By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
One might think that the historical odds are stacked against any Democrat running for Fair Haven’s borough council, given that none has sat on the governing body since the early ’90s.
But this year’s candidates, Margo Tikijian and Matthew Cohen, see it a different way.
“It’s definitely an uphill battle,” Tikijian said, but noted that on the local level, “it’s not politics. It’s all about keeping the town functioning, running the town smoothly and keeping people happy.”
Tikijian and Cohen believe their employment backgrounds give them the tools they say the council is lacking namely, planning and research.
Cohen, a Teaneck native, was a lawyer for 20 years before starting a title insurance company in Little Silver. Tikijian, who was born in New Jersey but bounced around the country as a child, worked in the research and technology area for AT&T Bell Labs before she turned into a full-time mom.
They say several decisions the council has made in the past haven’t been made with enough scrutiny. For example, the recent purchase of a waterfront property on DeNormandie Avenue was made mostly because it was available immediately. Tikijian and Cohen said it wasn’t a terrible purchase, but said bigger, better properties might have become available in the future.
They also feel that the failed plan to share emergency dispatch services with Little Silver was doomed from the beginning, and nobody on the council asked enough questions to make sure it would work.
“People are hesitant to speak up,” said Cohen. “You go to the meetings and everyone is showing extreme deference, in most situations, to the mayor.
“You need to have balance on the council.”
Cohen, who ran for council last year but lost by about 40 votes, is also a proponent of modifying the borough’s zoning ordinances to make it easier for small businesses to set up shop in the River Road area. He says the current rules make it too difficult, and people are moving their businesses to places like Little Silver, just as he did. Making those changes could help the local economy, he said.
“If people are working here, where do you have lunch? You go to the local restaurant,” Cohen said. “You live here, you might as well work here.”
The two also promise more transparency if they get on the council. Tikijian said her goal is to get important documents like the budget online and accessible to residents so they can see where their money is going and ask questions.
And then there are taxes.
As in most towns, these candidates say the taxes need to come down in Fair Haven. Neighboring towns like Rumson have lower tax rates, Cohen said, and that makes Fair Haven less desirable to prospective, or current, homeowners. It also inhibits possible mergers or shared services with those towns, he said.
“The council has to be looking five steps down the road, and they have to be thinking, ‘How is the town changing? And is it changing for the better for the worse?'” Cohen said. “A lot of people are beginning to think it’s for the worse, that the ties that bind us here are starting to loosen.”
So that’s where Tikijian and Cohen say they need to step in and get the borough back on track, regardless of their political affiliation.
“People want a choice. They’re not happy with the way things are going,” Cohen said. “It’s people who are looking for the person, not the party label.”