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HB Democratic candidates state their views

by Angela Fee-Maimon

Following are the statements of the Democratic candidates running for open seats in Hopewell Borough in the June 6 primary. Marylou Ferrara and Ryan Kennedy are candidates for Mayor of Hopewell Borough; Heidi Wilenius and Sheri Hook are running for Council. A fifth candidate, Sky Morehouse (incumbent), is running unopposed for Council in the Republican primary; MercerMe was not able to reach him for his statement.

To learn more about the June 6 primary, click here.

Ryan Kennedy, Candidate for Mayor

1.    What inspired you to run for Mayor?

I’ve always had serving our amazing town in my blood, going all the way back to volunteering when I was a student at Hopewell Valley High School in the late 1990s, but the current story starts after the 2016 presidential election. While I had been active as a volunteer for other elected officials and in the recently rebooted Hopewell Valley Democratic Club, the overly negative national dialog pushed me to do more, and I ran for a seat on Borough Council. Fast forward 6+ years and seeing our long-time administrator and 16-year Mayor plan their retirement, I knew someone with experience on Council had to step up and lead our town forward. That was probably one of the worst kept secrets while waiting for Mayor Anzano to make his decision formal.  Beyond that, it’s my daughters – they drive everything I do. Safely walking to Hopewell Elementary, the environment they live in, having a town that could remain affordable enough that they could possibly have the chance of returning here, like I did.  That’s my inspiration. Also… most people call me anyway when they forget the key to the train station on weekends or notice a typo on the town’s website, so why not make it official?

2. What makes you a strong mayoral candidate?

I have been working for years building knowledge, experience and creating the relationships that would make the right person to lead or Borough when perhaps I could have been working on being a better “candidate.”  For our town, I hear over and over again how Hopewell Borough governing experience is key – particularly at a time where we have a new administrator and are losing 16 years of institutional knowledge from Mayor Anzano. I’ve been up there, doing the work for Hopewell Borough for six years, and many more before that on the Planning Board and Economic Development Committee. I’m also a practicing attorney, so the experience I have representing businesses, people, and even other towns and government entities in things like affordable housing and keeping water companies accountable, that’s all directly applicable to what we’re doing here in Hopewell. When it comes to affordability, in my professional career I’ve worked on some of the largest property tax issues our State has seen, helping businesses and homeowners save and navigate tax incentives that we can be using here to encourage the reuse of vacant storefronts and ensure we’re paying only our fair share of school taxes and water costs. Open space and resources for families have been two of my core efforts as president of our YMCA and Vice President of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space – that’s what I do, that’s what I care about and that’s what I’ll bring as Mayor.

3. What are the most pressing issues facing Hopewell Borough, and how will you address those issues as Mayor?

I am not running to be the last ever Mayor of Hopewell Borough, but if we don’t work hard on affordability, our days as being independent could be numbered. Affordability doesn’t just include our budget – it means smart plans for affordable housing so teachers, police officers, and other essential members of our community can live here. I will continue aggressively managing our assessments, using all of the financial tools available and ensure we are only paying the right share of the pie when it comes to school costs. As an attorney with experience representing municipalities fighting for water quality and fair cost allocation elsewhere in Mercer County, I am uniquely qualified to help navigate tackling the rising costs of our water utility.

There may be nothing more pressing than the safety for bicyclists and pedestrians in our amazing downtown. I live right on Broad Street, so I see this first hand from my front porch every time I watch my children walk to the park, their school, or a friend’s house. After volunteering with the citizen ad hoc committee to work on our town’s plans to improve safety, I wrote the ordinance and fought to make it an official advisory board.  Now with their recommendations in hand, our town can take the step to work with Mercer County to implement the improvements to the County Roads that make up so much of our Borough.

As a Council member, I understand that community and collaborative support helps get this done. As Mayor, I will build on the relationships I have already established. I’m honored to have endorsements from so many County officials who will make important decisions with us. I’ve already had great conversations with our next County Executive and the current Chairwoman of the Board of County Commissioners when they joined me and residents at our train station to kick off my campaign. I am grateful for their confidence and what they will help us do here in Hopewell.

4.  What do you hope to accomplish in your first term as mayor?

Improving our communications and the way people interact with our town is important to me. During COVID when everything was shut down, I created a series of video messages to help explain what was happening with our government, how to get services, and even which restaurants were open. When our horribly outdated website imploded from neglect, I literally rebuilt it one weekend so that we’d have better communications until we budgeted for something fancier. I fought to set up an email alert system and personally make sure information on our meetings goes out to everyone’s inboxes. When we went back to in-person meetings, I insisted that we continue to broadcast on the internet, even if that meant getting and testing the equipment myself.  As Mayor, I’ll make sure you can interact with your town in the way that’s comfortable to you. I’ll have regular, in-person Mayor’s hours at town hall and at area businesses. I’ll push to take our email system to the next level with text and phone alerts and get all of our meetings online so that residents don’t ever need to decide if participating in town government is “babysitter worthy.”

When it comes to accomplishments, the issues I care about are hard to measure. We will never be done with affordability… never have “too safe” of a downtown… never too open, or too accessible… never have all of the trail connections or open space preserved… but those are my goals. The theme of my campaign has been “working together…” and when we do these things, they will not be my accomplishments, they will be all of ours.  When I wrote the ordinance to transition us away from single use plastic… that wasn’t me. It was the Girl Scout troop and HES students who came to our meetings.  It was the nonprofit who helped get reusable bags to our businesses. The same goes for traffic safety, affordability, and our environment – it will be us all working together for Hopewell Borough. And if I maybe have one accomplishment, it will be that I never stopped working with everyone for this great place we call home.

Marylou Ferrara and Heidi Wilenius are campaigning as a slate – Ferrara for Mayor and Wilenius for Councilmember:

1. What inspired you to run for Council?

Ferrara: I have always been politically and socially engaged in my community. Having previously served as Mayor and Township Committee Member in Hopewell Township, when my friend David Mackie asked me if I would consider running for Borough Mayor, I agreed because I thought it was a worthwhile undertaking. I have a proven commitment to — and experience with — community outreach. We need to communicate better with residents about what’s happening with our government and give them a sense that their input is welcome and being heard.

Wilenius: First and foremost, as a long time local resident and volunteer, I see my run for Council as a natural extension of the local volunteer work I have done to date. I have attended Council meetings for many years now, even more so recently. While the meetings are informative, I have become increasingly frustrated at the lack of clarity and communication coming from our Borough administration, and lack of accountability within the Council. While I believe everyone serving on our Council has good intentions for the Borough, some of those intentions get lost in bureaucracy and a need to maintain the “status quo.” I have had friends and neighbors ask me for years to run for Mayor, which I do not have the time or qualifications to do. However, when Marylou said she wanted to run, I knew that running alongside her provided the perfect timing for me to run for Council. I feel very strongly that she is the change our town needs right now, and by running together, we can run a stronger campaign, and we both look forward to working together for our town.

What makes you a strong mayoral/council candidate?

Ferrara: My executive experience as a former Mayor, my ten-plus years of service on Planning and Zoning Boards, and my years of work on the boards of local non-profits, where I have successfully advocated for environmental and progressive causes.

Wilenius: I have strong organizational and planning experience, and hope to use some of those skills to improve the Borough’s communication with residents. I also believe that my experience as a local small-business owner will bring a new perspective to the Council. I am able to look at situations and problems with an open mind, and enjoy respectful discussions and debates about the issues, where we are all able to work together to find solutions that are in the best interest of the community.

What are the most pressing issues facing Hopewell Borough, and how will you address those issues?

Ferrara and Wilenius: Traffic, pedestrian, and bicycle safety, as well as the Borough’s current water crisis, are at the top of the current priority list for our town.

As we know, traffic is increasing, and we need to make sure that our roads are safe for pedestrians and cyclists. The PBSAC  (Pedestrian, Bicycle & Safety Advisory Committee) has created a very robust set of proposals to create a safer environment. We support the implementation of their recommendations ( available on the Borough website), and will work with PBSAC, Mercer County, and other stakeholders to make this a safe and accessible community for all to enjoy. Highlights of their proposal include traffic calming gateways, narrowing of roadways via bump-outs, and more visible crosswalks and markings for cyclists.

Hopewell Borough’s water system is in dire need of repair, and we will need to either retrofit our system at great expense, or sell (or lease) the network to a commercial entity. Right now there is an investigation into all the options, which we support. Properly reviewing and responding to those reports is probably the most important single issue facing Borough residents right now. We pledge to very carefully examine all the recommendations, and listen to the concerns of our residents, without making a decision until all the information is in. In the end, we will make a choice that will benefit the Borough today and for many years to come.

We must remember, though, that it is our job to focus on all of the issues that affect not just our town, but our larger community and the world around us as well. Other important issues include making more environmentally responsible choices as a Borough, and finding creative ways to encourage our residents to do so as well. Environmental responsibility is a part of all of the decisions we will make – be it planning/zoning board approvals, what trees to plant, how to deal with stormwater runoff, or creative ways to encourage more sustainable lawn care.  We also believe that we need to work cooperatively with our local businesses to support their needs, so that they can thrive, grow, and better support our community.”

What do you hope to accomplish in your first term?

Ferrara and Wilenius:

  • Improved communication with Borough residents through multiple channels, both on and off-line.
  • Improved responsiveness to questions and requests from advisory bodies.
  • Implementation of the recent recommendations made by the Pedestrian Bicycle and Safety Advisory Committee.
  • Thorough evaluation of the water crisis currently facing the borough, and a decision that will insure clean and affordable water for our residents.
  • Changes to our zoning ordinance to preserve our small town character, by precluding large chain stores within the Borough.
  • Work cooperatively with local environmental groups to implement more environmentally responsible practices as a Borough.

Sheri Hook, Candidate for Council:

1. What inspired you to run for Council?

This is the first place I’ve lived that truly felt like home. There is so much about Hopewell Borough that makes it special, and I’d like the community to continue to thrive so that one day my children might want to consider this their home when they start families. I’ve lately realized just how much work goes into managing a municipality, and want to do my part in helping make those decisions by representing my neighbors.

2. What makes you a strong Council candidate?

I believe that the job of a Councilperson is to balance the immediate needs of the town with a long-term vision for sustainable progress. This takes the skills I’ve developed during my professional career (and my second career as a parent): consensus building, investigating all sides of a situation, learning from the past, and developing pragmatic solutions. I am dedicated to creating community and participate in many volunteer organizations that help me do that: co-host of the Hopewell Borough Block Party, Contest Chair of the Hopewell Harvest Fair, HES PTO Service Learning/Fill The Truck Chair, head coach of Let Me Run, and member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance. All of these experiences have led me to care deeply about this town, its residents, and our future together.”

3. What are the most pressing issues facing Hopewell Borough, and how will you address those issues?

“The empty storefronts in town concern me. Some have been empty since I moved here eight years ago. A vibrant downtown is important to the long-term success of the Borough. A first step would be to investigate the underlying causes of these vacancies. I have spoken about potential solutions with Councilmember Ryan Kennedy, and he shared ideas about different economic incentives and State-sponsored resources that are available. By working together with landlords, I believe we can attract some wonderful local businesses to our downtown.

Two other issues – maintenance of our water system and traffic safety – are currently being addressed by Council. Our water sourcing options are complex, and I would join the ongoing investigation and consideration of these options. As for traffic safety, I’m encouraged by how much progress the newly established Pedestrian, Bicycle Safety And Advisory Committee has made in this area.  The recent recommendation of traffic circles is an important step forward, and I am eager to continue refining the best possible plan.

As a parent of young children, I plan to live here in the Borough for many years, so another concern is upkeep of our public spaces. The playgrounds could use a refresh, and we need to replace the many trees we’ve lost due to to age and disease. This will take community effort, which as a Councilperson I would be in a unique position to help mobilize.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your first term?

My priority would be addressing the lagging business situation in our downtown. I would begin an investigation into the causes, and serve as a liaison to coordinate County services for potential and existing local businesses.

On the environmental front, I hope to establish a municipal recycling program with Terracycle, and would love to partner with the folks at Hopewell Valley Green Team. I’d also begin work on launching a playground clean-up and tree planting initiative.

I’d like to create an Advisory Youth Council to capture the voices of the younger generation in town and encourage their participation in determining the future of their town.

Lastly, I aim to improve community engagement by increasing awareness of tools such as the Borough website and resources such as the Shade Tree Committee page with helpful links to tree care; and developing new tools, such as calendar syncing and text notifications. I will continue to make myself available for in-person conversations during my Walk & Talks in Gazebo Park, and maintain open lines of communication with constituents via my website hookforhopewell.com.

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MercerMe is the only hyperlocal, independent, online news outlet serving Hopewell Valley in Mercer County, New Jersey.

Contact us: [email protected] 

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