Hopewell Township voters will have to chose one candidate to replace current Mayor and Township Committeewoman Julie Blake when they participate in the upcoming Nov. 2 general election.
Blake, who won the Democratic primary in June, withdrew her name from the ballot on Sept. 7. Due to Blake’s withdrawal, under New Jersey law, the Hopewell Township Democratic Committee unanimously chose Uma Purandare to replace her on the ballot on Sept. 8.
Purandare and Republican candidate Ed Jackowski are squaring off to secure the one open seat on the Township Committee.
Jackowski has lived in Hopewell Valley for over 45 years. He served as a U.S. Marine and later worked in the financial services industry. He and his wife Anita operate Jack’s Greenhouse and Farm. They are raising two daughters who have been educated in the Hopewell Valley School District.
He is an officer of the Trenton Cyrus No. 5 Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons and a
trustee on the Woosamonsa Schoolhouse Board.
Jack’s Nursery has sponsored boys and girls divisions for the Hopewell Valley Soccer Association for eight years.
As a longtime Hopewell resident, he said his goal is to keep Hopewell Township affordable for children and grandchildren, so they too can enjoy the beauty this township has to offer.
Purandare, 54, is a research scientist who has lived in Hopewell Township for 22 years. She is married to Ashok and has two children: son Rohit Purandare, a 2012 graduate of Hopewell Valley Central High School (CHS) who went to the University of Pittsburgh, and daughter Radhika, a 2017 CHS graduate and Fulbright Scholar who went to The College of New Jersey.
Purandare has been a Girl Scout troop leader and a member of the PTO at Stony Brook School and CHS. She has managed A-Z Mentoring to provide free tutoring to underprivileged children and started Marathi Language School for families and neighboring communities.
She volunteers with the Hopewell Valley Mobile Food Pantry and has served as a member of the Hopewell Township Zoning Board of Adjustment for six years.
In order to provide candidates with an equitable platform to discuss their plans for 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 Hopewell Township Committee?
Jackowski: I’m concerned about the direction the township is going as a result of the one party rubberstamp voting. Bad financial decisions have resulted in a 40% reduction of the surplus while taxes continue to increase, burning the candle at both ends. The existing leadership has also caved to the affordable housing mandate dictated by the state without question, agreeing to 3,600 new houses that will increase the population of the township by 50%.
We have also seen a steady reduction in the level of services around the township. As a proud American and patriot who served to defend our freedoms and American values, I felt compelled to get involved to ensure the preservation of the Hopewell Township that we all know and love.
Purandare: As a township resident for over 20 years, I have seen that the pace of change, within and outside our town, is increasing. My inspiration to run comes from seeing how committed our residents are to our town and preserving the beautiful natural environment around us.
As a professional scientist, I am responsible for collecting data, drawing conclusions, reporting it truthfully, and making decisions. As an active community member, I have come to know and appreciate many perspectives on life in Hopewell Township.
Serving as a member of the Hopewell Township Committee would allow me to bring these aspects of my life together: my commitment to community and fact-based decisions to move our township into the future.
What do you see as the top pressing issue facing Hopewell Township? How would you address that issue as a member of the Township Committee?
Jackowski: Of the many important issues troubling our township, the most important issue to me, is the lack of balance on the Township Committee that has resulted in an echo chamber.
The magic of a representative government is that all ideas are heard and considered. Open debate facilitates the free flow of ideas that results in best practice decision-making and is representative of the needs of all residents. Specifically, I will work to restore open public meetings so that residents can directly address their government once again.
Additionally, I will advocate for reopening lines of communication between residents and township board officials, as well as reinstating department head meetings to optimize efficiency in running the township. I would also look to reintroduce an ordinance to establish an economic development committee. If elected, I will make myself available to listen to and consider all points of view before voting on important issues, especially those that will affect the township in the long term.
Purandare: I am afraid that COVID-19 will be with us for some time to come. We need to monitor that deadly disease and be proactive in reaching out to our vulnerable citizens as circumstances dictate. As a research professional, I would be honored to take the baton of leadership on this from Mayor Blake, who has provided such exemplary service for the past few years.
Our response to COVID-19 is an example of the kind of evolution and adaptation we will have to do to manage the changes that affect us all. I believe that my scientific training, along with my long-time engagement with our community, will be assets to the way the Township Committee serves our town.
I would like to take a leadership role to ensure that decisions are made with the interests of all residents in mind, making extra efforts to ensure that all voices are heard.
Do you feel the Township Committee has successfully managed growth within the township? If elected, how would you want to address continued growth and development in Hopewell?
Jackowski: If “development” is referring to affordable housing, then no, I don’t think existing leadership has handled it successfully. Hopewell has traditionally been a quiet, rural community defined by its farm land and open spaces.
Environmental stewardship has been a priority in the past but the current township government has disregarded the Master Plan and the 2010 Environmental Resource Inventory which enumerated our natural resources, most importantly the safety and purity of our water system. In addition they have not conducted an independent environmental
study, all in an effort to appease the builders without regard for what’s best for all residents.
As a small business owner, I understand the consequences of poor decision-making. If elected I would not make snap decisions with regards to growth and development of the township. Instead, I would practice due diligence to determine how new homes will affect our ability to provide the necessary infrastructure to sustain and improve the level of services currently provided to all residents.
Purandare: Of course, growth and development in the township are often driven by factors outside of the township. Twenty years ago, no one could have predicted that Merrill Lynch, then Hopewell Township’s No. 1 commercial tax ratable, would get acquired by the Bank of America. Similarly, it was unclear at that time exactly how the state’s affordable housing mandate would impact Hopewell Township.
Just looking at these two examples, I think the Township Committee has done a good job. Merrill Lynch, in its revised form, still maintains a big presence here. And, with the state courts now administering affordable housing, the committee did the responsible thing by negotiating a settlement that provides predictability and maintains most of the town’s substantial land use management powers.
We have high standards in our Master Plan and superb volunteers and professionals working with our planning and zoning boards, examining next-generation responsible corporate partners like PTC Therapeutics and BeiGene.
Looking forward, I think we should also require every development proposal to complete a robust fiscal impact analysis, detailing exactly how the proposal will impact life in Hopewell Township. There is no free lunch—we need to know what the fiscal impacts and real tradeoffs are before we make development decisions.