It may be overstating the obvious, but the job of any political candidate is to convey who they are to the voting public.
, the three Republican candidates for council—Victoria Napolitano, Phil Garwood and Pete Palko—have their work cut out for them in that regard.
“, the more challenging it is for any individual in the race to define who they are,” said Napolitano. “That’s the most important thing for us, and always was even when there were fewer people in the race. Our campaign is about letting people know who we are and what we want to do … Because then if they elect us into office, that to me says, ‘We like the way you’re thinking.’”
Of course, most people will judge just who a candidate is based primarily on where that candidate stands on the issues. As , the Republican candidates arrive, for better or worse, with clean slates.
Though as much as their campaign is about telling potential constituents who they are and where they stand, the GOP candidates said they’re placing an equal emphasis on listening—both as candidates and council members.
“You listen to the people, you listen to your advisory committees, you listen to your professionals,” said Garwood, a 20-year resident who served eight years on the Recreation Advisory Committee. “We have to listen to people, give people the right to stand up at meetings and have their say.”
It’s not about agreeing all the time either, said Napolitano, who is “just shy of 24” and holds a master’s in education. “It’s very important to me that people feel we respect their opinions … There are lots of people, they don’t feel like they’re being heard. Whether or not they’re being agreed with, they feel like they’ve been tuned out.”
The tricky part for any elected official is making sure you’re not listening to just the same people over and over again.
It’s a challenge, said Palko, a longtime volunteer and CEO of a local environmental construction firm, because “we definitely have a vocal minority, and it doesn’t necessarily share the views of the silent majority. Our job … is obviously to be out there in the public as often as possible, be attending various meetings. The things we’re doing as candidates (meeting people) are the same things we should be doing as council members.”
In a recent sit-down with Moorestown Patch, the candidates talked about their goals (both general and specific), which include preserving Moorestown’s character and heritage and being fiscally responsible.
Here’s where the Republican candidates stand on some of the major issues facing the township:
The Republicans have made made no bones about where they stand on the issue of spending money from the Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund: Save it for the acquisition and maintenance of land, not for capital improvements (i.e. the athletic fields projects). It’s right there on their website.
But Palko, who has served as commissioner of Moorestown Youth Flag Football and a baseball and hockey coach, didn’t dismiss the township’s responsibility to support recreation.
“I’m certainly pro-fields, pro-athletics, and I believe that the folks that are extremely passionate about that have good reason to be,” he said.
Palko discussed the idea of creating a “fields coordinator” position: someone who could organize a schedule for the many and varied athletic clubs in town to use the fields, a job currently being handled by the .
“This is purely from an athletic viewpoint, one of the biggest challenges in Moorestown is you have so many kids that are involved in so many programs and there’s so many conflicts and it creates so much stress,” he said.
Palko suggested a fields coordinator could be subsidized with contributions from the clubs, or taken care of simply with technology, rather than having to create a whole new position.
The candidates were iffy on the prospect of a downtown manager,.
“It’s difficult to add that additional cost without knowing the benefit,” said Palko. “You’d hate to have a planning coordinator put into play and an increased overhead cost to the town and the first thing they tell us after week two is, ‘Well, there’s really not a whole lot I can do because of these three reasons,’ when we can do that ourselves prior to making that decision.”
He said the business districts in town need to be marketed based on their individual strengths. Downtown can’t be sold as an alternative to the Centerton Square shopping center, Palko said, but maybe as a “quaint area where you want to stroll through shops, get lunch, get dinner.”
Napolitano said she has a soft spot for the Lenola area, since it’s her “backyard … I think sometimes it does fall by the wayside.”
Garwood, reiterating his pledge to listen and learn, mentioned the Moorestown Business Association as a valuable resource for furthering economic development.
"Again, it’s going back to your community, listening to your community, and seeing what their ideas are," he said.
Napolitano, a software instructor for a local company, said she has an aptitude for technology and would like to use that knowledge to better the township.
“I’d really like to make sure our technological infrastructure in town is the best it can be, because that’s a really good place for a town to save money and time,” she said, and also suggested the possibility of using various tools—the township website, Twitter—to “open up more avenues of communication with the public.”
“There is a lot of stuff that is Greek to your average person that goes into running a town,” said Napolitano. “It’s challenging for anyone to understand. Hopefully I can use my skills as a communicator to make it English for the average person.”
Speaking of infrastructure, Palko and Garwood said they’d like to create a plan for addressing the township’s physical infrastructure needs—capital improvements to water and sewer systems in particular.
“A $1.5 million turf field is going to be pennies compared to a 10 or 15 or 20 million dollar infrastructure development,” Palko said. "It's something we need to plan for now."
To learn more about the candidates, visit their website gnp2012.com.