false. He accused me of “proposing” plans for a walking path at the Dixiedale Townhouse development and “pressuring” the developer to allow public access. While I support the idea of walking paths, I neither “proposed” them at Dixiedale nor “pressured” the developer, and Bailey Brower knew it. Consider the facts:

Three years ago on Dec. 19, 2016, when the Dixiedale developers first presented their concept plans to the Planning Board, the maps already showed the proposed walking path, as proven by the minutes which record comments about the path. Bailey Brower was a member of the Planning Board at the time, and the minutes mark him as present.

Two years ago on Oct. 16, 2017, the Dixiedale developers again presented their concept plans to the Planning Board and again the minutes show Board member Bailey Brower as present. This was followed by two other Planning Board meetings on Dixiedale, one on Nov. 20, 2017, and one a year later on Nov, 19, 2018, when Bailey Brower is quoted in the minutes actually talking about the walking path.

Bailey Brower knew the truth but deliberately decided to say otherwise.

Bailey Brower made two other fabricated claims in the same newsletter.

He said a walking path would hurt the property values of nearby homes. False. I invite you to google “Walking Paths,” “Open Space” and “Property Values” and you will see a host of studies showing just the opposite, that publicly accessible open space raises nearby property values. If you attended the Oct. 21, 2019, Planning Board meeting you would have heard the professional planners for both the developer and the Planning Board say the same thing as witnesses under oath.

Bailey Brower also said, without any factual basis, that a walking path would endanger nearby residents. In fact, the township is rated as one of the safest communities in the state and the nation. We already have numerous walking paths including school pathways in Wyckham Woods, on Rose Terrace and on Dellwood Avenue. We have heavily used trails at Giralda Farms and in the township's portion of the Loantaka Preserve. And we have quiet woodland trails at the Green Village Pond and Hillside Avenue Green Acres. Most of these trails run beside or behind private homes, and none of these trails has resulted in any crime spike in their neighborhood.

I realize I am crossing party lines to endorse Ewald and Fondaco. But this year the branch of the Republican Party personified by Bailey Brower has picked clearly weaker candidates. I will always vote for the most qualified candidates for Township Committee, regardless of party. I invite you to do the same.

Michael J. Kelly

Note: Michael J. Kelly is Deputy Mayor of Chatham Township.