Deborah Blakely has always been active in Robbinsville Township. Serving as a member of the municipal government felt like the next logical step. She just had to clear it with her daughters.
Blakely was sworn in as a township councilwoman Jan. 7, filling the unexpired seat vacated by Dan Schuberth, who resigned in December prior to a move to Washington, D.C. She was selected by her peers on council.
“It just kind of came about,” she said. “Dan and Natalie (Schuberth), I consider them good friends. When the word came out that he was leaving town and resigning, I thought, like everyone else, ‘What a loss to all of us.’ One thing that kept going through my mind was, ‘Who’s going to replace him?’”
Her next thought was “Why not me?”
“All the great things he had to offer, I thought, I can do that, too,” she said. “I talked to my girls, who are a huge part of my life. Obviously, I didn’t want to take time away from them. We talked, and reasons just kept coming up—the importance of giving back, the importance of serving. I try to teach my girls that we have these incredible gifts that God gives you. Do something with it.”
Her daughters, Brielle and Maggie, were immediately on board. They encouraged Blakely to go for the open seat, so she did.
“When I sent in my paperwork, I never thought they would appoint me,” she said. “I’m so excited to see what happens during my time on council.”
Blakely and her daughters are active around the township—they’re involved with Ability Tree, ONE Project, Be Kind, Good Grief. She’s dedicated to environmental stewardship and enjoys getting to know people.
It’s those qualities that make Blakely an ideal councilmember, said Mayor Dave Fried in a statement.
“I am very proud that Debbie has agreed to serve as a member of our council,” he said. “I have known Debbie for many years. She is thoughtful, caring and highly respected in the Robbinsville community. She will be a great addition to council. I am also very encouraged that so many residents expressed interest and were willing to serve on the governing body. We are who we are in Robbinsville because of the willingness of so many to volunteer and serve others.”
Blakely has worked closely with the township in the past. Her husband, Tom, passed away in 2008 after collapsing during a 5K race. He was a prominent political consultant, member of the township zoning board and United States Marine Corps veteran, and she wanted to keep his memory alive—not only for the township, but for their girls, as well, who were only 3 and 1 when he died.
Blakely and the township channeled Tom’s love of sports and dedicated Blakely Park on Meadowbrook Road in his honor in 2011. The family still uses the park often.
“I’ll always be grateful to the town for that park,” she said. “I feel like it’s just another reason to give back to this place.”
That’s part of why Maggie and Brielle were so on board when Blakely decided to apply for the council vacancy.
“When I told them that Dan was leaving, I said, ‘Somebody is going to have to fill those huge shoes. I think I might be able to do this,’” she said. “Hands down, they were like, ‘Yes, yes, you have to do this.’ For years, I’ve been ‘Mom.’ My world is focused on my girls. It will always be that way. I’ve tried to instill in them that we can reach our goals, that we’re strong women. I think it’s so important for them to see me in this role as a strong woman who is giving back. They were so happy the night I told them. I’m their biggest cheerleader, and they’re mine, as well.”
Right now, Blakely said she’s ready to further the council’s plans and focus on things like fiscal responsibility, supporting the environment and preserving open space. She’s especially looking forward to working toward beefing up the Foxmoor Shopping Center again.
“I’m focused on getting the local economy back on its feet as we continue through this horrible pandemic,” she said.
The former Miry Run property is another focus, she said. The township set a preemptive plan for the space at a Dec. 3 council meeting—it includes a community recreation facility, picnic area, nesting habitat, community gardens and more.
The plan is the result of a few years’ worth of community outreach, including a virtual suggestion box instituted last year.
“It sounds incredible,” Blakely said. “There’s so much there that can be offered to the community. Activities for the youth, walking paths—I think they’re just kind of trying to tweak things right now. It’s so exciting. I really care so much about our youth. We already have wonderful recreational programs. The school system is incredible. Just continuing along with those projects would be fantastic.”
Blakely graduated from Trenton State College and earned a master’s from Saint John’s University. She’s worked for Mercer County Special Services as a speech and language pathologist since 1996, and she specializes in early childhood communication disorders.
“I feel like I just wear different hats,” she said. “One thing I say about myself is that I give 100 percent in whatever I do, whether that’s with my family or my little preschoolers at work. I know I’m going to give 100 percent to the community in this role, too.”
And she’s ready to get to governing, she said.
“I guess anything new brings on the nerves,” Blakely said. “But I think when you’re nervous, it’s because you care. I’m excited to jump right in and have input. I feel like our community is so caring and wonderful. We really rally together in times of tragedy, and we can celebrate each other’s accomplishments. I’ve met so many wonderful people in this town. I think that’s going to be an asset.”