ATL. HIGHLANDS – There will be six candidates vying for the three seats on Borough Council in the Nov. 2 election, now that Lesley D’Almeida has joined Brian Dougherty, who won his seat in the primary earlier this month as the two Democrats, and the husband wife team of Morgan Spicer and Zachary Brown have filed as Independents. Republicans incumbent Councilman James Murphy and Ellen O’Dwyer both won the GOP seats in the primary election. Incumbent Democrat Councilman Roy Dellosso is not seeking another term.
D’Almeida, born in Zimbabwe and a United States citizen who first lived in Washington DC when she came here when she was eight years old, said she is running for local office because she sees it as a chance to serve a community she feels has great assets as well as opportunities to make it even better.
“The time is right for unique perspectives that reflect our growing and diverse community,” the Democratic candidate said. “It is important that we have a broad spectrum of understanding to ensure when decisions are made on the council to ensure they reflect the entire community.”
Divisiveness and ugliness that has permeated local politics and community are one of the current problems facing the borough, she continued, but pointed out there is more that unites the residents than separates them, and she vows to work for mutual understanding, common ground and what is best for the entire community. She would also like to work in increasing activities and services, noting the many families with young children who live here. Further, she would work towards making streets more pedestrian and bike friendly for increased safety and enjoyment. All of this can be accomplished, the Hooper Avenue resident said, by “listening to and respecting others’ perspectives. I will bring a diverse outlook and work hard to find common ground and solutions.” She can accomplish her goals, she believes since “I am not afraid to ask the tough questions and to challenge myself and my fellow council members to find innovative solutions.”
Almeida said she and her partner, who comes from Holmdel, fell in love with the borough along with has earlier memories of summers with his aunt who lives here. The couple moved here in 2017 from Brooklyn and have a seven year old daughter, Kaya and a 24-year old son, Jair. The candidate attended University of Maryland, College Park and is a Senior Director of Client Services for Stylus, a trends intelligence agency. She is a member of the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council, Atlantic Highlands Preservation Society and the Atlantic Highlands Anti-Racist Parenting Group.
Spicer and Brown, who live in Victorian Woods, have lived in the borough for four years, and chose to purchase their home here since the borough represents “the best of so many worlds,” from a movie theater and restaurants to a world class marina and shops and art gallery.
Spicer, who is a former Rumson resident, and Brown met when they both attended Syracuse University She is a self-employed illustrator who works with authors, animal rescues and non-profit organizations. Brown is a financial advisor with an office in Red Bank, and a volunteer with the local First Aid Squad. The couple has five rescue dogs, and no children. Both say they have family members in their families who are members of both parties, and they pride themselves on their joint ability to “see people with compassion, not perceiving them through self- described labels, and are unaffiliated voters.
It is that lack of party affiliation, they believe, that will ensure their commitment to remain beholden to the borough residents exclusively. With a Democrat and a Republican seat open in the November election, the couple feel that just as their home is an exercise in democracy, so will their actions be in local government.
While this is the first time a married couple has sought election at the local level in the borough, residents Joshua Leinsdorf and his wife, Mary K. Blohm, were unsuccessful candidates for Assembly in the 11th district in 1987. Since that precedent has been set, Spicer said she is hopeful local residents will view their running together as an asset. Since the seats are currently held by a representative of each major political party, Spicer said the election of both of them would mean neither party would control the council; they are running on a campaign slogan of “Bring Back Balance”.
Brown said they are running together to “bring some balance to the Atlantic Highlands Council” He said he while struck by the sense of community, it was disheartened to see “political tribalism playing such an outsized role in the community discourse.” He said both he and his wife feel their focus on what unites the community is more impactful that focusing on any devices. “ One of the great things about living in a small community is the ability to actually go out and talk to our neighbors. We want to always have unfiltered conversations to find out what really matters to residents, using their feedback to determine how or if we will move forward on any given issue.” Spicer added that their joint approach of creativity and compassionate perspective will be valuable.
Spicer pointed out her love for animals and the importance of them both for rescue work as well as pets are the forces they drive her to donate a portion of her profits from her professional work to groups include the Monmouth County SPCA where she also volunteered in the past. Both have volunteered with local groups , including Our Revolution Monmouth County, Indivisible Bayshore, Food Not Bombs Jersey Shore and Clean Ocean Action.
While the couple say they share many of the same goals for the community, they are not totally in lockstep, but both advocate council continue public meetings on ZOOM to enable everyone to be present, as well as re-instituting public attendance meetings to give the public the choice.
Brown said his experience as a first aid volunteer during the pandemic highlights the borough’s need for resources and praises the squad for the actions they have taken and initiatives used to replace equipment, encourage new members and more community service. The LOSAP program is one way council can continue to provide thanks to volunteers, he said, and one of his goals is to explore options and other ideas to expand the program.
Concerning the parking proposal for a section of Ocean Blvd., on which both candidates spoke during the public hearing, Brown said while parking is necessary to ensure small business success, a solution should not cause problems for residents and both he and Spicer are exploring new ideas to meet both objectives.
On the question of newly legalized marijuana, both are in favor of “cannabis freedom and feel the resulting income from tax revenue would be a boon for power outages, cultivating the arts and music programs, building a community center, and allowing the borough to welcome new small businesses looking to develop, grown, maintain, or distribute their produce here.