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Hopewell Borough Council candidates

by Amie Rukenstein

Three people are running for two seats on Hopewell Borough Council this November. We posed questions to the candidates based on recent MercerMe articles and the input of our friends and neighbors. The responses have not been edited except for format consistency and are posted in the order in which they were returned to MercerMe. We have bolded the original questions for clarity. We gave no word limit and since we did not ask for photos, we are not posting those that were submitted. (We will remember to ask next year).

There is also an election for Mayor in Hopewell Borough this year but as it is uncontested, with only Ryan Kennedy (D) running, we did not reach out to him to answer questions.

Of the two available seats, one was vacated by Kennedy in order to run for Mayor; the other has been held by long-time incumbent Sky Morehouse(R). The other two people running are Heidi Wilenius (D) and Sheri Hook (D).


Heidi Wilenius

1 Please briefly state your qualifications for and interest in the Borough Council seat. (3 sentences max)

I love our town and am very committed to being a part of positive change for the community, as I have done in my various leadership roles over many years, with organizations such as the Hopewell Harvest Fair, Hopewell Valley Girl Scouts, and Hope Rises Up. I am an effective listener and have strong organizational and communication skills, which will allow me to help improve the flow of information between Borough Administration and residents. I am also a creative problem solver, as demonstrated when I led the charge for the creation of the “Downtown Hopewell” campaign after learning that the EDC (Economic Development Committee) was not able to support the business community directly in that way.

2 What issues does the Borough face with regard to the water supply and what is the best course of action to address them?

We are facing a water leakage issue right now, which is already being addressed, and it appears that by next year, the leaks will be under control. The larger issue is the same problem we are all facing globally, which is the level of PFOS in our water supply. The EPA is expected to tighten the standards for PFOS contaminants in our water, and we will need to make significant upgrades to our current system in order to stay compliant. We still have critical research to do in order to be able to assess the best course of action – if we make the upgrades to the system ourselves, at great expense; or if we instead choose to sell our water system to a private company who would manage it. While my natural instinct is to keep a public utility owned and controlled by the municipality – because of the magnitude of the work we will be facing to make the necessary improvements, and our limitations as a small municipality, we need to consider both options fully to determine what is in our community’s best interest.

3 Is housing affordability an issue in the Borough? If so, in what areas and how can the Borough Council address it?

Housing affordability will always be an issue. While we do not have control over the real estate market, we can take steps to improve the situation, such as:

  • Using the leverage that we have when variances are requested from developers to insist on the inclusion of affordable units.
  • Allowing for homeowners to have accessory dwelling units to make it easier for families to remain in their homes, and lessen the cost burden by having extended family members or other tenants reside with them, within reasonable limits.
  • 4 Is the current Council doing a good job in addressing pedestrian and bike safety? What more would you do, if anything?

Thanks to the formation of the PBSAC (Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety Advisory Committee), there is (at long last) real change on the horizon in regard to pedestrian and bike safety. I believe this is long overdue. Overall, our Borough Council is headed in a very positive direction, following the lead of PBSAC. I do think certain issues (like repainting of crosswalks) could be handled more efficiently than they have in the past.

5 Do you think that retail cannabis in the Borough is a good idea? Please explain.

I, like over 75% of the voters in our town, supported the legalization of recreational cannabis when it came before NJ voters. As it is now legal in NJ, I have no problem whatsoever with it being sold in our borough with age restrictions, just as liquor is. As I do not personally use cannabis, I do not have strong feelings on whether we NEED it here, but I would welcome it as I would any other small business. I am however very concerned with the way the application and review process happened over the past year (see question 8, below.)

6 In what ways can the Borough Council help to fill empty storefronts in town? How do you plan to address this issue?

As a local small business owner who has been TRYING to occupy one of those empty storefronts (one that is larger than my current space), I know the problem is not that simple, and not one that can be solved by the borough alone. The prime vacancies I see in town are largely vacant by the choice and/or specific situation of the private property owner. And if you do not first fill the prime locations, the less desirable locations will in turn not be filled.

While I think that by creating a more business friendly town will give some of those property owners more of a reason to either re-open their business or find tenants, ultimately, if property owners choose vacancy – the only option the borough would have would be to establish penalties for extended vacancies. Hopefully with the continued growth of the business community, this problem will see significant improvement without the need for penalties to property owners. As a Broad St merchant myself, I know for a fact that we do have good “foot traffic” for a town of our size – but there is much we can do together to make it even better. I am very proud of the work accomplished recently by the EDC (Economic Development Committee) and Downtown Hopewell, both of which are groups that I am currently spearheading.

7 What should the Borough do to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the country in 2026?
I believe there are lots of opportunities here for partnership with other municipalities, as well as local business and non-profit organizations. I would like to see a diverse representation of our community come together to plan events that both celebrate our country, while at the same time face the truth about our history as a nation. I also believe that large public gatherings give us an opportunity to model sustainability, in the same way we are doing with the Hopewell Harvest Fair, where I currently serve as President.

8 Other than these issues, is there anything else you think the Borough needs to turn urgent attention to?
During the process of approving a cannabis license, and eventually selecting a specific business owner, it was clear that there was not adequate attention paid to potential conflicts of interest on the part of Borough officials. The lack of response to date from the council on this issue greatly concerns me. It is essential that there is a process in place that will provide our residents with assurances that our local government will avoid both real and perceived conflicts of interest, now and in the future, and that our elected officials and employees are held to high ethical standards.

The current lines of communication between the borough and its residents are lacking. The borough needs to communicate directly with residents in many ways, to reach people where they are. Social media has historically been very under utilized by the Borough administration. We also need to have more effective “low tech” communication options, such as well-maintained notice boards, and efficient use of the US Mail and telephone options.

I also believe that there is much progress to be made in regard to our environmental footprint, both as a borough and as private citizens. The borough can improve its own land stewardship practices, and at the same time, improve the habits of residents through education and incentives, as well as limited but carefully constructed ordinances that are not overly intrusive, such as reasonable limits on certain gas-powered landscaping equipment (ie leaf blowers). There are also additional areas where we can make other improvements – such as better bulky waste practices, more recycling options, enforcement of existing sign ordinances (in regards to disposable plastic signs), and “modeling by example” when we hold official public events.


Sherri Hook

1 Please briefly state your qualifications for and interest in the Borough Council seat. (3 sentences max)

I have a deep passion for our town and am committed to preserving its distinctiveness and charm, as well as ensuring it is a safe and affordable place to live. During my extensive three-decade background in both professional and volunteer capacities, I’ve successfully managed a diversity of projects, people, and opinions, similar to what I will encounter as a member of Council. My primary skill set can be summed up as “Creating Community,” which means establishing open channels of communication, building consensus among differing inputs, and achieving shared goals through sensible approaches.

2 What issues does the Borough face with regard to the water supply and what is the best course of action to address them?

Every resident deserves access to safe and affordable water. The Borough currently sources only 40% of our water needs from our own well, which is in need of rehabilitation in order to function at full capacity. We purchase our remaining water needs from NJ American Water, which is not only expensive but, as we saw recently, subject to disruption. David Mackie and the current Council are adeptly addressing the issue with the help of an outside engineering firm with expertise in this area. Together, they are investigating the costs/benefits of various courses of action, and the Council is providing timely and transparent communication of these findings at Council meetings and approving funds to enact the solution that is in the best interest of the community. Repair of the recently discovered underground water leak may also help offset costs.

3 Is housing affordability an issue in the Borough? If so, in what areas and how can the Borough Council address it?

Living in New Jersey can be expensive. Current Council, I believe, has done an admirable job of keeping Borough spending in check and using tax dollars responsibly. They are also pushing back on the Township regarding our share of school tax to help keep our burden low. I would support and continue that effort. In terms of new construction of affordable housing, the first step is for Council to update the Master Plan and include redevelopment and rezoning incentives to help guide growth where appropriate. 

4 Is the current Council doing a good job in addressing pedestrian and bike safety? What more would you do, if anything?

Krista Weaver and PBSAC are doing an outstanding job addressing pedestrian and bike safety through the committee championed by Mayoral candidate Ryan Kennedy. They have accomplished a huge amount of work in a short period of time, and I hope everyone took the opportunity to review their report. As reported at the last Council meeting, they are applying for a large state grant that will help turn many of their ideas into reality. I absolutely support these efforts to make and keep our town safe and walkable.

5 Do you think that retail cannabis in the Borough is a good idea? Please explain.

I support retail cannabis in the Borough. Cannabis sales in New Jersey for the second quarter of 2023 totaled almost $180 million, and municipalities can levy taxes of up to 2% on these sales. Extensive regulation is in place on both the state and Borough level to ensure that cannabis sales in our town would be safe and unobtrusive, all while generating added tax revenue. I encourage anyone with concerns to read Ordinance 859, currently available on the Borough website, to see how thoroughly the Council has considered this issue. But in the end, any retail establishment must be a good fit between the business owners, the Borough, and the residents.

6 In what ways can the Borough Council help to fill empty storefronts in town? How do you plan to address this issue?

The number of our vacant storefronts was a primary motivation behind my decision to run for a Council position. As mentioned previously, my objective is to preserve Hopewell Borough’s distinctive charm, and a thriving downtown area is pivotal to realizing that vision. I am confident that each vacant storefront holds a unique narrative, and I am committed to dedicating my time and effort to delve into the root causes of these vacancies. By collaborating with property owners, the Mayor and Borough Council, and Mercer County business services, I believe we can develop economic incentives that will entice new, local entrepreneurs to make investments in our community.

7 What should the Borough do to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the country in 2026?

Something exciting that brings all of our Borough friends and families together in celebration! We are home to several important historical sites to highlight, and have beautiful event and open space venues to utilize. Deb Stuhler and I co-host the Hopewell Boro Block Party, which brings so much of the community together in such a fun way, and I would look forward to working with her, the wonderful Recreation Committee, our awesome DPW crew, and our amazing local businesses in planning an event worthy of such a milestone.

8 Other than these issues, is there anything else you think the Borough needs to turn urgent attention to?

Certainly. We have touched on two key aspects of my platform: “Pro-Business,” which involves tackling the issue of vacant storefronts, and “Pro-Family,” which includes my commitment to enhancing traffic safety measures. Furthermore, I will establish additional means of communication with residents, particularly those with young children who may find it challenging to attend evening Council meetings. This would involve maintaining my weekly daytime “Walk & Talk” sessions, providing an opportunity for people to share their thoughts and concerns in a more accessible setting.The third pillar of my platform, “Pro-Environment,” will prioritize action to enhance our existing municipal recycling program by implementing a system that accommodates all forms of plastic materials, including solutions like Terracycle.

Finally, I hope every Borough resident turns their urgent attention to this (and every) election. Your vote is an investment in your community, so please learn more about your Council candidates (you can find me at HookforHopewell.com) and be sure to vote on or before Tuesday, Nov 7th. 


Charles “Sky” Morehouse

1 Please briefly state your qualifications for and interest in the Borough Council seat. (3 sentences max)

I have been serving our community 30 years in many capacities including Fire Commission, Stony Brook Regional Sewerage Authority, Library Board, and Council for 25 years.  I have been actively involved in the development of our annual budgets and the identification and implementation of capital projects.  I live and operate a small business in our town.

2 What issues does the Borough face with regard to the water supply and what is the best course of action to address them?

Small community water supplies are in jeopardy throughout the State.  Many of our production wells have become inactive due to changes in regulation, forcing us down to 1 production well (#4) and an emergency tap from NJAW.    We now drive approximately 70% of our water from the NJAW tap, costing the Borough approximately $25k/month.  Last year we experience 1 concentration excursion of PFOS in our #4 well.  This has since cleared and is no longer an issue, but the regulatory agencies may require that we install a $500k system anyway.  Council is presently investigating whether to sell the system to NJAW or spend the money to keep it under our control.  A conclusions has not yet been reached.

3 Is housing affordability an issue in the Borough? If so, in what areas and how can the Borough Council address it?

When we moved into the Borough in 1986, the Borough was the area’s affordable town.  Now because it has become such a desirable place to live, the affordability is not as apparent.  Council through the Planning Board will continue of make sure that we identify all affordable housing opportunities in both existing stock and the three potential major development sites in the Borough.

4 Is the current Council doing a good job in addressing pedestrian and bike safety? What more would you do, if anything?

The current Council has been evaluating and implementing traffic safety issues for as long as I can remember.  The current initiative is attempting to improve the conditions on the streets we control.  The big issue relates to the fact that we have a County major road that cuts our town in half.   We are working with Mercer County to add traffic calming mechanisms on Broad, knowing that the route is a trucking route.

5 Do you think that retail cannabis in the Borough is a good idea? Please explain.

Originally, our initiative to introduce the retail sale of Cannabis in the Borough was to bring people into our community to both introduce the town and to promote local business.  It has turned out to be not worth our attempt because the applicants have done nothing to prove to us that they have any interest in being a part of our community.

6 In what ways can the Borough Council help to fill empty storefronts in town? How do you plan to address this issue?

As in answer 5, we have attempted to promote traffic to the Borough to expose our businesses to walking traffic.  As has been presented to Council, parking regulations need to be adjusted to make the storefronts more approachable.  My personal hope is the opening of the reformatted Bistro will bring back a good lunch and dinner group.  Being a partner in the Theater, if the State opens the liquor license rules to theaters, this will also bring new people into our community.  I am a free market person, if the town appears to be vital, the storefront and local business problem will solve itself.  i am also expecting that the more people work from home, the more they will patronize our local businesses.

7 What should the Borough do to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the country in 2026

My wife Liza sits as Board Chair of the Morven Museum.  Being a home of one of the signers, they are developing many ideas of how to bring out our local history.  That exposure is giving me insight to what we might do, but from current ideas and discussions, the Old School Baptist Meeting House, Hopewell Museum and the Library will be central to our planning.  John Hart being a signer will be part of the celebration.

8 Other than these issues, is there anything else you think the Borough needs to turn urgent attention to?

On my agenda as one of the most important things we can accomplish within the short term is to finally upgrade the DPW facility.  Our DPW staff has been working in dilapidated conditions for many years.  They are forced to work on the Borough’s trucks outside in the weather, when it rains water runs under the office door making the office wet and humid, the office roof is failing and all the windows rotten.

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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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