November 3, 2018
CFR is pleased that Readington has had a lively campaign season, with four bright, talented candidates vying for the two contested seats on the Township Committee. In a town that often doesn’t see Democrats competing, we are all well served by the increase in dialog about the issues. CFR is a non-partisan group, and has benefitted from contributions by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. So although this is not the year that we recommend the Democratic candidates it is because we strongly believe Ben Smith and Juergen Huelsebusch are simply better qualified and more aligned with our positions. We always encourage every resident to vote, no matter who they choose, and to hear directly from the candidates as much as possible. Their answers to eight key questions can be found here.
Ben Smith, our current mayor, is seeking his second term. He is a fiscal conservative who has helped reduce the Township’s debt, supported local business development along our commercial corridors, and supported land preservation. Although the township could play only a limited role in the sale of the Merck property, such as working to expand the uses to which the property could be put and establishing a positive relationship with UNICOM executives, Smith helped pave the way for a promising new occupant of the campus. Smith has a knack for explaining complex issues in a simplified, understandable manner, and has used several forums to get this information into residents’ hands.
Huelsebusch brings extensive experience on Open Space and Farmland preservation with knowledge of private, County and State funding sources. He works closely with his counterparts in the County and was actively involved in the Hunterdon County Master Plan related to the preservation targets. Esakoff and Fiore state they are for “open, green spaces”, yet their statement “balancing open space acquisition with sound economic sustainability to minimize impact on tax base, debt burden, and long-term financial viability” indicates they are not aware how few Township dollars actually were spent. Thanks to the efforts of Huelsebusch and other volunteers, much of the funding for our prized open spaces has come from outside the Township. Open Space and Farmland Preservation are not in competition with the economic sustainability of Readington. The dedication to this preservation is what results in the quality of life we value.
We appreciate that Denise Esakoff and Elizabeth Fiore have volunteered with Girl Scouts, our schools, and recreational sports programs. They are obviously committed to making a difference in the community. They have taken the time to attend Township Committee meetings. However, while they take a lot of notes, they haven’t spoken up there. This means that they are not using the opportunity to get their questions answered nor foster the open dialog they claim is lacking. One assumes this is due to their role as political candidates, but in a small town like ours it is more useful to approach local government as a problem-solving exercise rather than a zero-sum, antagonistic process. If they were less concerned with playing ‘gotcha’ they could have had reasonable discussion and answers on issues like their charges of committees exceeding their charters or publishing minutes.
We find their proposal of an economic commission redundant; Smith already established the Readington Business Association, and he and Huelsebusch propose expanding it. During his tenure the township has actively worked to support local businesses and encourage projects such as expansions of Quick Chek, the Ryland Inn, and The Farm. Everyone agrees that working closely with Unicom is in the best interests of Readington and Smith already has a constructive relationship with them. The Unicom move, in addition to providing substantial economic activity in town, will also shift the ratables portion of our tax base to the positive. Esakoff and Fiore point to declining taxes paid by business, but that was due to the unoccupied Merck property. Now that UNICOM is coming, business ratables and business taxes will increase. They use misleading charts to reflect township finances, but while they criticize tax rates they make a number of proposals that would only increase the need for taxes.
On several more points, such as the airport and affordable housing, Esakoff and Fiore fall into the same trap of oversimplifying the issues. This is common among candidates for office, especially political newcomers. They are smart, and would in time learn and probably navigate the complexities. But in Smith and Huelsebusch we have capable leaders who are ready now. We’d love to see Esakoff and Fiore channel their interest and enthusiasm into roles on Boards or Committees in town to further develop their perspectives and run again in the future.
Note: There are no contested seats for School Board at either Readington or Central. We do note that Hunterdon Central incumbent and candidate Vincent Panico, a Readington resident, has done an excellent job and is now the president of that Board.