Having spent most weeknights since early April knocking on doors in Chester Township, I've gotten a good sense of residents' top priorities.
Taxes top the list and it's not even close. Too many people are being forced to leave New Jersey; more than 150 of the residents I spoke with said they expect (or hope) to move out of New Jersey in the next five years. If our elected leaders do not get a hold of our state’s affordability crisis, more families will leave, more wealth will flee, and our brain drain will worsen. This has to be the top priority of every candidate and elected official in New Jersey.
At a more local level, the quality of our recreation facilities and the process for renovating homes were high on the list. I look forward to working with our mayor and Council on each of these issues, if I am elected to the Council this fall.
These conversations did more than just highlight important issues, of course. They also helped reveal the character of the people we all bump into at ShopRite or the gas station or the soccer field. One of the first things I learned, in fact, was that when you knock on a family's door, you're really asking for a peak into their personal lives. What I saw immeasurably increased my faith in community and civility.
I met more than a few Chester Township residents who are the original owners of their 1960s-era homes. One, a Korean War veteran, told me stories about his time on the U.S.S. Wisconsin off the Korean coast and his triumphant return to Chester where he built a house for his young family. Another told me about her nine children, thirty grandchildren, and nineteen great-grandchildren (with the twentieth on the way).
I met a woman who had just returned from chemotherapy, a man who was told by doctors he had one year left to live, and a woman on the occasion of her 43rd wedding anniversary – her first as a widow. She asked me to put down my clipboard and give her a hug because, in her words, there was no one else to hug that day.
I helped a woman pick some weeds, and a gentleman install a bird bath. I brought people their newspapers, from the New York Times to the New York Post. On hot days, I was offered iced tea. On weekends, I was offered beer. I interrupted a few family dinners and caused some people to be late for lacrosse practice, but it was all for a good enough reason and people were extremely gracious and polite.
I must have met 300 dogs, yet thankfully came away with no bites (and far more sympathy for the mailman). I also met a bunch of kids – happy and free to open the front door not knowing who was on the other side. There’s hardly a better indication for how safe our town is, nor how lucky we are to live here.
Chester Township has a remarkable history shaped, in part, by these residents and many other hardworking, dedicated volunteers. From what I’ve seen at 800 door stoops, I know our future will be just as bright.