I never imagined I would be kicking off my re-election campaign for Common Council at a time like this--because, a few months ago, I couldn’t imagine “a time like this,” I’ve heard many people in Summit voice the same sentiment. As the current Chair of our town’s Safety and Health Committee responding to the global pandemic; as a lifelong citizen of a town facing tremendous economic challenges; as an African American woman participating in a critical national dialogue--I am asking: How do I respond to this moment? How can I contribute and, where appropriate, how can I lead?
My work on Summit Common Council is one answer to these questions, and that is why I’m asking to continue this work for the next three years.
On the Safety and Health Committee, I’ve seen that Summit was extremely well-prepared from a safety perspective. We have outstanding resources; we responded with extraordinary flexibility to needs and information that changed weekly -- if not daily. And we also have opportunities, where a comprehensive view is needed. The pandemic has exposed national, state and local weaknesses in public health. For example, interdependencies that have always existed are more visible--for example, between the economy and food insecurity. We have an opportunity now to strengthen our community if we exercise foresight.
We’ve all watched the urgent and anguished cry for change in reaction to George Floyd’s murder, and I’m sure the question has occurred to many: What about my town? I’m so proud of Summit’s residents--particularly our young people--for insisting that we actively engage in the change process. I’ll be honest: I don’t know exactly what that looks like for Summit. But I do know that honesty, commitment and mutual respect are the starting points. We have that. Let’s contribute to the national change, because it has to “show up” locally to become real. After all, local is where we all live.
All of these issues are in play right now as we consider the future, and who our residents will entrust with critical decisions. Here are some facts you might want to know about me as you consider my candidacy:
As the fourth-generation of my family to call Summit home, I’m uniquely positioned to draw upon my knowledge of Summit’s past to help shepherd it into the future. I learned many lessons about service from my parents, who helped shape our town in their own small ways. My father, who was the first African American on the Summit Police Department, and my mother, who worked for decades at Summit’s Fair Oaks Hospital, helped prepare me for my own path as both a professional in the non-profit sector and an avid community advocate.
After graduating from the Summit Public Schools and pursuing higher education, eventually earning a Master of Public Administration from Seton Hall University, I spent the bulk of my career at the Ford Foundation. I learned about process excellence and shared services; how to lead people and projects; and how to manage change and large budgets. Expanding my skills and applying them to important, meaningful problems and opportunities has been a career-long joy. I recently stepped back from my full-time career in order to give my work on Council, and the concerns and needs of Summit residents, greater focus. I’ve also started my own consulting firm, helping non-profits prepare for expansion and sustained funding.
Recently (though it feels like long ago), Council spearheaded a year-long effort to engage residents in becoming a part of the vision for our future: Summit’s Master Plan. This will affect everything from traffic and parking, health and safety, the continuing success of our schools, to smart and sustainable development, like the on-going Broad Street Redevelopment Plan. My past leadership on local boards and committees will serve me well as we work to improve and build on these varying facets of our city.
During my two terms as a member of the Board of Education (appointed by former Republican Mayor Walter Long), I experienced first-hand the tough decisions needed to manage our highly-rated school system, which included executing the expansion of the high school. My year as BOE President was spent leading the search for a new superintendent, a job our current BOE is coincidentally embarking upon right now. And as mom to children who attended Summit’s public schools, I have a well-rounded view of our school system as I experienced it from both sides of the table.
My work as a Commissioner for the Union County Board of Taxation allowed me a deep dive into tax policy, and how to get the most out of every tax dollar. As a long-time commuter, I understand the challenges many residents face on a daily basis--as well as the opportunities offered by our transportation resources-- and I’m able to use that knowledge to help effect change as a liaison to the Lackawanna Coalition. And now, as an entrepreneur, I have a keen understanding of the challenges that business owners face, and how local policy can help nurture start-ups and small business growth.
Since filling the Council seat left vacant by the tragic passing of my friend and colleague, Matt Gould, I have served in several capacities. As a member of the Law & Labor Committee, I’ve put my prior management and governing experience to use as we address the natural attrition happening through retirements, including the selection of our new Police Chief, Captain Andrew Bartolotti. That process dovetailed with my role as Chair of the Safety and Health Committee, which includes not only interviewing all candidates for key safety roles like police chief, but providing critical coordination to Summit’s response to COVID-19. I also serve as liaison to community committees including Affordable Housing, Summit Public & Private Schools, Emergency Management & Shared Dispatch, Labor Negotiations, and the Summit Public Library. These engagements have given me wide-ranging knowledge of all the different branches that, together, make our city such a special place to live and work.
I am proud of all that Council has achieved in the last few years, and serving on Council has given me the perfect opportunity to apply my skills, my experience, and my deep love for my hometown to help further that success. The quality of our day-to-day lives depends enormously on the decisions our local leaders make. From our taxes to the state of our sidewalks, from our schools, libraries and senior centers to our restaurant and shopping choices—they are all affected (and often decided) by the actions of our Common Council, our Mayor, and the various boards and committees they oversee.
This year, Council’s work has required that we all exercise very different skills at the same time. We need to be both agile in our responses, and also measured and careful in ensuring our solutions really work. We need to love detail and data (which I do!) and simultaneously see the big picture. We need to deal with immediate pressures while maintaining a long-term, strategic perspective. Our outlook must be both focused and comprehensive. These seemingly contradictory capabilities come from depth and breadth of experience--in career, in service, and in life.
I hope my work and my impact to date have earned your confidence, and your support for my continuing service on Council. I’m committed to do whatever it takes to make our city the best it can be and one that works for all. I invite you to participate in my campaign for re-election.
Susan Hairston - Candidate for Summit Common Council, Ward 1