Incumbent Democratic candidates, Committeeman Kevin Kuchinski and Deputy Mayor Michael Ruger, are the only candidates vying for two open seats on the Hopewell Township Committee in the upcoming general election.
The seats are for two three-year terms on the committee.
Republican candidates Edward Jackowski and Kevin Johnson have withdrawn from the Nov. 3 general election and no other Republican candidates have filed a nominating petition to replace them. In addition, no other candidates have also filed a petition to seek one of the township committee seats.
Kuchinski has served on the committee since 2014, including being mayor from 2016-18. He lives in Elm Ridge Park, with his wife and children.
Kuchinski currently is managing partner and COO at Princeton Partners, a consulting and strategic marketing firm working with companies to innovate and deliver out-sized revenue and profit growth. Since 2016, he has worked closely with Ray Disch on the launch of Sourland Mountain Spirits.
Prior to this, he was vice president of marketing at Church and Dwight, leading a $1 billion division. Kuchinski also worked at P&G, with assignments in the United States and Belgium, including the global launch of Swiffer. In 2000, he was recognized by Advertising Age as one of the Top 100 Marketers of the Year.
He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Duke University. Kuchinski has a passion for giving back to the community, and serves on the Board of New Jersey Conservation Foundation and as co-chair of the advisory board for the Watershed Institute. Additionally, he serves on the board of the American Red Cross New Jersey, is vice president of the Hopewell Valley Education Foundation and is chair of the St. James Finance Council.
Ruger has lived in Hopewell Township since 1998. He lives in the house that his wife grew up in. Ruger was born and raised in suburban Philadelphia and graduated from Penn State with degrees in political science and psychology, then received his law degree from Georgetown University.
He had spent six years working at the Federal Communications Commission followed by four years at a law firm before moving to Hopewell Township. Ruger is currently vice president of Government Affairs at Comcast.
Elected to the Hopewell Township Committee in 2017, he has served as deputy mayor since 2019. Ruger is the township liaison to Public Works, the Agricultural Advisory Committee, the Open Space Advisory Committee and the Citizens’ Equity Advisory Committee. He has also been township liaison to the environmental commission and the police department.
Ruger and his wife have three children: a 22-year-old geologist, and twins who are sophomores at Hopewell Valley Central High School.
In addition to serving on the committee, he is on the board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Mercer County and a member of the Penn State Department of Political Science Board of Visitors.
In order to provide candidates with an equitable platform to discuss their plans for the township committee, both were given the same questions and the same amount of space for their responses.
Why are you running for a seat on the Township Committee?
Kuchinski: We have accomplished a lot during my time on the Township Committee – lowering the average tax rate increase from 6.3% in 2013-15 to 2% this past year, working to protect the environment, including the preservation of Mt Rose, Woosamonsa Ridge and the Hopewell Valley Golf Course, and fighting nonstop to block the PennEast pipeline.
I will continue the fight to keep Hopewell Township green and affordable. First, we have an opportunity to use PILOT monies to retire the township’s debt, eliminating interest and principal payments which currently account for about 25% of township spending. We also must work to reduce our reliance on residential property taxes by bringing the right corporate tenants to the current BMS site, attracting new small businesses to the Valley and increasing tourism.
On the environment, we will continue to protect Hopewell Township’s rural character. This includes limiting new development to existing sewer service areas and parcels adjacent to 295. Additionally, we must enforce the strong environmental protections in our existing ordinances and expand our walking and biking trail network. It has been a great honor to serve the residents of Hopewell Township and I look forward to continuing to fight on their behalf.
Ruger: I am running again for the same reason I ran before: I want to help make Hopewell Township an even better place to live. I think that, working with my colleagues on the Township Committee, we have made progress in a number of areas, especially finances. I want to continue to make progress.
Also, I truly like working with the township’s staff. They are a tremendously talented group of individuals who have chosen public service for their career. I have seen how hard they work for all of us. I have also appreciated the opportunity to meet so many local residents and hear their thoughts about our community. Serving on the Township Committee is not always easy, but it’s always interesting.
What are the two most pressing issues currently facing Hopewell Township? How would you address those issues as a committee member?
Kuchinski: We must continue fighting to keep Hopewell Township green and affordable. This starts with fighting to keep municipal taxes low. Importantly, the township’s 2020 spending is lower than 2015, even as we have brought back Bulky Waste, expanded communications, and repaired/repaved a record number of road miles.
We have identified new revenue sources to reduce the reliance on residential property taxes. This includes completing PILOT agreements that will deliver $112 million to the township over 30 years, vs. $18.5 million if we had proceeded conventionally. We have rented space on a new police communications tower to cellular carriers and expanded shared service agreements with neighboring municipalities and the schools.
On the environment, we have steadfastly fought to stop the proposed PennEast pipeline, while greatly increasing open space and preserved farmland. Hopewell Township won New Jersey’s solar challenge, with the highest proportion of township residents converting to solar statewide.
We have been named a Tree City USA, helped reintroduce a new Chestnut tree species resistant to the blight, fought light pollution, installed new electric vehicle chargers at the municipal building and started the conversion of police vehicles to hybrids, while working towards next generation storm water regulations. There is more we can do together.
Ruger: Township finances are a critical issue. As a resident, I don’t like tax increases. At the same time, we need to make sure that the township is providing the services our residents expect. This year, we kept the municipal tax increase to a minimum, saw continued progress on reducing debt, and saved money by bidding out contracts earlier than we have in past years. In future years, we’ll receive payments from PILOT agreements and that will help.
Another critical issue is the environment. We have fought PennEast and must continue to do so. Over the past few years, Hopewell Township has been named a Tree City, we’ve installed electric vehicle chargers at the township building, and we won the New Jersey Solar Challenge. We even changed our lighting ordinance to reduce light pollution. And we continue to preserve open space. We’ll continue to work to move forward.
In the era of COVID-19, as a member of the Township Committee, how would you help businesses affected by the pandemic, as well as bring new business into Hopewell Township?
Kuchinski: COVID-19 has negatively impacted small businesses across New Jersey. From the beginning, we have worked towards keeping our residents safe, while also helping the local businesses who have supported our sports teams, non-profits and the broader community, survive. We started by appointing an acting health officer with deep expertise in fighting pandemics.
We strove to keep businesses and other amenities open, with the appropriate safety protocols. This started with keeping our local biking and walking trails open for recreation. We also kept the township government functioning throughout the pandemic. When local restaurants sought permits for outdoor dining, we quickly created a streamlined process to help them quickly get the permits they needed. We’ll continue to listen to businesses to see what they need. We are committed to working with local businesses and to helping them not only recover, but thrive, as the economy reopens.
We are separately working to identify new sources of township revenues, to reduce the reliance on residential property taxes. We are proud to welcome PTC Therapeutics to Hopewell Township, on the former BMS site. We also look forward to increasing agro and historical tourism, which will attract new small businesses to the Valley.
Ruger: The pandemic has been an enormous challenge, and one way we helped local businesses as well as businesses was to take it seriously from the beginning. The Township Committee found an excellent acting health officer to advise us. We recorded videos to keep residents informed and posted township COVID-19 statistics when neighboring communities chose to not do so. We kept our trails open for recreation. And we kept the township government functioning.
When local restaurants sought permits for outdoor dining, we worked on a streamlined process to help them get the permits quickly. We’ll continue to listen to businesses to see what they need. As for bringing in new businesses, the single most important thing we can do is to make the BMS campus attractive to additional tenants. This is a great space for the pharma industry, for example, and we are hopeful companies will take advantage of this opportunity.
This year, Hopewell Township has been grappling with tensions regarding race in the community and the police department. How would you as a member of the Township Committee go about repairing these tensions in the community?
Kuchinski: Hopewell Valley has a rich and diverse history, but recent incidents in our schools and police department suggest we have more work to do. I am proud to have seen our community come together in the face of racial incidents at the national and local level, to have residents speak out against systemic racism and to demand increased accountability and monitoring.
We (the Township Committee) have stood in solidarity with our community and affirmed that #BlackLivesMatter. We are also in the process of reviewing all of our procedures, including how our police department interacts with the community, are hiring a new civilian police director and have formed a Citizens’ Equity Advisory Committee. It’s important that we bring new voices forward to help us tackle these issues. Looking ahead, all township residents should feel safe and also that they are being heard.
On the school issues, I’ve worked with Dr. Smith and Dr. Treece to support their ongoing efforts to promote communication, inclusion and equity in our district and the broader community. Together, we can work towards a next generation that has a better understanding of race and equity issues and one that is committed to progress.
Ruger: The past few years have been a wakeup call for all of us about the problems we have in our country, and Hopewell Township is not immune. I am honored that so many residents have shared their experiences in public meetings. I hear the emotion in their voices and understand that they have told their stories time and time again, with the same result—nothing changes. So, we need to figure out how to break this cycle.
That’s one reason why I had the idea for and championed the Citizens’ Equity Advisory Committee. And it’s why I asked in a recent committee meeting, “What does healing look like?” It’s also why we are taking a very close look at the police department. We hired a consultant from outside our community to advise us, as someone local could have been accused of bias.
We are in the process of hiring a civilian police director on a temporary basis who will help us communicate with the community and implement community goals. But ultimately, the only way we are going to improve our community is by working together as a community.