Berkeley Heights "Voting Block" Voices Hope, With a Side of Caution
A Gathering at Delicious Heights in Berkeley Heights
Hop off New Jersey Transit's Gladstone Branch at the Berkeley Heights stop, and you're in a township of 13,000 spanning two exits of Interstate 78. Berkeley Heights covers six square miles surrounded by Chatham to the north, New Providence and Summit to the east, Watchung to the south, and Warren Township to the west. It's also home to Bell Labs, a world-renowned center of technological research and scientific invention.
On November 14, I headed over to Delicious Heights, a popular "deluxe" bar and grill not far from the train station, to meet three of the Berkeley Heights Voting Block neighbors. My assignment was to gauge their feelings about New Jersey's election of Phil Murphy as governor.
All three in the Berkeley Heights group were willing and happy to share post-election opinions. And all signaled that "infrastructure" remains a key area of concern - specifically, improving roads and train lines for the safety of the people who use them daily.
When asked about his expectations for the new administration, Jim, an architect and president of the Berkeley Heights Rotary Club, said he would favor establishing term limits for state legislators as a way to foster greater accountability. Jim says it's too early to tell if the new governor can both lower taxes and improve the condition of myriad older buildings and bridges in need of repair.
Ayana, a six-year resident who's active in the Berkeley Heights Diversity Committee, is hopeful the governor-elect will focus on creating meaningful employment opportunities that lead to careers. Like Jim, she believes improvements to infrastructure will help create more "environmentally stable" jobs.
Toiya, a four-year resident who "loves Sherman’s BBQ," is mystified by what she calls a New Jersey paradox: “The infrastructure is not very good, but taxes are still high,” she contends. Toiya's husband, along with many other train commuters, has been experiencing frequent delays getting to New York City. As a car commuter herself, she “hits a pothole on every other road.” Toiya hopes Governor-Elect Murphy’s fresh perspective will help advance fiscal restructuring efforts.
When I asked each group member to suggest a “task force” in the new administration that might interest them, the responses varied widely. Jim said he would be glad to use his technical expertise as an architect to design sturdier and more affordable residential and commercial buildings. Ayana would serve on a labor task force if she could see positive benefits to citizens - such as enabling them to support their families on their own.
Toiya’s ideal task force would pertain to education and standardized testing. Believing that too many tests can take the fun out of learning, she would seek better ways to support and assess teachers, measure student performance, and ensure creative yet coherent learning environments.
Overall, I gathered that these three residents have many hopes for the future and are energized, yet realistic, about the possibilities of a new administration. They want to commit to helping New Jersey do better and are ready to jump in, but are aware that real change - like scientific research - won't be quick or easy.
Mitchell Baker is a recent graduate of Drew University and has a passion for journalism and nonfiction writing.