A slate of four women running in the May 9 non-partisan municipal election in South Orange might be unopposed, but they’re still taking their message to the voters in a sort of Brian Stack way of keeping their foot on the gas no matter what.
Village President Sheena Collum launched her campaign for re-election to a third term at a kickoff last night with her running mates, incumbent Trustee Summer Jones and two newcomers seeking open seats, Jennifer Greenberg and Olivia Lewis-Chang.
“For the first 100 years since being incorporated in 1869, there wasn’t a single woman on the governing body,” Collum said. “We’re still playing catch up.”
The first woman to serve as a village trustee was 34-year-old Anne Shue, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in 1972 following the resignation of Thomas Duff. The mother of actors Elizabeth and Andrew Shue, she lost her seat in 1973 by just 23 votes to Bertrand Spiotta, who later spent twelve years as village president.
First elected in 2015, Collum became the first woman to serve as village president.
Despite their lack of opposition, the four candidates are using the 2023 campaign to discuss local issues, including a focus on motor vehicle and pedestrian safety, commercial and mixed-use development, and the effects of Collum’s support of consolidating the South Orange Fire Department with Maplewood.
“Moving forward, I will continue to focus on communication and technology, arts and cultural affairs, and pedestrian safety,” said Jones, seeking her second term. “As a Trustee, we focus on specific areas but take part in all decisions that affect the town. We need to be willing to collaborate, research, and step outside of our comfort zones.”
Greenberg, a past president of her neighborhood association, wants to make housing and local support of small businesses part of her mission in local government.
“I see a great need in our market for housing choice for people looking to downsize and stay local,” she said. “ I want to work on the recently adopted Accessory Dwelling Units rollout and create policies that will provide for more condos and townhomes in addition to the hot rental market.”
A clinical psychologist with a six-month-old granddaughter and a 90-year-old mother is speaking out on the importance of connecting the community’s experiences.
“My story is hitched to a painting in my office that says, ‘all roads are good,’ which comes from indigenous voices on life and culture,” Lewis-Chang stated. “It is on that road that I want to serve as a Trustee – to listen with intention and embrace others on this journey.”
Candidates running unopposed frequently remain on the sidelines, not communicating with voters like they would if they had a contested race.
There are exceptions.
Union City Mayor Brian Stack usually runs unopposed, but that doesn’t stop him from campaigning as though he’s behind. A few years back, Stack was a few minutes late to a lunch meeting because he was going door-to-door. That was two days after the election.
Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University, stressed the importance of candidates discussing issues with the electorate whether they have an opponent or not.
“When elections are done right, they are more than a choice; they’re a discussion between those who will govern and be governed, and they are a means of accountability,” Rasmussen said. “I see too many local officials who have the exact opposite and wrong impulse, which is to pull back from public dialogue. We need to hope others will follow their good example.”
Collum was re-elected in 2019 with 76% of the vote against Deborah Davis Ford, an incumbent trustee and the clerk of the Essex County Board of Commissioners.
In the trustee race, Summer Jones is the only incumbent seeing re-election.
Four years ago, the Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association Locals 40 and 240 backed Ford against Collum after she supported a move to merge the village’s fire department with next-door Maplewood.
Collum was first elected in 2015 with 70% of the vote against Emily Hynes after the incumbent, Alex Torpey, declined to seek re-election. Torpey was elected at age 24, defeating Trustee Janine Bauer by 13 votes.
Torpey was not the youngest person to win local office in South Orange. That record is held by James D. Weinstein, a 22-year-old Columbia University graduate who unseated incumbent Ted Lowy by a 2-1 margin in 1985. Weinstein had been deputy campaign manager for Dean Gallo’s campaign for Congress in New Jersey’ 11th district that ousted 11-term Rep. Joseph Minish (D-West Orange). He later served as an aide to Gallo and Assemblyman Bob Franks.
Two incumbents, Donna Collier and Stephen Schnall, are not seeking re-election.
Shue had become involved in politics in 1970 when her husband, James W. Shue, was the Republican nominee for Congress against Minish.