Editor's Note: This is the last in a series of five 'Ask the Candidates' articles focusing on the lone contested Summit Common Council race in the upcoming November 3 election. The two Ward 1 candidates are Democrat Susan Hairston and Republican Eileen Kelly.

TAPinto Summit sent the question(s) for each article to the candidates and is publishing their written answers as received (verbatim). The order of the candidates' answers was rotated with each successive article.

Part Five - Hey... What's the Big Idea?

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Summit has the reputation as a well-run town and features a very strong credit rating, so what would be a game-changing policy, initiative or program that would elevate the City to 'the next level'?

How would this concept positively impact Summit's residents and, assuming there would be costs associated with such an endeavor, how do you propose to fund it?

Eileen Kelly (R)

The downtown is a huge part of Summit’s attraction and a major economic driver in securing our town’s credit rating. There have been ongoing conversations and plans to develop and change the downtown. As a leader on Common Council, I will help manage Broad Street West Redevelopment in a way that will help build a story about Summit's future that can be marketed to small businesses, entrepreneurs, and the corporate environment.

COVID-19 has hit our local economy hard and some of our favorite stores have folded and others are struggling. We must be sensitive to this as we continue downtown development and be careful not to cannibalize the foundations of what exists. 

The success of our local businesses is critical to the livelihood of our community and is one of the central reasons for our strong credit rating. I therefore propose ways to inject free or low-cost talent into our local businesses to help ensure their future. One idea I have highlighted in my campaign is a business mentorship program. We can work with our downtown storefronts and offer them unique services like e-commerce strategies. By tapping the intellect that exists in our community and linking them with our current business community, we are both helping develop our future workforce while ensuring that the current one thrives. 

We must also keep an open dialogue with residents to understand their evolving needs and wants. This is something to which I am committed. Summit can count on me to engage with businesses and residents so that both Broad Street West Redevelopment can go from a vision to a reality and our downtown can thrive in the current business environment and that of the future.

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Susan Hairston (D)

What an exciting question! I see several opportunities that are consistent with our Master Plan and our solid financial footing, while also being potential “game-changers” for our city. These ideas are informed by my deep desire for Summit to be a wonderfully multi-generational, multi-ethnic and multi-income town, today and into the future.

First, the Broad Street Redevelopment project offers an opportunity to use new spaces to enhance Summit’s unique appeal and desirability. This project was designed to help us draw small businesses and entrepreneurs to Summit while also incorporating workforce housing opportunities. We included cultural spaces to connect people across generations, social groups, and economic groups. Broad Street West is already in motion, but the opportunity to use this project to elevate Summit to the “next level” lies in decisions still ahead. These are decisions in which residents and business owners will continue to have a voice.

As we look at new development in Summit, we also want to manage the risks of overdoing it. As a Ward 1 resident, I’m keenly aware of greater traffic along Morris Avenue and River Road. Summit is busier and more dense than it was when I was raising my young family here. So I’ll continue to take a hard look at any initiative to ensure it won’t impact our ability to walk our kids safely to school, or ride our bikes to parks or downtown. For me, the risks of over-development are as critical to our decisions as the potential benefits of growth and new development.

I see another game-changing opportunity in our energy infrastructure. Our country has invested heavily in renewable energy, and New Jersey has offered strong incentives to support solar power at the local level. Here in Summit, we have a solid foundation of environmental action — for example, restrictions on use of certain plastics (which go into effect January 1) — and a strong, well-led Environmental Commission. I’d like to see Summit take it to the next level and look at community solar options as a path forward for enhancing our energy infrastructure. There are vast private and public incentives available that will provide the funding to allow us to explore this.

Related, it would be a game-changer to find ways to lower the noise and fumes being generated by local landscaping companies. Maybe I’m more aware of it right now because it’s October and the leaf blowers are constantly on high. Still, I’d like to look for ways to encourage these hard-working small businesses to choose lower- or zero-emissions equipment that also reduce noise pollution. Let’s pursue incentives rather than mandates, and provide support for small businesses rather than restrictions.

While taxes support our town’s operating expenses, bonds fund our long-term infrastructure projects. Summit’s strong financial rating — currently at AAA — is an indication of how well we’ve managed the big financial decisions of the past. I would look for our elected officials — myself included — to be accountable for building on this impressive foundation in all of our future decisions.

I see local government as a force for good, and celebrate that Summit’s character and quality of living are also a product of public-private-nonprofit partnerships. Just look at the impact that the Summit Educational Foundation (SEF), Summit Public Art, Summit Downtown, Inc. (SDI), GRACE, Interweave, Interfaith, the Junior League, the Summit Conservancy, the League of Women Voters and so many others have had on our community. These kinds of partnerships are essential as we envision a next level Summit. 

Game-changing ideas are part of Summit’s DNA. Over one hundred years ago, town leaders worked with the railroad lines to “submerge” the tracks while ensuring access to the station and platforms from both sides of town. That decision avoided a town literally divided, and also enhanced both safety and the town’s appearance. Our downtown has been designated a Historic District because the people who came before us knew that attractive buildings, built for the long term, would be good for the city. I am proud to be a part of continuing this forward-looking approach along with my fellow Council members and Mayor, and  I am excited about all that’s still to come.

TAPinto Summit 'Ask the Candidates' Series Archive

Part One - Who I Am and Why I'm Running

Part Two - Summit Business and The Pandemic

Part Three - People Got The Power?

Part Four - Arresting Developments