BY VINCENT TODARO
SPOTSWOOD – In what could shape up to be one of the more hotly contested elections in years, two teams of candidates and one who is independent will vie for seats on the Borough Council this spring.
Incumbents in the race include Howard Keenan, Curtis Stollen and Thomas Barlow while former Councilman Kevin Meade is also running. Newcomers include John Shaughnessy, Jackie Zelesnick and return candidate Marge Drozd.
At stake are three terms on the five-member, nonpartisan council. Each term is for four years. The election will be held May 9, and the terms will begin July 1.
Keenan, Meade and Zelesnick are running as a team under the slogan “Offering Diverse Leadership.”
Another slate features Stollen, Barlow and Shaughnessy, running under the banner “A Proven Team: Making a Difference.”
Keenan, a retired police detective whose son Brian is on the police force, is finishing his third term. He said he wants to continue serving and making a difference.
“I’m healthy and there are a few things I still want to do,” he said.
He mentioned work on the water infrastructure and an effort to correct traffic problems as two issues that need further addressing.
Work on the water lines has resulted in fewer water discoloration problems, a longtime problem for residents.
“We’ve improved it, but we still have a ways to go,” he said.
Keenan, who has a wife, Lorraine, and four children, said he is especially proud of the work he’s done as councilman to improve the Spotswood Public Library and the Office on Aging.
He said his biggest challenge, if re-elected, would be traffic issues.
Meade, who previously served two terms as councilman before stepping down in 2004, said he left the council to spend more time with his children.
“You always have an itch for it,” he said of the council service. “I left before when my youngest was real young. I like to be involved, and I enjoyed it so much I want to get back into it.”
Meade also mentioned the continuing need to improve the water system, including making a decision on what to do with the George Street plant.
The overall situation now with borough government, he said, would be a lot easier than when he was first elected.
“Now it’s more kind of general business,” he said, adding that keeping taxes down and maintaining quality services are two obligations.
When he first began serving, the municipal building had been condemned, as had a borough dam. The town was able to secure a good deal of grant money to help construct a new municipal building and fix the dam.
Meade said it would have cost more to renovate the building than replace it, and he was glad to have the project funded entirely through grants.
“It would have cost us a fortune,” he said.
In addition to continuing with water line and road improvements, he wants to see DeVoe Lake finally dredged, he said.
Meade has a wife, Theresa, and three children, and is part owner of a commercial pool service.
Zelesnick, the newcomer on the team, was appointed to the Spotswood Zoning Board of Adjustment last year. Her other volunteer efforts include being a treasurer for the Spotswood PTA and serving on the committee to develop athletic fields on land being donated by Schweitzer-Maduit. She has also worked in Spotswood as a substitute teacher.
Zelesnick said she does not foresee any major challenges to being a councilwoman, and if elected would continue work on the water lines and traffic issues. She said she is also concerned with property taxes and wants to help guide the development of the athletic fields.
Zelesnick, who has a husband, Ronald, and two children, said she is a “full-time, stay-at-home mom,” and also runs a home business.
“I want to continue serving the community, and this is the next step,” she said.
Stollen has served two terms on the council, including a period as council president.
“I am running proudly on my record of representing the voters,” he said in a press release. “I feel my performance and dedication have been proven. I have but one loyalty and that is to the citizens of the borough, and I work to represent them without bias or favoritism.”
Stollen also said he wants to continue the borough’s work on its water lines and streets, and he also stressed the need to keep taxes in check.
“The citizens are better served with open decisions and continual communications,” he said.
Stollen, who has a wife, Colleen, and two children, served on the Planning Board before taking office, and also was a member of the Municipal Building Committee.
Barlow, since winning a six-month council term in November, helped the borough adopt a pedophile-free ordinance, was instrumental in updating the borough’s Web site, and helped procure funds for a new playground at Schoenly School. He also helped secure $10,000 in state money for library books for the Memorial School.
“The health and well-being of our most precious resource, the borough’s children, must be protected,” he said in the press release.
Barlow, who has a wife, Maureen, and two children, said he would continue to try to obtain grants if re-elected.
“In the upcoming months, I hope to use my state and county connections to procure financing to build more modern athletic fields for our children,” he said.
Barlow has served on both the Planning and Zoning boards, and works as an attorney and municipal prosecutor. He has also been involved with the Spotswood baseball league and high school booster club.
Shaughnessy, who has a wife, Lauren, and five children, has been an active lector at Immaculate Conception Church since 1990 and is a retired Middlesex County prosecutor.
“I now have time and energy to devote to service in the public capacity,” he said. “I have always felt that government service is a privilege.”
Shaughnessy, who is described in the press release as an expert on Megan’s Law, also continues to consult on matters of criminal justice policy.
“I believe that together we can provide the citizens of Spotswood with energetic, innovative and sound representation,” he said.
The team’s press release states that they “recognize the importance of having the confidence to stand up and speak out for what they believe, and not deferring their judgment to others.”
Marge Drozd, a previous Spotswood Board of Education president who ran for council in each of the past two years, said she feels she can make a difference and believes the governing body needs a change of direction.
“I’ve been seeing that a change is definitely needed,” she said. “I’m hoping a new generation will emerge from this election.”
Drozd, who has a husband, Gary, and three children, said that while she has been active in the community, being on the council would give her a more “formalized” role.
Drozd, who was instrumental in bringing a new playground behind Appleby School in 1991, said her biggest challenge if elected would depend on who else is elected. With the loss of one more seat, the team that is aligned with Mayor Barry Zagnit would no longer hold a council majority.
“It would be a growing time of getting to know each other,” Drozd said of working with new council members. “I’m a uniter, not a divider. I don’t see any problems working with whoever is there.”
Drozd is employed as a nurse manager at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, New Brunswick, and has one child still in the Spotswood school district.