ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ – Voters in Atlantic Highlands have a choice of six candidates for two borough council seats in the November 2 General Election. The election will determine who will fill the slots currently held by a Republican and a Democrat. There are two Republicans, two Democrats, and a husband and wife team running as Independents on Bring Back Balance banner, all vying for a three year term of office.
All the candidates have been very responsive to surveys and questionnaires this campaign season. Resident Mark Fisher, a prominent figure at monthly Council meetings and chairman of the borough’s Parking Committee, distributed a detailed questionnaire to the candidates in August. Their responses highlighted issues facing the borough, like the acquisition of the former Mother Teresa School (aka St. Agnes School), Cannabis business licencing, harbor expansion, and more. The Atlantic Highlands Herald also individually surveyed the candidates earlier this month about their reasons for running for office and what their top priorities will be if elected.
Now, three teen-aged leaders have asked the candidates about how their personal values align with the pledge signed by members of the group, Atlantic Highlands for Equity and Justice. The group led a Families Against Racism march through town last year and held a rally at the gazebo in the municipal harbor led by Zosia Bowbliss, Eliza Chiles, and Allysun Zydel.
The following is the email sent by Atlantic Highlands for Equity and Justice and the responses from the candidate:
EMAIL TO CANDIDATES
Thank you for being willing to serve the people of Atlantic Highlands by running for election to Borough Council.
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We are students, residents of Atlantic Highlands, and members of the group Atlantic Highlands for Equity and Justice, which is asking people to sign the following pledge:
I am a member of the Atlantic Highlands community, and I am committed to understanding the way racism functions in our society and to dismantling it wherever it exists. I will not be a bystander. I pledge to be an active ally: supportive, affirming, empathetic, and compassionate. I will seek to understand others, as their life experiences are different from mine. I pledge to act with heart and courage to create a community in which the humanity and dignity of every person is nurtured.
So far more than 250 people have signed the pledge (you may have seen the purple signs around town) and we would like to invite you to sign it as well if you have not already. (here is the link to sign: bit.ly/ahpledge )
In addition we have a short questionnaire for you
1) Did you sign the pledge? Why or why not?
2) If elected, how do you plan to demonstrate the values expressed by the pledge?
Kindly reply to this email with your answers by Monday, October 18. We will then share your answers with the members of our group and with the 250+ Atlantic Highlands residents who have signed the pledge so far.
Zosia Bowbliss, 10th grade
Eliza Chiles, 8th grade
Allysun Zydel, 10th grade
Reply from Zack Brown
Good Afternoon Zoisa, Eliza, and Allysun,
First and foremost, I apologize for my delayed response. Your messages were indeed caught in my spam folder, but after receiving a separate email this afternoon, I was able to retrieve the message, and I welcome the opportunity to share my thoughts with you all.
I would like to begin by thanking you for your participation and interest in our local elections. As one half of the youngest ticket in the race, I am uniquely positioned to speak on the importance of having young people be engaged and involved in our town government.
Diversity is extremely important to me. Having a variety of views from people of different races, creeds, socioeconomic backgrounds and ages is imperative to the proper functioning of a democracy. For those reasons and more I applaud your involvement, and I will proudly tell you that I have signed the pledge. I know that my wife and running mate Morgan Spicer signed the pledge months ago, and as a result of her actions we have been the only house on our block to proudly display the sign indicating our participation.
While I do applaud the efforts of those involved with this pledge, I live my life the same way with or without the pledge. I believe in The Golden Rule above all else. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. If we are fortunate enough to be elected to Atlantic Highlands Borough Council, we will continue to demonstrate the values expressed by the pledge by treating everyone with respect, and kindness.
Far too often in our fractious divided world, people are painted as our enemies. Whichever side of the ideological divide you find yourself on, there will be plenty of people telling you that the other side is your enemy. That you have more to fear from your neighbor down the street than you do from the external forces who benefit by stoking division and animosity amongst The People.
We all must remember that, especially in a town as small as Atlantic Highlands, at the end of the day we are all neighbors. We are all members of a community, and we share this space. The things that unite us are so much more meaningful than the things that divide us. Our entire campaign is built around this idea. You will never hear any negative attacks from either me or Morgan. We are here to lift up all of Atlantic Highlands, and ensure that the least fortunate among us are not just having their basic needs met, although that would be a good start. Talent is evenly distributed across all of humanity, but opportunity is not. We are here to remind people that if we ALL work together, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.
Thank you again for your participation in our election, and I am grateful for the opportunity to address your group. I wish you all the best, and I look forward to seeing some of your names on a ballot someday.
Reply from Lesley D’Almeida**
Dear Zosia, Eliza and Allysun,
I proudly signed the pledge and prominently displayed the sign in my yard. I signed it because its not enough to not be racist, we have to be anti-racist. In addition as a Black woman and resident of Atlantic Highlands, it means alot to see the signs displayed around town as a counter to other signs that invoke the opposite feelings of inclusion and acceptance. Kudos to you all for doing this.
If I am fortunate enough to get elected and represent the people of Atlantic Highlands on the council I will ensure that there is a broad spectrum of understanding so that when decisions are made on the council they reflect our entire community. I will aim to:
- Amplify and highlight diverse stories from within your community
- Work with fellow community leaders and groups to share our diverse perspectives
- Increase representation on various committees and perhaps even create a Diversity & Equity borough committee
- Acknowledge holidays of all cultures
- Communicate the importance of managing bias
Thank you for being brave and courageous and leading the way.
Reply from Brian Dougherty
Dear Zosia, Eliza and Allysun,
Thank you for your email and for all your work to make Atlantic Highlands a more equitable and just community. I’m so proud of you and your leadership! You are truly showing we adults the way forward.
I’m happy to answer your questions.
1. I was delighted to sign the pledge. If I recall correctly, I was one of the first signatories on the document. My family and I proudly display one of your awesome purple signs in our front yard on Center Avenue.2. As a member of Council, the first thing I will do to demonstrate the values expressed by the pledge is insist on more diverse representation on borough committees. Committee members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by vote of the council. On the Planning Board, one of the most influential committees in town, there is only one woman and no non-white members. This is completely unacceptable. At the reorganization meeting on January 1, 2022, I will not vote to confirm committee membership unless there is significantly more diverse representation. When Lesley D’Almeida and I win the two seats up on November 2nd, we’ll have the votes to make sure our borough committees are much more diverse.
I also believe we need to increase participation in our local government and give members of the public more opportunities to be heard. To do this, I propose hosting an annual Atlantic Highlands Goals and Priorities meeting. Each January, I suggest the mayor, members of Council, the borough administrator, chairpersons of each of the borough committees and stakeholders from throughout the community meet to discuss the year ahead and outline initiatives and events for the town writ large. I hope Mayor Gluckstein and the other members of Council see the value in this proposal and agree to schedule it early in 2022. When it happens, I hope you and other members of Atlantic Highlands for Equity and Justice will participate.Beyond my work on Council, my wife Erin and I are deeply committed to raising our three children – Sloane, Piper and Beckett – to be supportive, affirming, empathetic, and compassionate individuals.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your questions. Please keep up the great work you’re doing. If there is anything I can do to help – both as a citizen of Atlantic Highlands and, hopefully, as a member of Atlantic Highland Borough Council – please don’t hesitate to reach out.
With my very best wishes,
Reply from Jim Murphy
Hello Zosia, Eliza, and Allysun,
Thank you again for reaching out and for more importantly standing up for social injustices. Earlier this year, I had stopped by and spoke briefly with Eliza and her parents about the pledge. We were supposed to set something up with all three of you young ladies to discuss the pledge, what led you to begin this and more about what you look to accomplish through it. Unfortunately, nothing has come to fruition yet, but I look forward to sitting down with all of you to learn more about what you are doing, and what problems and issues you have seen first hand in our community.
If you have availability within the next few weeks, please let me know.
Keep standing up for what you believe in and I look forward to learning more.
Reply from Morgan Spicer:
Hi Zosia, Eliza, and Allysun,
It did go to my spam! I am sorry about that, just seeing this now. Thank you all so much for your civic engagement, I am so impressed and hopeful knowing that such courageous and clever young people live here in Atlantic Highlands.
1.) Yes, I did sign the pledge many months back! I did not even need to think about it really, being against bullying and hate is a lifelong goal of mine. Between my Jewish heritage and my vegan lifestyle, I believe kindness, compassion and empathy is paramount. As we face these tough times, we should all have the grace to be patient, more understanding, and open minded towards all others.
2.) If I am fortunate enough to serve Atlantic Highlands on the Borough Council, I would always be looking for ways to grow and be better through working with and responding to the needs of the people of this community. I will treat others how I would want to be treated. I would listen to the concerns of those around me, regardless if I understand or agree. I would admit if I am wrong or need to learn more, and be receptive to the feedback from others, I would strive not to take things personally, but instead as an opportunity to improve and become a better ally. As an ethical vegan, I believe ALL life has inherent value and that no life is more important or any less important than anyone else’s. I would certainly also be looking to, and listening to young leaders, such as yourselves, as you’ve shown so much boldness and compassion already. I would love to see more messages of love, hope, and solidarity throughout our community. If elected, I would want to do all that I can to empower local artists to create beautiful and original murals and imagery that will promote these important values and hopefully bring pride to the residents of Atlantic Highlands.
Thank you, please let me know if you have any more questions or concerns.
Reply from Ellen O’Dwyer-Woods
Hello Zosia, Eliza, and Allysun,
I’m encouraged and happy to see our youth involved in civic engagement.
I am anti-racist. Born into an ethnically mixed family during the Vietnam War era, I was subjected to bullying, anti-Asian verbal abuse, and physical violence in school by those defining me as other. I suffered the physical and emotional pain of it. My Korean mother called it prejudice, and my Irish American father explained it came from ignorance. They taught me to stand up not only for myself but for others around me who were also discriminated against for being different. To this day, as a mother, grandmother, neighbor, friend, volunteer, Army Veteran—frankly, in every life role—I stay true to my core belief that there is no place in our society for discrimination.
I pledge to support programs and initiatives that improve our community and look forward to seeing how you all turn the words into an action plan. Know that I will support projects that problem-solve any issue to the betterment of the community and fairness for all of its residents.
**Note: Lesley D’Almeida is a founding member of Atlantic Highlands for Equity and Justice and has been a leader in our community pledge outreach. She had no involvement in drafting or organizing this questionnaire for candidates and was kept separate from the group discussions and decisions on this effort.