If either of the two were successful, it would mark the first time a Democrat has ever served on the Township Committee in at least the past 45 years.
The two, Kate Barry and Rhonda Allen, are vying against GOP incumbents Chris Yates, the current mayor, and Committeeman Dev Modi in the Tuesday, Nov. 7 general election.
Barry is the daughter of long-time GOP leader, Jim Barry, a former state Assemblyman who also worked for the Kean Administration as director of consumer affairs. He also chaired the local Harding GOP party at one time.
“I’ve always been interested in politics, even in college,” Barry said during an interview on Monday, Sept. 18. She attended the College of Charleston, located in Charleston, S.C., and received a master’s degree in environmental development from the University College London.
“But, this is my home. I love it here,” she said. “I’ve lived in several different countries, mostly in London.”
Barry lives with her husband, Zac, and her parents on Meyersville Road.
She went through the Harding school system and attended Gill St. Bernard’s School in Peapack-Gladstone. She was born in Morristown, and described herself as “hyper local.”
When the opportunity arose to run for the Township Committee, she said she simply couldn’t pass it up.
“It’s always something I had in the back of my mind. There are rarely Democrats even on the ballot in Harding, and I have been very aware of that,” she said. “It’s disheartening not to even see a Democrat on the ballot. I never thought I’d run for a local office, but since the Harding Democrats have become more active, I was happy to get involved.”
In college, she was a member of the student government, where she played a part in drafting bills and arguing for and against them. Now employed as a real estate agent, Barry said many decisions and issues tackled by the local government are imperative.
In Harding, she said, protecting the environment is not a partisan issue.
“It’s non-partisan here, but I think my background can only help. I’d like to keep an eye on the environment and we can go well beyond what is being done now,” she said.
“Having 100 percent Republican control at the local level is unacceptable to me. We need a different perspective and backgrounds. We need some diversity. It’s time for moderates, independents and Democrats to come out of hiding.”
Allen, a clinical psychologist, said serving on the Township Committee allows one to help “make your town run the way you want it to” and said that right now, the environment does not seem to be a priority with either the federal or the state governments.
Allen and her husband, Peter, who reside on Deer Ridge Drive, have lived in the township since 1990. They have two children, both of whom went through the township school district.
She said she decided to run because having entirely GOP representation is unacceptable because it contributes to “group think,” where nobody wants to speak up and voice differing opinions.
Both candidates agreed one of the major issues in town is divesting the township of the costs associated with owning the Glen Alpin mansion on Tempe Wick Road.
“It’s a little scary. I don’t know the total numbers that have been spent on it. I know the new roof was almost $1 million,” Allen said.
She said the total agreement by the committee and all involved with the “diversion” process was an example of “group think.” The process, if approved by the state, would allow the township to essentially swap the Glen Alpin property for other open space parcels, decreasing some of the restrictions on Glen Alpin and hopefully, making it more marketable, rentable or able to be leased.
“Who is going to buy it? And at what price? Are we just going to wind up giving it away? Are we going to sell it for $10,000? Are we going to demolish it?” Allen said.
“We are a town of experts. We have a lot of very educated people in town and we should try to utilize them more. We have untapped talent.”
She said she would favor “looking at the numbers.”
“We own it (Glen Alpin), but we can’t keep putting money into it. I’m not privy to all the information. On paper, diversion sounds good, but what is plan B?” she said.
Barry said the property would likely bring with it serious prohibitive issues, like limited or no parking and an inadequate septic system.
The township purchased the mansion a decade ago, and has since been trying to find a tenant or sell the property. Meanwhile, the township has been paying for maintenance costs and undertook some repairs, like the replacement of the roof for nearly $1 million.
“I love history and historic places and architecture, but where do you draw the line?” Allen said. “What is the larger purpose here? It’s not an easy issue.”
Both candidates favor placing the issue on a referendum, so all residents can vote on options to deal with the Glen Alpin issue.
“We have a large responsibility to the whole township to behave fiscally responsible, and take all of the needs into consideration,” Allen said.
Both said they favor more transparency, more open dialogue with other groups and bodies in town like the local Board of Education and the zoning board.
Allen said that both she and Barry would bring fresh backgrounds to the committee.
Barry said her background in real estate and the environment could bring some new ideas to the forefront.
Both said they would pursue sharing a salt dome to store road salt with other communities instead of building another one.
The matter has been recently discussed by the Township Committee and only Committeman Nic Platt seems to favor sharing with another community.
“If it makes sense, I don’t know why we wouldn’t want to follow up with that,” Barry said.
Allen said the township has many private roads, where salting and plowing is handled by the homeowners.
“Why re-invent the wheel? Share the salt dome. Sharing the municipal court is working fine,” she said.
Barry said the township also shares a high school with Madison very successfully.
“We should consider these good experiences as evidence that we could do more,” she said. “Even if it’s small, if it makes sense, pursue it, or at least have a dialogue.”
Barry said she does not expect to simply vote ‘’no” on day-to-day issues because she is a minority Democrat.
“We want what’s best for the town. We will probably be in agreement on most of the day-to-day issues, but we will bring a new perspective,” she said.
On the construction of proposed cell towers in town, both said there were more commercial options, along Route 287, that were not explored thoroughly.
Both said improved cell service is essential in town.
“That can make it very hard to sell homes. We have had buyers back out of buying a home in Harding due to the lack of sell service,” Barry said.