Three candidates – two Democrats and one Republican – are vying to fill two open seats on the Hightstown Borough Council in the Nov. 2 general election.
Incumbent Democrats Susan Bluth and Fred Montferrat are squaring off against Republican Party nominee Bryan Fort to run for the two open seats, which carry three-year terms.
Bluth, who is seeking a fifth term, has lived in Hightstown since 2005. She is a paralegal who specializes in family law matters and civil litigation.
Montferrat, who is seeking his first full term on the Borough Council, has lived in Hightstown for 34 years. He was appointed in July to fill a vacancy when former Borough Councilman Dimitri Musing resigned to become the borough administrator.
Montferrat is the manager of construction for capital projects at The Lawrenceville School in Lawrence Township. He served on the Hightstown Planning Board for 28 years, including a stint as its chairman.
Fort moved to Hightstown last year from Washington State. He had previously lived in East Windsor until his move to Washington in 2017.
He is a retired security risk management executive who has worked for global firms such as CRBE Inc., Lamb Weston, Firmenich and McCormick & Co.
He is a retired police officer who rose to become a chief of police in Ohio. He also holds a master’s degree in public administration.
Bluth and Montferrat agreed that the most important issues facing Hightstown are the increase in warehouses in the area that has caused an increase in truck traffic; ensuring the streets are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists; and enforcing property maintenance codes.
The two incumbent council members said they are seeking re-election because they want to continue to be involved in two significant projects: the pending “rug mill” redevelopment project that will create housing and retail opportunities, and the conversion of the former YMCA building on Mercer Street into the new Hightstown Borough Hall.
Bluth said that during her tenure on the Borough Council, she has supported many major undertakings, including sharing municipal services. She pointed to the decision to share emergency dispatching with East Windsor, and Municipal Court services with Robbinsville.
“These shared services save our taxpayers thousands of dollars,” Bluth said.
The town has also installed new curbs and sidewalks, revised its housing ordinance to combat overcrowding, and hired a full-time enforcement officer during her tenure on the council, Bluth said. Property maintenance regulations aimed at foreclosed and abandoned properties also have been enacted.
Bluth said those accomplishments have improved the quality of life for Hightstown residents and also increase property values. She said she wants to make Hightstown a “destination town” that will attract families and small businesses.
“I believe I have been an asset to our community. I carefully deliberate all pros and cons before making a decision, and I am not afraid to speak my mind,” Bluth said.
Montferrat said he wants to serve another term on the Borough Council to continue to help solve the issues facing the town – whether it is the day-to-day issues, or those dealing with the future.
He said he would continue to work with the town’s code and construction officials to establish ordinances that would eliminate residential overcrowding and absentee landlords. The town must also address providing affordable housing opportunities to meet its requirement to do so, as required by state law.
“I believe I am the best candidate, with my experiences working in construction and with restricted finances and budgets,” Montferrat said.
Fort, who is the lone Republican Party nominee, said he is running for Hightstown Borough Council to offer voters a choice between Democrats and Republicans.
Fort said he is “deeply troubled” with the notion of any single party dominance of Hightstown Borough Council with an all-Democrat council and the obvious groupthink and cronyism. He said his motivation for seeking a seat on the council is “fairly straightforward.”
“As I continue to campaign and meet with many Hightstown voters across the political spectrum – Democrats, Republicans and independents – I realize there is a significant concern in the community that the current Borough Council lacks general competence, listening skills and skill sets in several areas,” Fort said.
Fort pointed to the appointment of then-Borough Councilman Dimitri Musing to fill the post of borough administrator earlier this year. Former Borough Administrator Debra Sopronyi retired in August.
Fort criticized the decision to appoint “a fellow Democrat partisan without academic credentials in public administration or a town management background, and without competitive interviewing or advertising.” The action “speaks to the cronyism” that he has pledged to challenge as a council member, he said.
“I am aghast at the recent large property tax increase and $400,000-plus budget increase that this tone-deaf Democrat council passed onto the property owners of our community during a time of high inflation, rising gas prices, labor shortages and other pandemic impacts that our small businesses are contending with every day,” he said.
Fort noted the lack of attention and maintenance of the town’s parks and the “still yet to fully materialize” response to community concerns over the increase in heavy truck traffic on the borough’s streets.
He also would like to drop Zoom online meetings and return to in-person Borough Council meetings.
“This council needs a strong, independent voice and a new council member with executive management skills that is able to listen to the community and bring new ideas and a public administration background to the table,” said Fort, who holds a master’s degree in public administration from Northern Kentucky University.