In New Jersey, we have important races going on, from governor on down. Like many, I woke up on Nov. 9, 2016, resolved to get off the sidelines and into the political arena. Since then, I’ve been working hard to get involved in local politics and I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Mayor Kevin Kuchinski and Michael Ruger, the Democrats running for Hopewell Township Committee. They are thoughtful, smart, and committed to fiscal responsibility and inclusive, progressive values.
See for yourself by watching the debate that took place last week. It soon will be available at the Hopewell Valley League of Women Voters website. Kevin and Michael were prepared, knowledgeable, and there was a clear difference between them and their Republican opponents.
— Courtney Peters-Manning
Peters-Manning is an alternate member of the Hopewell Township Planning Board.
An open letter to scientist and environmentalist colleagues in Hopewell Township:
Hopefully you’re not skipping the upcoming election because you’re too busy in the lab or office, thinking that it’s OK because this isn’t a big national year (aside from governors’ races in some states). Look again and remember that local candidates do become the foundation supporting the weight of the whole apparatus, and there is great risk thinking that Nov. 7 is not important.
In Hopewell Township, for example, the candidates for township committee are light years apart in perspective on issues of major importance — such as climate change and the need to take local action and develop intelligent plans to foster solar energy and green infrastructure and reduce fossil fuel dependency. The two parties locally hold markedly different views on the need for protective measures on open space and wildlife habitat preservation and the issues around biodiversity loss.
We are decades past the time when we can tolerate, if indeed we ever could, backwards-thinking, unscientific, climate-denying candidates still holding environmental exploitation mindsets. Please go to the polls on Nov. 7 and make the choice based on your scientific sense, knowing that change on the big scale requires attention to the local stage now.
— Rex Parker
Parker is a member of Hopewell Township’s planning board and environmental commission.
After watching the League of Women Voters forum, I’ve concluded that there are only two legitimate choices for Hopewell Township Committee: Mayor Kevin Kuchinski and Michael Ruger.
All four candidates seem friendly and likeable, and they agreed on a surprising number of things. If the election were about finding some easygoing guys, we couldn’t go wrong.
But Hopewell Township is facing some major issues: how are we going to stop the PennEast pipeline? How are we going to continue negotiating with the state about affordable housing? How we are going to fend off developers? How are we going to continue to deliver more services while reducing our spending?
The times require knowledge and experience. Mr. Kuchinski has a long resume of community and professional service, including being a vice president for marketing of a major U. S. company. A lawyer with over 25 years of experience in the public and private sectors, Mr. Ruger is on the township’s Finance Advisory Committee and the Environmental Commission. Both have detailed knowledge of the issues facing Hopewell Township. Both have the experience to handle these issues prudently.
Their opponents do not. Anyone who watches a replay of the forum will agree that Mr. Volpe and Mr. Nicolao came to the debate woefully unprepared. They didn’t know the rules set forth by the League of Women Voters. Instead of asking their opponents probing questions, they invited each other to tell their life stories. I wanted to say, “This is our future, dudes. Work for it!”
If I was looking for someone to have a lazy Sunday beer with, I’d have four good choices. But I want committee members who respect me enough that they are willing to earn my vote. Smiles and stories aren’t going to hack it with the likes of Penn East.
— Russell Swanson
Swanson is a member of the Hopewell Township Planning Board.
During the forum last month, I was asked what sites I would consider or recommend as solutions to the affordable housing mandate, given my criticism of the current administration for only looking at the southern tier of Hopewell as a solution. I suggested working with the county, as they are looking to relocate the prison site in Hopewell to northern New Jersey.
Knowing how local Democrats will create some late mailer right before election demonizing my suggestion, let me explain in broad stroke terms why this may make sense. The current corrections facility site is along Route 29, and serves as a convenient location for people working either in the Trenton, Philadelphia, or Hunterdon County areas. In working with the county government, we could plan ahead, before the site is abandoned, to be completely redeveloped as a community, with both market-rate and affordable housing units.
I know this idea may seem foreign to Democratic leaders in our town, as planning ahead and being proactive is not something they are used to, only considering the same ideas and locations for the last 18 years (they have controlled the township committee for 13 of these years). Sure, there would be hurdles to overcome, perhaps utilizing a land swap of some of our current open space to the county, and letting them have more open space in our town. Would that be an issue for anyone?
One of the reasons I joined in the race to be on the committee is to bring new ideas and vet them with everyone. They may not all work, but it certainly is better than being complacent and solving all our problems with the same answers.
— Luis Nicolao
Nicolao is a Republican candidate for Hopewell Township committee.
Hopewell Township is a place I am proud to call home, but we must work together to make it more affordable.
Let’s start with what we have accomplished over the past two years. By zero-basing the township budget, we reduced operating expenses and brought the tax rate change down from 5.28 percent under Harvey Lester’s leadership to 1.1 percent per year. We not only stayed within NJ’s 2 percent cap, but also delivered spending plans below the rate of inflation. But there’s more work to do.
I am fortunate to be running with Michael Ruger for township committee. He is a proven leader and has worked tirelessly on the finance advisory committee to make government more effective and efficient. Our total municipal spending in 2017 is below what it was in 2015. We have done all this while restoring bulky waste pick-up, rebuilding our public works fleet and absorbing increased costs from unfunded state mandates.
Michael and I each have 25-plus years of experience cutting costs and adhering to financial commitments in the corporate world. We also understand what it means to do more with less, from our roles in the nonprofit world and working with small businesses, including my service as chair of the finance council at St James and work with Ray Disch at Sourland Mountain Spirits.
We will continue a disciplined budgeting process, eliminating unnecessary spending, expanding shared service agreements with Hopewell/Pennington Boroughs and the schools, and returning the proceeds to you.
Finally, we must find new sources of revenue to reduce the burden of residential property taxes. This includes attracting new restaurants, medical offices and small business retailers to Hopewell Township, thereby increasing our ratables. We will achieve this within the township master plan, maintaining open space and preserved farmlands and preventing the extension of sewers into currently pristine areas.
Please allow us to put our experience and detailed financial action plan to work for you and make Hopewell more affordable.
— Kevin D. Kuchinski
Kuchinski is running for re-election to the Hopewell Township Committee.
Entering office, the man in the White House said, “Believe me.”
Seven years earlier, “I’m full of hope for the future” said the man soon departing the New Jersey Statehouse.
Both promised to fix government finances, but promises don’t make a real plan. The federal deficit is $100 billion higher than a year ago. Over seven years, credit agencies pummeled New Jersey state debt, reducing our rating 11 times. Once rated AAA, the gold standard, Moody’s graded recently-issued state bonds Baa1 and warned they “may include speculative characteristics. ”
Now, Hopewell Township Republicans want their turn. The Republicans running for Township Committee promise “conservative fiscal principles.” They promise to “make Hopewell affordable for all.” No plan, no specifics, just promises. Echoing the men in the White House and the Statehouse, they make it sound easy.
It is not easy. I served on the Hopewell Township Committee for five years, in the White House Office of Management and Budget for six years, and on a state budget oversight panel for four years. Local budget decisions are between the things that people need and want, the requirements of federal and state law, and how to pay for it all. Good choices need careful study, listening to the public, full debate, and tough votes.
Democrats Kevin Kuchinski and Michael Ruger helped Hopewell Township make the hard choices to earn our current AAA debt rating, the demonstrated application of conservative fiscal principles. Both are well-informed and dedicated to the work of public service.
— David Sandahl
Sandahl was a member of the Hopewell Township Committee from 2004 to 2009.
We are writing to you today to share our wholehearted support for our friends and candidates for Hopewell Township Committee, Kevin Kuchinski and Michael Ruger.
We use the word “wholehearted” purposefully. Kevin and Michael have the intelligence, financial savvy, determination and most importantly, the heart to protect our township from threats such as the PennEast Pipeline and the outside threats created when finances are mismanaged and community values ignored.
Our families deserve clean water and clean air, and our landowners deserve the right to protect their property from non-localcompanies that would endanger our children’s health to enrich themselves.
Kuchinski and Ruger have consistently fought to keep PennEast out of Hopewell Township. They wrote letters, consulted with local and national leaders, coordinated with environmental groups and attended marches to ensure our land remains safe and unspoiled. Mayor Kuchinski has spearheaded resolutions calling on FERC and other agencies to require Penn East to follow the law and complete all environmental studies before assessing the application. Kuchinski and Ruger understand that Hopewell Township does not want and does not need this pipeline slashing through the heart of our community.
Mayor Kuchinski and Michael Ruger understand that we must carefully manage our finances. If we want parents to stay in the community after their children graduate from our excellent schools, and if we want young adults to be able to move back home so that their children can attend those same schools, we must carefully steward our tax dollars.
Mayor Kuchinski, with the help of Michael Ruger as a member of the finance advisory board, has cut spending to below 2015 levels and paid down our debt. This helps stabilize our finances, all while keeping our municipaltax rate the lowest in Mercer County. Kuchinski and Ruger know that protecting our children’s future means spending wisely today.
Our neighbors tell us that they live here because of Hopewell’s sense of community. This community values the people in it. We have families here who trace their roots to the earliest beginnings of the United States as well as families who have recently arrived from around the world. Kevin Kuchinski and Michael Ruger value the ideas and voices of their friends and neighbors.
— Julie Blake and Kristin McLaughlin
Blake and McLaughlin are members of the Hopewell Township Committee.
School board candidates look forward to serving
As vice president of the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education, I am requesting you to elect me to serve the Valley for a second term. I have had the privilege of serving for the past 3 years as chair and member of the education program, policy, technology and personnel committees, negotiation team, and liaison to Timberlane, Toll Gate and the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance. I have a unique and specific perspective of the successes, challenges and needs of the students and residents in the Valley.
I moved to this community to attend The College of New Jersey in 1991 and graduated with a degree in pre-medical biology. When Mobil’s Environmental and Health Sciences Laboratory left Hopewell, I refused to move with them, instead pursuing graduate studies and my passion for health and wellness as a certified American College of Sports Medicine exercise physiologist, health and wellness coach at PAC, PEAC and my personal training studio.
I respectfully request your vote on Nov. 7 to continue my second term in leadership, along with two-term board member Adam Sawicki and newcomer Darius Matthews.
— Alyce Murray
My family and I moved to Hopewell Township last year because we fell in love with the natural beauty of the area, the camaraderie of the local community, and the region’s excellent public schools. Since I wish to contribute to our community and I believe my professional experience will be helpful in guiding our schools through the challenges of the coming years, I am running for a seat on the HVRSD School Board.
As a father of 3 young children, I have a vested interest in the continued success of our public schools. As a former board member of a K-12 school in New York, I have seen how policy decisions can impact schools, students and their communities. I want to ensure that our school district maintains both the high academic standards and co-curricular activities that allow students to thrive. I believe in encouraging students to be engaged community members who value one another’s differences in a diverse and interconnected world.
I’m proud to share a ticket with Adam Sawicki and Alyce Murray.
— Darius Matthews
I would like to express my appreciation to the League of Women Voters for organizing the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education Candidate’s Forum. The event was held with an atmosphere of respect, thoughtfulness and open dialogue. I hope it was informative to residents.
At the forum, I recognized that I shared complimentary attributes and a common vision for the district’s future with both of the other candidates present. I felt all three of us would help the board provide positive outcomes for the district in a spirit of collaboration and transparency. Together, we would provide a more complete skillsets to thoroughly address complex board challenges.
I have six years of experience on the board. I have been involved in progressing many of the districts key initiatives, including increased AP and honors class access, a homework policy, a 1:1 learning environment, STEM and Performing Arts academies and full-day Kindergarten. I also have knowledge and experience regarding the district’s policies and regulations.
I respectfully ask you to look for Column H at the bottom of the voting ballot on November 7th. Please join me in voting for Alyce Murray (4H), Darius Matthews (1H) and me (2H) for fresh ideas, experience and leadership. I look forward to continuing to serve as a member of an effective, cooperative board of education.
— Adam J. Sawicki, Jr.
(Editor’s note: in their letters to the Express, the school board candidates included many biographical details that readers can find in our coverage of the school board election. Due to space constraints, we could not include these details in both places.
To learn more about all the candidates, including how they responded to our questionnaire, click here.)
Housing settlement tied planning board’s hands
It was worse than I thought. At the planning board meeting on Sept. 28, it was revealed for the first time just how badly the township committee, led by Mayor Kuchinski, failed in its settlement negotiations with the builders of affordable housing, which will result in 3,000 new homes and increase our housing stock by 50 percent in the next 8 years.
The committee was so inept in their negotiations with the builders that, despite the required number of affordable housing units set at 653, we are getting virtually all of the so-called market-rate housing that we would have been forced to accept if the township had lost a builder’s remedy lawsuit. That’s what happens when you don’t fight for our township. You cave in to developers.
Although the committee claimed that its settlement saved us from a court-ordered builders remedy, in reality the township committee created a virtual self-imposed builders remedy. And that’s not all.
The settlement agreement also tied the hands of the planning board by the township committee agreeing to specific design features. For example, the settlement agreement with Woodmont Properties allowed for a maximum building height of 75 feet in 4-story buildings, instead of our typical maximum 35-foot high, two-story residences.
Since the settlement agreement is a done deal, simply awaiting court finality, there is no saving this township from the coming overdevelopment. The committee made our bed and now the public must lie in it. The committee is fond of suggesting that we should “control our own destiny,” and they did so, by shooting themselves in the foot and surrendering to the builders.
— Harvey Lester
Lester is a former mayor of Hopewell Township.
Why is it so hard for Harvey Lester to give Hopewell Township the facts about Affordable Housing?
He fails to note that the current settlement is actually 17 percent better than the one the planning board approved on Oct. 15, 2015, while Lester was mayor and actually sat on the planning board. The township to the courts submitted this same plan later that year as evidence of preliminary compliance, and to preserve our immunity from builders remedy lawsuits. Where was his outrage then?
Instead of spreading misinformation, Mr. Lester needs to acknowledge that the lands now zoned for housing were zoned for commercial building after the township lost a lawsuit in the early 2000’s. Once those lands were sold to builders, development was going to happen.
It is time for Mr. Lester and his fellow Republicans to acknowledge the facts about affordable housing in Hopewell Township. Here are the best facts of all: Hopewell finally has public servants who got ahead of the problem and came up with a better plan than Lester could.
— Bruce Gunther