Our neighborhood has changed dramatically in the last few years, as houses have sold and younger families have moved in. The cul-de-sacs are once again filled with wagons, toys, tricycles and the sounds of children playing. The joyous sounds of unstructured playtime drift my way in the late afternoon, reminding me of when my boys were young, shooting hoops out front or organizing the other kids for a pre-dusk game of "jail break."
Games from my childhood are lost now: Mother May I?, Freeze Tag, Red Light/Green Light, even Jacks and jump rope have been stashed in the past. One game lives on, though: rock, paper, scissors. I was thinking about this the other day, reminding myself that paper covers rock, rock trumps scissors, scissors cut paper, and so on, because no matter how many times I've played that game, I have to repeat that mantra over and over again to remember what does what and to which.
This simple game popped into my mind last week when thinking about the upcoming town council race: Does beauty trump experience, or does age trump beauty? Does youthful exuberance top a willingness to serve? I sat down with Mark Hines recently, to get a feel for the Democratic ticket, and to find out why he has taken a lot of heat over the campaign to save Open Space funds for, well, open space.
It wasn't until I started writing for Patch in 2011 that I began attending town council meetings. Greg Newcomer has been a mustachioed presence "in the cheap seats" for 18 years, Mark Hines for at least five. From the outset, Mark and Greg were both very vocal about the use (or abuse) of Open Space funds. Although council rescinded the resolution to use that money for the fields project, it is important to note the Democrats were the ones who fought that hard and unpopular battle from the beginning.
Mark Hines has taken it on the chin from many anonymous commenters on Patch, so I felt it was important to find out why. Why is he running? Why has he been singled out as being divisive? How can he and the Democrats help fix what is ailing Moorestown?
Mark Hines and his lovely wife Elizabeth Endres have lived with their two children in Moorestown for 17 years. Both are food scientists from the Midwest who came east for their careers and decided Moorestown was the perfect place to raise their young family. Both Mark and Elizabeth are activists. They are involved in their church, they're active at Sunnybrook and Mark sits on the board of MEND. When they didn't like where town council was going with its stubborn campaign to use Open Space funds for field improvements, they created Moorestown Save Open Space (MSOS).
MSOS sought to inform council as to how Mo'town citizens really wanted their tax dollars used: for passive recreation, not artificial turf. Almost 1,500 citizens signed the MSOS petition, which was then rejected by solicitor Tom Coleman over a technicality. I find this ironic, in retrospect, considering the questionable advice he has given council over the past several years and through several lawsuits.
Undaunted, Mark has been moving forward in his quest to bring a different kind of leadership to our town by running for town council. This is not his first run, and I get the feeling that, should he not be elected, it will not be his last. This is someone who, along with his running mates, has strong opinions and is not afraid to voice them.
"Yes," he said to me, "it IS bothersome to read comments on Patch that call me a liar or divisive. These are people that don't really know me and don't know how deeply involved I am in getting Moorestown back on track."
I asked him to comment on the Republicans running for council: "I believe that it's fair to challenge sitting council members on their record, but none of us (Democrats) will entertain any character assassination of the Napolitano-Garwood-Palko ticket. They're good people."
So if the Republicans are "good people" and the Democrats are "good people," how can the voters decide which "good people" to vote for?
"Look," Mark said to me, "we are committed to building a consensus here in town. That means people from both parties, working together for the common good of Moorestown. We've worked with (council members) Chris (Chiacchio) and Stacey (Jordan) outside of town council. We'd like to work with them as part of a town council that sets aside party affiliations and works together on healing our town. When there is a consensus, maybe nobody gets exactly what they want, but we all get something."
When I asked if there would be a Democrat-Republican debate, he said the Dems would be more than willing, but there seems to be "reluctance" from the Republicans at this time. So, what are the Democrats cooking up? How does their platform differ from the Republicans?
"First of all, economic development is clearly an issue. We have specific plans for Main Street, as well as Lenola. We would love to have a 'Main Street manager,' someone whose job it is to create a climate conducive to growth," Mark said. "We're thinking that maybe 1-2 percent of the liquor license revenue could be used to salary a Main Street manager for a two-year contract. There has to be a pro-business attitude and smarter parking solutions. It has worked for Haddonfield and Collingswood; it could work for all the commercials districts of Moorestown as well."
Having been on the library board for two years, Mark and his running mates are true, card-carrying believers in the concept of a town library. "The library can be used by every single citizen of this town," he averred. "It is an intellectual and physical sanctuary that is critical to the health of our community."
When asked if the library should be responsible for fundraising, he opined that "raising funds is a nice gesture, but the library shouldn't be held hostage to raising funds for a new building."
Candidates on both sides are to be commended on running for public office. It is a time-consuming, stressful, and mostly thankless job. How fortunate we are to have six citizens willing to thrown their hats in the ring.
"I stand for what I believe in," Mark told me in closing. Surely, as voters, we should be doing the same.