1. Why are you running for election for Piscataway Township Council, Ward 3?
I am running for the Piscataway Township Council Ward 3 position because our community needs new leadership. I will be the independent, principled, and collaborative advocate our neighborhood deserves.
I have been a Piscataway homeowner for 20 years. I am proud that my husband, Bill Irwin, and I are raising our two sons here in our terrific community. We chose to live here because of the wonderful people who call Piscataway home. Ours is a warm, welcoming and diverse community. Our leaders should work as hard as its residents, and should welcome their involvement in our local government. I was incredibly dismayed when I tried to videotape a Council meeting in which my neighbors and I opposed the Council’s support for yet another warehouse in Ward 3. I was threatened by the Council with removal and possible arrest, and was told by the current Ward 3 Councilman that I should get legal help if I didn’t like the Council’s rules. In the end, and with the help of the ACLU, the Council had to change its unlawful rules to comply with the law.
It doesn’t have to be this way. I am running because we can do, and be, better. Our local officials should be engaging our residents, asking our opinions and operating in the open. Like my neighbors, I have watched as Piscataway’s career politicians have made decades of unfulfilled promises, from the Community Center being built, the pool being re-opened to trucks being banned from River Road, etc. Instead, our current officials are bringing more trucks by approving warehouses bringing traffic and pollution to our overburdened, damaged streets and giving tax breaks for business, without guaranteeing even a single job for Piscataway residents. They have reduced our open spaces and diminished our public services, all while being less than transparent.
As a professional advocate and a community volunteer, I have often been encouraged to run for office. I am running now because I believe business as usual is no longer acceptable. I believe we must stand with our neighbors, for our future. I am running now because I can no longer watch and wait for someone else to do what is right and what is needed in my community. Piscataway has amazing people and tremendous natural beauty. I am running to represent Ward 3 because there is a better way to make sure ours is a place where we can all thrive.
2. What specific things do you hope to accomplish?
I am proud to be part of a dedicated team of Progressive Democrats, including Dr. Jacqueline Littlejohn in Ward 1, Dr. Tom Connors in Ward 2, and Mohammed Raqeeb in Ward 4. We are committed to strengthening our Township and engaging the talents and energy of our diverse neighborhoods. We share the values and vision of leadership through accountability, community and transparency. We believe there is a Better Way for Piscataway and want to:
- Make Piscataway’s local government more effective and transparent by:
- Improving basic municipal services, especially road maintenance.
- Videotaping and sharing Council meetings, put Council agendas, minutes, Commission information, on the website, to improve open decision making.
- Bringing the municipal government into the digital age, improving the website and social media for dialogue, have email for Council members.
- Opening up the budget process so that residents can see how our tax dollars are spent.
- Support responsible economic development by:
- Assessing environmental, economic and quality of life impacts, preventing truck traffic and road congestion in our neighborhoods.
- Encouraging new businesses to train and hire Piscataway residents through community benefit agreements.
- Ensuring tax incentives are balanced for our Township's needs.
- Adopting and encouraging environmentally sound strategies to protect our open space and natural resources.
- Increasing recreation, safety and social services for our youth and seniors:
- Expanding investment in libraries and support our volunteer rescue and fire squads.
- Building a community center that meets the current and future needs of our neighbors and encourages intergenerational activities between our seniors and our young people.
- Creating places and opportunities for people of all ages to interact, i.e. a farmer's market, dog-park, etc.,
- Ensuring that all of our neighborhoods have the services they need to prevent crime and promote safety.
- Be an Open and Welcoming community by:
- Holding open meetings with our constituents on a regular basis, gathering ideas for ways to improve our Township and address concerns.
- Celebrating the diversity of our community.
- Respecting the variety of opinions in our community, and making sure that everyone is heard.
- Standing up for the most vulnerable among us, promoting policies that protect our residents and reflect our values.
3. About Staci Berger: In my career and personal life I have worked to advance social, political and economic justice for working families and seniors. I’ve organized resistance to the Trump Administration and helped start Progressive Democratic groups in our area. I have been a Heights homeowner since 1999, where I live with my husband, Bill Irwin, and our two sons, Billy and Sam, who both attend Piscataway public schools.
My experience and background includes being an active volunteer in our community: President, MLK Intermediate Elementary School PTO (2012-2014); current Vice President,Conackamack PTO; current member, PHS PTSO; member, Knollwood PTO (2007-2014); member, Wrestling Parents Auxiliary; member, BOE Culture, Climate and Community Relations Committee. I am a proud Friend of the Library and a River Road Rescue Squad supporter. I helped organize Piscataway events to support cancer research, including the 2015 Relay for Life and since, 2016, Glow for the Cure, a local partnership between our community and the Cancer Institute of NJ. I have worked to improve our school environment, including promoting policies for smaller class sizes, food justice and protections for transgender and immigrant students.
I graduated from Rutgers, getting my Bachelor of Arts here in Piscataway, at Livingston College, Summa Cum Laude (’94) and my Masters in Public Affairs and Politics, from Rutgers, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy (’04). I was humbled to be honored by both my alma maters recently, receiving the 2018 Livingston Alumna Association’s Distinguished Alumna and the 2017 Edward J. Bloustein School of Public Policy Career Achievement Award.
Since 2013, I have been the president & CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ, the state association of non-profit groups working to ensure safe, affordable homes for NJ residents by ending homelessness, providing special needs housing, stopping the foreclosure and abandoned properties crisis, funding housing counseling and protecting Sandy survivors. I served as Director of Policy and Advocacy for eight years before being promoted to lead the organization.
Prior, I spent a decade engaged in consumer advocacy at NJ Citizen Action, the state’s largest citizen watchdog organization. There, I helped to shape NJ’s Paid Family leave laws and reform our state campaign finance system, update NJ’s open public meetings/records laws, led efforts to stop the privatization of Social Security, increase the minimum wage and adopt NJ’s first Millionaire’s Tax. I continue to serve on NJCA’s Board of Directors. I have been a labor organizer with the AFL-CIO/OI, HPAE/AFT/AFL-CIO and was a member of UFCW. I am a proud member of the NJ Working Families Alliance. In 2016, I was honored by the NJ General Assembly during Women’s History Month.
This is my first time running for public office and I am honored to have the support of my neighbors, family and friends. I am running because I believe there is a Better Way for our community and for our future. If you have questions or ideas, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to working with and for my neighbors and ask for your vote in the June 5 Primary; you can find me in Column D. As former First Lady Michelle Obama said, “…you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems all at once. But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.” Together, we can make a Better Way for Piscataway.