This candidate statement originally appeared May 17, 2021 in TAPintoWestfield and Westfield Leader on May 13, 2021.
As a girl from Brooklyn, I am not a nature girl. To be honest I prefer asphalt and concrete to grass. I do not often take time to “stop and smell the roses.” But 2020 happened, and nothing was the same. My calendar, always full in quarter-inch increments was suddenly wide open, untouched, and forgotten. Confined in my home, with my family like all the other families in this town, in this state, we watched the world from the inside out.
I remember the moment when the parks were allowed to open, and it felt like a portal appeared. Suddenly, I was at Tamaques, not because I had a flag football game but because I had time to take a daily walk with my husband and even ride a bike for the first time in years. I love this park. I have loved it from the sidelines, but now I was not a spectator I was a part of it. And I was seeing things differently without the rush of the children in their opposing colors, the blur of a ball, and the cheering of the parents. I was not seeing the park in action. I was seeing it at rest.
And I noticed for the first time, that it too was tired. As I rode around the track, at first only twice, then three times, later in the summer, several areas came into focus. The neglected shuffleboard courts. Yes, we have them. They sparked memories of family vacations with shuffleboard and Bocci and the games you play with your children, your parents, and siblings that do not require electricity.
And I stumbled across a peeling metal bridge that my dog would not cross to a pavilion that was showing its wear and some who said needed to come down. But what I saw was a respite in the pandemic. A place for a mother to bring her young child with lunch in a bag so they could eat outside and be safe. I saw a place for scouts to come and do crafts. A perfect location for friends to meet at a distance and be together while apart. The tables were splintered and rusty, the roof of the structure was leaking and some boards were rotting. But it was all right there. The possibilities. And it needed to happen, and it had to be fast. I got to work.
As with many of the plans I have had the past few years, I picked up the phone and called several prolific volunteers, tenacious and always ready to roll up their sleeves. And the scouts. This time the boy scouts, ever ready to help the community. It is not easy to move things quickly within municipal government and especially not in a pandemic, but I was determined. With the support of Mayor Brindle, I made my case to the Recreation Commission, and soon we had secured funding to repair the roof.
We spent three weeks in August, sanding benches and tables and then painting the bases with fresh black paint. We sanded the tops and added varnish. The tables that were salvageable got artistic treatment from our talented volunteers, and we designed a beautiful compass rose mural for the floor that was outstandingly executed by Ward 4 resident Jen Wilner. It serves as an anchor in the middle of the pavilion. You are here. You are home.
In keeping with our mission to create a more accessible, inclusive community we worked with Councilman Mike Dardia and the Access and Inclusivity Committee to select wheelchair-accessible picnic tables, and the DPW installed a path from the park to the pavilion. It was the 30th anniversary of the ADA legislation and this seemed a fitting commemoration. We ordered new grills. And importantly, we committed to dedicating funding for routine park maintenance and quality-of-life improvements which had not been the case for many years.
As the project commenced, I returned one Sunday morning to apply another coat of lacquer to the tables and noticed the caution tape was down and gathered at the not-yet-finished pavilion were twenty-something senior citizens with snacks in Tupperware, a boom box, and decorations. They expressed their delight at the renovation, so I packed up my supplies and left them to enjoy the morning. This scene was repeated in the days of finishing touches. A grandmother with a basket of crafts, a girl scout troop, a couple on a picnic.
Sometimes, when you do stop and smell the roses you notice a task that needs to be done. And you pick up the phone, call in the volunteers who love this town as much as you do, and make it happen.