To the Editor:

I have lived in Chatham for 10 years, and like many of my friends and neighbors, I love Chatham’s schools, green neighborhoods, and walkability, but I see persistently empty storefronts downtown, and I feel like Chatham is not living up to its full potential. I will be voting for Thad Kobylarz for Mayor on November 5 because his vision for Chatham inspires me, and he has already demonstrated that he has the skills and energy to make that vision a reality.

This is the Chatham I picture in 2029: It is a warm evening in May, and a local band is warming up for the weekly concert in the gazebo. (Last week it was the high school string quartet, and next week an alumni jazz trio will visit.) Families are gathering on the lawn, setting up picnics and buying sandwiches and snacks from the local restaurants’ roaming vendors. While some children meet their parents getting off the train, others pick up parents from The Station, the co-working space that opened in 2019, where many Chatham parents now work “from home” at least a couple of days a week. Still other parents walk over from the nearby office spaces that are now bustling with innovation economy businesses. There are always a few colleagues from out of town whose families come to join them for the evening in Chatham, too, because it’s such a fun place. Seniors who downsized from their large Chatham homes into the 2-bedroom condos in the tastefully-designed Post Office Plaza development stroll over to join the festivities. Neighbors of all ages greet each other: high school students know the seniors they occasionally help with shoveling, connected via the Borough’s senior connection project, and millennials and seniors live alongside each other in the condos. When the concert finishes, some people head with their kids to Scoops for ice cream, some get a late dinner at Taste of Asia or Mitsuba, while others grab a drink with neighbors at the new wine and jazz bar. Downtown Chatham’s historic charm is alive with a bustling, dynamic sense of community.

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Thad has plans to realize this vision for downtown, and more, and in less than two years as a member of Borough Council, he has already laid the groundwork. He formed a relationship with the Morris County Economic Development Committee, which is now boosting Chatham at the center of its efforts to bring innovation economy businesses to the county. He facilitated the remodeling of the Garibaldi Group’s building downtown as “The Station,” a co-working space that is already 70% leased and growing. As mayor, he plans to work tirelessly to bring more of these growing businesses into currently-empty office space. These businesses will bolster Chatham’s tax base and provide needed patrons for our restaurants and shops, without straining our infrastructure.

Thad is committed to doing this right, and has done thorough research, studying the successes of communities similar to Chatham that have successfully rejuvenated sagging downtowns and industrial zones like Chatham’s River Road and Commerce Street. For instance, he made a trip to El Segundo, CA, on his own dime, to learn from local business and political leaders how they brought tech startups and innovation economy businesses into a decrepit industrial district, zoning it for mixed-use and boosting existing businesses while supporting a secondary economy of eateries and shops. As mayor, he plans to commission a comprehensive traffic study in conjunction with neighboring towns, to find large-scale solutions to our region’s traffic issues.

I particularly appreciate how Thad makes plans that include everyone, and bring us together as a community. In preparation for running for Borough Council, in 2017 Thad conducted a listening tour, knocking on over 2500 doors in the district. When many people told him they hoped Chatham could bury the power lines to improve service and protect our tree canopy, he asked a group of volunteers to convene a committee to study what can be done. This year, he has assembled an Economic Development Advisory Committee to bring to the table creative ideas about supporting and boosting Chatham’s businesses. He values everyone in our community, and as mayor he plans to connect seniors to student volunteers to help with those difficult situations like heavy snow shoveling; create a phone line with daily announcements of Chatham activities for those who do not use the internet; and look into providing a shuttle around the Borough for non-drivers to get to shops and appointments. Thad envisions a community where we all contribute our talents and ideas and help each other.

Please join me in supporting Thad Kobylarz for Mayor on November 5.

Lara Freidenfelds