By GLORIA STRAVELLI
METUCHEN – Four candidates will be on the ballot running for two, three-year terms on the Metuchen Borough Council in November.
For the June 8 Primary Election, the races are uncontested.
Jason Delia, a member of the Borough Council, and Joel Branch, a member of the borough Planning Board, are on the Democrat line.
Delia is seeking re-election to a second council term, while Branch is running to fill the seat currently held by Democratic Councilwoman Sheri-Rose Rubin, who is not running for re-election.
Candidates Stephen Kitsko and Eric Lignell appear on the ballot for the Republicans.
Democrats currently hold all six seats on the Metuchen Borough Council and the mayor’s office.
Voting in the Primary Election will take place June 8 at Metuchen High School, 400 Grove Ave., from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Delia has lived in Metuchen for close to a decade and was elected to the Borough Council in 2019. He sits on the Traffic and Transportation and TV and Technology committees.
He said priorities continue to be traffic calming and pedestrian safety improvements and moving forward with the recently introduced Greenprint project for Metuchen’s sports fields, parks and green spaces.
“Some of the projects I’m really most proud of are around making the town more pedestrian friendly,” Delia said. “Working with the county we were able to reduce the speed limits on almost all of our roadways to 25 mph.”
Delia said traffic calming has been a priority.
“When I talk to people about Metuchen, they see us as a cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly town and we are, we really are. But when you live here you see how we could do some things better. So speed limits were a huge thing.”
Another priority cited by Delia, who works in the tech field, has been supporting the business community during the pandemic.
“I was involved in coming up with our plan to support our businesses and get them to reopen in a safe way,” he said.
Measures included allowing businesses to move out onto the sidewalks, and allocating public spaces like parking lots.
“The big one would be what we’ve done on New Street, right in the center of town,” Delia said. “In the summer we closed the street on the weekends to allow for businesses to expand outside. In the fall we made New Street one way and opened up the other side to allow businesses to utilize that side.
“Anecdotally, in my mind, Metuchen’s downtown has fared better than other towns in the area because of what we’ve done,” he said.
Branch moved to the borough with his family close to two years ago. He has a background in computer science and said he is currently working in the artificial intelligence software field.
He said that he would bring prior experience in community service to the council position.
“Even though it’s my first run for elected office, I have been involved in community service,” said Branch. “So, when we moved here, I joined the planning board … and I am seeing how citizens can really get involved to affect the look of the town and the way it functions.
“I also have executive experience in learning to work with people from different walks of life, people with different perspectives. There are some things I would like to focus on; quality of life and pedestrian safety is something I share with Jason (Delia),” Branch said. “I love getting outside. Metuchen has great green spaces.
“The other thing – from a platform point of view – is what I call ‘intentional citizen engagement.’ There’s a lot of great things that happen in Metuchen but I hear about some of them too late. … I feel we can do more to pull citizens in to enjoy things and look for people to have a voice. So, those are things I’m really passionate about.
“More and more people move here, there are younger professionals moving into town,” Branch said, adding it is important that the council engage with “the people who have always been here, as well as those folks who are moving in … making sure that we modernize in a way that we engage folks who’ve always lived here and new people as well.
“I love that the council is diverse as far as male and female,” he said, “and I look forward to bringing my perspective, insights and experiences as an African American to the council as well, so that’s something I’m very excited about.”
Kitsko has lived in the borough for 27 years and is making his third run at a borough council seat, having made prior runs in 2005 and 2020.
A self-described “finance guy,” Kitsko said he is running for a seat on the all-Democrat governing body to bring a different perspective to council. He is endorsed by the Metuchen Republican Municipal Committee.
“I am running for Metuchen Borough Council to bring an alternative voice and bipartisan representation to our local government,” he said. “In my mind bipartisan means a diversity of opinions. I mean that in the sense that when you have different ideas, there’s more than one way to get things done.”
Kitsko’s children attended borough schools and he said he has been involved in community service in Metuchen, including sports and music programs.
His platform calls for governing based on fiscally conservative principles, sound planning for the future of the borough, working toward an affordable community and consistently addressing the basic needs of a community with aged infrastructure.
He stressed the necessity of having a realistic capital plan and the importance of planning for the long term to ensure adequate funding for vital public services.
“For the borough government, what are your priorities? You have a limited budget and you have to plan,” he said, noting that underfunding impacts services. “People, more than anything, want public services, want public safety – fire, police, sanitation – they want their garbage picked up, their streets paved and plowed in the wintertime, that kind of basics.
“Beyond that can you afford to do something else?” he asked, stressing new initiatives the borough commits to must be based on solid planning for financial sustainability going forward.
“For example, the Greenprint is a great idea; however, can we afford it? The initial part of it is with a grant, that’s fine, but there are ongoing maintenance costs.”
He cited the same concerns regarding the borough’s acquisition of The Forum Theater.
“Our Public Works Department is being stretched to the limit,” he continued, “being forced to do with less. To their credit, they’re doing it but they’re being stretched to the breaking point and it’s going to break if we don’t do something different.
“But that’s part of planning. It’s one thing, yes, let’s go get these grants. I’m all for that. But let’s plan how, if you get something, you still have to pay ongoing operating costs. They don’t talk about that.”
According to Kitsko, borough government must address and plan for the basic and essential needs of a town with aging infrastructure.
“It’s all tied together. You plan your family budget. I was planning my retirement 30 years ago. I needed to save so we could have enough money to do that. I was planning ahead,” he said. “All families have to do that, the borough is just a bigger family.”
Lignell is currently running as a placeholder candidate, meaning he is on the ballot for the primary but could be replaced before the general election in November.
Richard Menziuso, GOP chairman, commented about the election.
“The majority of registered voters are not Republicans. Steve earned approximately 800 more votes (votes of confidence) this last general election than did the top of the Republican ticket so while the state and local Republicans have been largely impacted by the national leadership, we continue to have confidence our Metuchen residents are open-minded, listen and will continue to be focused on local issues.
“It’s not impossible to win seats on the council as an opposing party. It’s the degree of difficulty. The turning point in Metuchen for either an alternative party or simply bipartisan elected officials is really up to Metuchen residents. Metuchen has been very fortunate as the beneficiary of new residents (and small business owners) into our local community and I suspect the identity (the fabric) of Metuchen will continue to evolve as it should.
“We want an energetic and dynamic environment where the community is the envy of other communities in our state and beyond,” he said.
According to the Middlesex County Office of Public Information, residents will have multiple options for casting their votes in the 2021 Primary Election, including: voting in-person, mailing ballots through the USPS, or dropping a ballot in a secure drop box.
To learn more about how to vote in the Primary Election, visit Middlesexcountynj.gov/vote