How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

What it takes to be a freeholder

I'm a Democratic Committeeman in my hometown of West Windsor. In that capacity, I received a letter from Anthony Verrelli, who asked for my support as he is seeking the Freeholder seat currently held by Anthony Carabelli who is retiring.

The Democrats will hold a convention on March 23 to select the party's endorsed candidate. If that candidate is successful in the June primary, he/she will be the party's endorsed candidate in the November election. Nowadays in Mercer County, being the Democratic candidate is tantamount to being elected, although that hasn't always the case.

In the 1980s and 1900s Republicans reigned supreme in Mercer. In 1987, I, along with Joe Bocchini and Shirley Turner, challenged the incumbent Republican team of County Executive Bill Mathesius and Freeholders Paul Kramer and Robert Prunetti. We lost in a highly competitive race – my running mates by less of a margin than me. But things worked out well for all of us. Joe Bocchini served a record two 5-year terms as the county's prosecutor, Shirley Turner has had a long career in the legislature and I found my niche as a consultant to the non-profit sector.

Currently at the county level, the Democrats control the roost. Democrats have compiled huge victories in recent years, suggesting that voters are very satisfied with the quality of county government. A situation like this puts more of a burden on party leaders and county committee people to select high-quality candidates. This is exactly what the party did when it selected Liz Muoio to replace Bonnie Watson-Coleman in the Assembly. They selected someone who is extremely talented and very well-matched to the requirements of the role.

It appears that Mr. Verrelli is eminently qualified to serve as a Freeholder. He has been employed for many years with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and has served for six years as a Commissioner of the Mercer County Improvement Authority. He has also volunteered with various area charities over the years.

Having ran for the office and dealt with the Board of Freeholders on many matters over the years, these are the attributes I put value on when judging Tony Carabelli's replacement:

1. Someone who understands the responsibilities of the various levels of government – local, county, state and the federal. Tony Carabelli, who worked for many years in the N.J. Department of Community Affairs, was knowledgeable with regard to government at all levels. In this regard, service on a local-level legislative body should be viewed as an asset but not required.

2. A person who understands where the various levels of government get their funds. New Jersey has the most inequitable system of financing government services in the nation because of overreliance on property taxes. Potential elected officials need to understand this and be in favor of taking steps to make the system more equitable, regardless of whether they see New Jersey's financial problems as a spending or taxing problem.

3. A candidate who has shown a commitment to community service over the years. Here I would give saliency to serving on volunteer bodies at the municipal or county level and volunteer service with charities. I'd look at the depth of volunteer services and whether it was occasional or a sustained, meaningful commitment.

4. Does the candidate have a job that affords them time to be a freeholder? Will they be available for meetings when necessary during the day, have time to respond to constituent inquiries and be able to attend a lot of meetings?

5. Does the candidate possess the level of intelligence and insight to fulfill all aspects of the role? The candidate's academic credentials are one aspect of this, but not the only indicator of the ability to think strategically.

6. Has the candidate demonstrated the ability to stand up for what he/she believes in – to buck the system, if necessary? Tony Carabelli has said he was most proud of the vote he cast as freeholder against plans to locate an incinerator in Trenton. His vote came in spite of great pressure from certain constituents.

7. Has the candidate demonstrated that he/she the kind of vision that motivated Dick Coffee to create our county's outstanding park system?

8. Mercer County is a diverse county with an urban core and various outer ring suburban communities. Does the candidate understand the interplay between urban and suburban issues?

9. Does the person understand politics – have they labored in the vineyards of party politics? I'm not an advocate of only considering diehard party loyalists as candidates, but government and politics are integrally related. Understanding the art of politics enhances one's ability to be an effective elected official as long one does not put politics or political favoritism above honesty and integrity.

While I do not feel there should be a litmus test for any political office, I think both political parties in Mercer County should aggressively seek out Hispanics and Asians who have the attributes set forth above to run for county-wide offices in the near future. These groups now constitute almost a quarter of Mercer County's populations. Their time has come.