HIGHLANDS – “I want the people of Highlands to have on council someone they have eaten, drank and spoken to, someone accessible, someone transparent. That’s why I am running for Borough Council.”
So said Kevin Leon Martin, first time candidate for office in the November election, seeking the one-year term currently held by Cody Valkos, also seeking election to the post for another year. Valkos was appointed in January to fill a vacancy until the November election.
In response to a number of questions posed by the Atlantic Highlands Herald to both candidates, Martin, a four year resident, listed his reasons for running and what he hopes to accomplish as a member of the governing body.
Martin said in a town of 3500, everyone is “basically your neighbor.” On his frequent walks through town, sitting in the corner of his favorite bar, the Chubby Pickle, or attending events in the borough, the candidate said he listens to the people around him and has learned a lot.
“Most are hardworking, blue collar folks who get by day-to-day and paycheck-to-paycheck, “ Martin said. “What I hear is confusion, frustration and fear in terms of the direction of the town. Some felt they have very little understanding of what the council is or does.” He wants to change that.
Running on a slogan of “Build Upon The Past” , Martin said it means he wants to pay homage to the people who built the foundation of the town that has come through depressions, world wars, recessions, pandemics and superstorms .”Without those people, Highlands doesn’t exist. While I want to be the first person to lead the charge into the future , I want to make sure that these people who broke their backs for the safety and sake of the town are not a forgotten part of this forward progress. “
The candidate also said residents have told him the town is changing, local leaders are leaving them behind, and not preparing the community for the future. Everyone he speaks with, he said, “felt like the council as it stands has forgotten about the ground level people who make up the fabric of this town and decided that bickering was a more prudent use of time .” He hopes to change that by being accessible and transparent and giving people a council member they meet in a casual as well as social manner. “Couple that with my love of history with the town and running is a no brainer for me.”
A native of New Jersey, and a former professional European basketball player who was interested in both art and athleticism attending Columbia High School in Maplewood, Martin said his attention to detail and strong work ethic make him an ideal candidate for any leadership position. He said he is currently at the forefront of indie film making and is an award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker and photographer, experiences he will use together with his travels and living in other countries and cultures that give him inspiration for creativity and a common ground for interacting with everyday people.
As a one year councilmember, Martin said he would like to use that time cutting through the red tape and nonsense that has slowed progress. At the same time he wants to respect the residents who helped build it, bring more businesses into town which will then bring the benefits in the form of lower taxes, and infrastructure Improvements.
The biggest challenge he feels he will face in accomplishing his goals is the conflict between progress and change. “There is a large swath of people who don’t think anything has to change. That is untrue and as councilman my job is to show the benefits of being a part of that change. I imagine that will be an uphill battle, but it’s a challenge I relish to take on,” Martin said.
While the battle to accomplish his goals will be difficult, “serving the people directly in a transparent, understandable way while working together with people with whom I might ideologically differ will be the easiest part of being on council,” Martin continued. “I will make decisions for the town that help the majority of the town. I stress ‘majority’ because it’s impossible to make everyone happy. But I will do my best to make sure that we are all on the same boat going in the same direction and work it out from there.”
Martin, who rents an apartment on S. Bay Ave. said, while he has only lived here four years, he has been coming to the borough through family ties for 20 years, and until moving here four years ago, had last been here previously right after Hurricane Sandy because of his basketball career in Europe. Yet, he said, “eight or so years later somehow between living in Europe, South America, Vegas and Florida I managed to find Highlands again.”
A recently registered independent voter, Martin also said he would be in favor of continuing the current policy of no council member receiving a stipend for serving on the governing body, at least until “the town is at a point where that compensation would not take away from what could be used for the town in an obvious way. There are general improvements, and some major ones, that need to be made before anybody on Council gets paid to serve the community and build it up. I think that’s pretty fair.”
The candidate is single and does not own any property. He believes he would be a productive councilman who listens, understands, stands on his own two feet, has his own ideas has no agenda other than “Highlands . The town is my agenda.”