Public Forum Showcases Summit Common Council Ward 1 Candidates’ Positions

October 2, 2022

TAPinto Summit

By Karen Ann Kurlander

SUMMIT, NJ – Ward 1 Common Council candidates Danny O’Sullivan (D), the Incumbent, and challenger Delia Hamlet (R) faced-off at a candidates forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Berkley Heights, New Providence, and Summit on September 28.

The session, held at the Summit Free Public Library, was moderated by Katherine Balch of the LWV of Plainfield. While the League of Women Voters is non-partisan, the audience was not. It had to be admonished by the moderator after breaking out in applause twice during Hamlet’s answers.

Each candidate had two minutes each for opening and closing statements. In between was a series of questions which had been submitted in advance by members of the public. Those questions were vetted by the LWV to ensure they didn’t contain personal attacks and that they pertained solely to issues that come before the Common Council.

SUMMIT, NJ – Ward 1 Common Council candidates Danny O’Sullivan (D), the Incumbent, and challenger Delia Hamlet (R) faced-off at a candidates forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Berkley Heights, New Providence, and Summit on September 28.

The session, held at the Summit Free Public Library, was moderated by Katherine Balch of the LWV of Plainfield. While the League of Women Voters is non-partisan, the audience was not. It had to be admonished by the moderator after breaking out in applause twice during Hamlet’s answers.

Each candidate had two minutes each for opening and closing statements. In between was a series of questions which had been submitted in advance by members of the public. Those questions were vetted by the LWV to ensure they didn’t contain personal attacks and that they pertained solely to issues that come before the Common Council.

Candidate Introductions

O’Sullivan introduced himself by noting that he moved to Summit 16 years ago with his wife and three children, choosing the City “for its great schools and the safe community. As a bonus, we’ve made lifelong friendships.” In his opening statement, he noted how he’s “really proud of what we’ve accomplished during my first term. I’m asking for your support so that I can keep working on the issues that matter to all of Summit, issues that matter now and into the future.” His community involvement has included coaching his children’s sports teams, teaching religious education at St. Teresa’s, and volunteering on “numerous initiatives.” He served on Summit’s Economic Development Advisory Committee, which led him to pursue serving on council. “These experiences have enabled me to get to know Summit on a personal level, and have helped inform my decision-making so that I make the best choices for all of Summit.”

Hamlet noted that she is a mother of three and an Army veteran who served overseas during 9-11. “They were difficult times,” she said, “but it shaped me in many different ways, and it reminds me on a daily basis why community is important. When you’re fighting for your country, no one asks what your political party affiliation is, it just doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter in local government. Your main focus is … the mission gets accomplished.” In running, she says she has “no other agenda other than making Summit better. I am honored to have the support from Democrats, Republicans, and independent residents. I’ve been tremendously inspired by the residents and former elected leaders who’ve voiced their concerns around many important issues in Summit.” A business owner with 40 employees, Hamlet said “not every day is paradise as a business owner. But I am solving problems that directly impact our bottom line and our people every day.” She’s served on the board at Lincoln Hubbard Elementary, coached basketball at the community center, and coached Girls on the Run. “I know exactly how wonderful Summit is, and that’s exactly why I am so passionate about maintaining the character of our town. That is also why I am so passionate about making sure there is a public benefit to the residents of Summit for every decision we make.”

[Editor’s Note: Comments have been edited for space and clarity.]

Is there one particular issue that convinced you to run for Common Council?

DH: “[S]afety. I lived on Fernwood Road, and we had had several incidents…. That ignited my interest in local politics and really lit a fire for me to serve again. I would say that I work hard to try different initiatives. … Today we had another car theft outside of Club Pilates. … I think it’s something that is an ongoing issue, and we just have to continue to work with the county and other local officials to combat this problem. I applaud our police for all the hard work they do.”

DO’S: “My friend Beth Little ran her campaign in 2017, and she ran on Full-Day Kindergarten. And she delivered on that promise. I have that same belief that good government policy has a role to play in the lives of ordinary citizens. That inspired me to try to make a difference, so when I ran, one of my issues was outdoor recreation spaces. I delivered on those promises. We renovated our town pool, and we delivered on new basketball courts at Memorial and Tatlock. I do believe good government policy has a role to play in our lives right here in Summit, and you’ve seen it on display.” Addressing Hamlet, he added, “I believe we live in one of the safest communities anywhere…. Just go by the numbers. We have the finest police officers. Every category of crime is trending downwards with the exception of car thefts.…”

Hamlet countered, “I recently spoke with the Monmouth County Sheriff, and he explained to me …that auto theft is one of the number one problems in the community, even down in Monmouth County. It is a huge problem and I would say that a lot of these criminals can be armed, we can’t assume they’re not armed, and although Summit is one of the safest cities, I think that we can always make an attempt to continue.”

Summit is known as a sustainable and green city … That said, the recent drought and flash flooding are stark examples of climate change in New Jersey. What citywide environmental initiative would you like to see Summit prioritize going forward?

DO’S: I was recently endorsed by the Sierra Club of New Jersey. I have had a couple of green initiatives of my own. We continue to plant trees at a rapid pace around town, we have started food composting at the transfer station, and we have planted a tiny forest. All green initiatives. Going forward, one of my main focuses in my second term will be to capture federal grant money from the Inflation Reduction Act and the infrastructure bill. We need to convert our city fleet of vehicles to electric. We also need to find a way to have a solar installation so that we’re more resilient against power outages in the future.

DH: I went to visit the tiny forest a week or so ago, and I was one of the initial donors to Dr. [Robert] Rubino’s Park Line, so I’m certainly passionate about the environment. I think there are so many things that Summit can do. In the Broad Street West proposed project I would have liked to have seen more green space and more green initiatives with the buildings. I also noticed down at the tiny forest how the water has to get all the way from the top of the community center down to the tiny forest. There was some talk about potentially bringing the water from another area, so the tiny forest could be watered more often. I also sat on a call the other day; they had so many great ideas about the new grants that we can pursue. A lot of good things can happen in Summit.

What specific solutions do you have to make social services, food, and shelter available to the homeless people who are in and around the train station?

DH: I think we’ve all noticed there is certainly an increase at the train station recently. I was speaking with someone from GRACE today, and they talked about the fact that they had one person last year who they were able to get a full-time job and move through the program. There are so many things that GRACE does to help the homeless. We have to continue to advocate for them to get on the road to success, get jobs. I’m passionate about fixing that solution and helping them, just as I did in the military with my soldiers. We were always focused on getting them back on the right track. It’s an important issue to me.

DO’S: We have contracted with Bridgeway; they have helped with our mental health services. Specific solutions at the City level are very difficult. We don’t have budget money for care of the homeless, but I think the overall theme of taking care of people who are homeless is affordable housing. There is not enough affordable housing in New Jersey or Summit and so part of the reason why we’re going down this road of Broad Street West is to add more affordable units, because people fall through the cracks. And they are priced out of places like Summit. We’ve seen it time and again. We have solutions on the table to get more affordable housing in this town. It’s desperately needed and it’s obvious to everyone every time you walk through the train station. It could happen to anyone.

Mental health is a very important component of this, added Hamlet, saying that a priority “would be to get a lot of these individuals mental health [assistance]. As you know, it is suicide awareness month, and we haven’t spent a lot of time talking about that this month.” As to affordable housing, she feels “we need to sit down and figure out exactly what our requirement is, because I think some people are a little unclear.”

How can Summit be more welcoming of diversity, equality, and inclusion and how would you measure success?

DO’S: I don’t know if there is a measurement for success. I was proud to support the raising of the Pride flag at the community center in my first year on Council. We lit the Hanukkah menorah on the Village Green in the 2020 holiday season. We just celebrated Juneteenth for the first time ever in Summit. And all of the Asian-American Pacific Islander events we host. If you see a Pride flag at the community center, you know we are a welcoming community. If you see a menorah lit next to a Christmas tree at the Village Green, you know we have diversity, and we care about everybody here. When you celebrate Juneteenth with our African-American community, you know we’re making progress on these issues. We have a very welcoming community. I don’t know how you measure it, but I feel it. 

DH: As I door-knock, I can certainly see how we can probably be more inclusive. We do so many great things here in Summit to include everybody and make them a part of our community, because that’s what it is. We are one of the most diverse cities that I’ve ever been in. There’s one thing that I could recommend that we do to make people feel more included. The town Council meeting minutes are not in Spanish or other languages. And I think a lot of people have frustrations over that, and I think it’s an easy fix. The City’s website s multiple languages, but when you get to the meat and potatoes of it, it’s only in English. That would be a really good, easy start.

What plans do you have for improving pedestrian safety?

DH: As many of you know, there was a pedestrian hit a few weeks ago, and kudos to the mayor, who made a statement at the last Council meeting where she said we are going to be cracking down, ticketing more. So I think that the conversations that a lot of the residents have been having is sinking in. The mayor actually did a Facebook Live safety post, and I think that was helpful. I think that everybody needs to slow down. Unfortunately, we really need to start ticketing because someone is going to get hurt. One of the other important issues, especially down on Bedford Road, is the children who are going from the high school to the football field. That is a massive concern because people are parking on both sides of that road, and it is an accident waiting to happen. People are fired up down thee about that issue.

DO’S: Tragic accidents happen. A couple of years ago, a crossing guard was struck by a vehicle helping kids cross at the middle school. People are driving too fast. They are not paying attention. But overall, our pedestrians are safe. We’re fully confident that we have measures in place, even more so now than ever. There are more sidewalks than ever, we have bump-outs to control speed, we have traffic beacons to help people cross the street, we have narrowed intersections, we have speed humps on Woodland Avenue and Ashland Road to slow people down. But I think the mayor was correct — people need to slow down. If I drive 25 miles an hour anywhere in town where the speed limit is 25, there will be someone five feet behind me riding my bumper, guaranteed. People are out of control, and we need to slow down and be mindful.

Hamlet added that bike helmets are the law, but she sees so many children not wearing helmets. “I think it’s something the community should focus on and encourage our children to wear helmets more often.”

The Broad Street development plan is now on hold while Council looks for options. What modifications would you make to that redevelopment, traffic, and affordable housing?

DO’S: The steering committee has advised the developers to shrink the project and come back with something smaller. What would I do? I would like to see two four-story buildings with a path in between. We get enough, not as much as I would like, but we get enough affordable housing units out of it, we get market-rate apartments out of it, we get green space, we get sustainability features, maybe they bury the power lines over there. It’s all a negotiation that has to happen. It’s been a really difficult process. It’s been a democratic process, though. We have made tremendous progress, and I know it’s up-and-down progress, and it’s not what you want right away, but we have made tremendous progress. I’m proud of where we are; I’m proud of where the project is headed. 

DH: I respectfully disagree. I think the process has not been transparent, I think that 1700 residents or more have stood up against the project. We have seen countless residents who are peeling back the onion. Topology has been horrendous, the financial advisor was just removed, now we are starting a process with only a financial committee. I think that it would be wise to consider everything, including not doing redevelopment under redevelopment law. I think we have to think about all of our options. As I door-knock, I meet so many residents who are urban planners, who are architects. I went to Lincoln-Hubbard the other day and the number of people who have great ideas is amazing. We have a lot of smart people in this community. I think we need to be very specific. I actually had a call with [planner] Joe Burgis yesterday around where are we at exactly with the affordable housing requirement, because I think a lot of people are confused with the exact number. I think that would be helpful. I actually walked the area a few weeks ago; I have some renderings of what I would like, or what I’m hearing that residents would like.

O’Sullivan pointed out that the City has “hired a new financial advisor, we are bringing aboard financial experts who are local to Summit, so I’m thrilled about that. As far as the Area in Need of Redevelopment [ANR] process, right now we have control. Everyone in here has control of this project. If we abandon the Area in Need of Redevelopment law, we will lose control, and we don’t know what’d going to happen there.”

Hamlet responded that Summit residents pushed back “because the initial proposal was out of scale and out of character with what the residents wanted. And with all due respect, although Council is on a pause, I’m not sure if the public has seen any information regarding this two-buildings, four-stories-with-a-passthrough, and it’s frustrating for me as a candidate to having to discuss that information when I don’t think anybody has seen those plans.”

To clarify, said O’Sullivan, that was only his opinion, something he’s advocating for. “There are no concepts, no one has seen anything.”

In response, Hamlet suggested the important thing that everybody needs to remember is, or ask themselves, is, “who owns this land? Is it the council, or is it the 22,000 residents of Summit? It creates an area where residents don’t feel like they’re included.”

O’Sullivan answered that the ANR law “allows committees like the one we’re forming to come to the table. If this City land is sold to a developer, there will be no design advice, there will be no financial advisors from the community coming in to do this. So we’re in a good process right now. I ‘m happy that we have people in this room that are going to be at the table. We’ll have design people from this room in the next step.”

To this, Hamlet could only reply, “We totally disagree on this topic. This absolutely needs to be restarted, rethought, include the residents, 100 percent. Full stop.”

Should the finance advisory committee be kept as a financial-matters-only committee, or would you include design, traffic, and affordable housing?

DH: Absolutely, hands down, [the other areas] should have been a part of the process a long time ago, and I think that’s why the residents have spoken out. We have so many smart residents, they do this for a living, and I think it is only to our advantage to involve them. I started a business in a 50,000-square-foot renovated building. It’s really important to include all of that, because a lot of time the financial decisions are based on all of the things that are included in the design process. So absolutely, and I’m sure that is coming, and I think having it financial-only is not good for the town of Summit.

DO’S: I’m comfortable where we are. The financial team that we’re going to assemble, they’re a talented group, they’re motivated to help us. If they can’t make the numbers work, then thers really is no need for a design group. We’re going to be really back at the drawing board. So let’s just find out of they can make the numbers work, then we’ll move on to the next group, and we’ll invite more people in. If we lose control of this project, and the property is sold, there will be no design group, there will be no financial team helping, because the new owners will have all of that, and they’ll build whatever they want within the zoning laws.

“I think we’ve already lost this project,” countered Hamlet. “The fact that we had one bidder at the table, and we put the developers’ interests in front of our residents’, is quite honestly very frustrating. We have lost control of this project, and as a resident, and as a resident who’ll be representing you, I do not want anyone making financial decisions on a project that maybe you don’t want. And it is very important to me that this project takes a different direction.”

But the ANR law is clear, responded O’Sullivan, “one developer at the table at a time. They started off with 12 developers, and they got RFQs and RFPs and the steering committee whittled it down to this group, Toll Brothers and L&M Partners. This is all that the law allows right now. Having an open bid, no, it would be against the law.”

Hamlet disagreed. “I think you have to scrap ANR, start over, 100%, full stop. There is one bidder in the room. Scrap it.”

Name an example when the Summit Common Council was very transparent with residents; name an example where, in your opinion, there should have been more transparency on an issue.

DO’S: We’re as transparent as possible. Recent Councils have bumped public comment right up to the front of the meeting. There’s a Council president’s preview of the agenda. Besides transparency, I would add accessibility. We have a group on Council right now that’s the most accessible that you’ve ever had. You can call us, you can email us, you can pull me aside any time you want to discuss anything that’s on your mind. I think transparency and accessibility go hand in hand.

DH: All of our Council are volunteers, and they really are trying to do the best they can. Sometimes our Council packets are 200, 300 pages by the time they’re printed out, so you really do have to be paying attention to a lot of the issues. One of the issues I was frustrated with around transparency was gas-powered leaf blowers. The business owners were very hurt by the lack of communication initially, and that was, for me, one of the first things I noticed. Obviously Broad Street West, it’s quite honestly alarming how many people have come up one after another. These people are passionate about this, they want to be involved. They want to be a part of the project, of the plan. It’s important. It matters. Their voice matters.

If elected, what is the one thing you hope to accomplish during your tenure?

DH: That’s an easy one. I think bring some civility back to Summit. I think there’s way too much groupthink. We’re getting a little bit better. We’re all neighbors; we should not have divisive local politics. This is insanity. All of our children go to school together. We should only be focused on making Summit better. I want you to walk into that Council room if I get elected, and I want to see a smile on your face, and I want to smile back.

DO’S: I’m really proud of the accomplishments that I have been able to push forward thorough my first term. My focus in my second term will be to capture federal grant money from the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act so that we can get our fleets changed over from gas-powered vehicles to electric. It’s really expensive, and it would be unaffordable for this City to take it on. There’s going to be grant money available. I’m going to fight for it so we can have a more renewable future.

Closing Statements

In closing, O’Sullivan noted that running for reelection “has allowed me to reflect and take stock of my first term. I’m extremely proud of what we were able to get done during a very challenging time in Summit. These are real, tangible things that make a difference in the quality of our lives. At the onset of COVID, I was part of a group of people who came together to save the downtown, and now our award-winning downtown is more vibrant and energetic than ever. In my first run for Council, I promised to address our outdoor recreation spaces and I delivered on that promise with a major investment in the town pool and new basketball courts at Tatlock and Memorial. As chair of Parking Services I directed the City to remove the Deforest lot gates, which saved Summit $750,000. We are continuing to plant trees to enhance our tree canopy, we have the tiny forest, we’re composting food at the transfer station. We live in a more welcoming community. These are just some of the things I’m most proud of. But there’s work to do, and we have challenges to overcome. If you reelect me, my focus will be on building strong consensus on Broad Street West, more investments in our playgrounds and parks. We need to capture federal infrastructure grant money to start converting our City fleet es to electric. And I will continue to attend Union County meetings to advocate for you, the people of Summit.”

Hamlet closed by pointing out that “the city of Summit could fundamentally change forever. Maintaining historic Summit is essential. You have my commitment to maintain and protect historical Summit as the city we choose to live and raise our children in. I encourage everyone as you leave the Library tonight, based upon what was originally in the [BSW] letter of intent that put the developers’ interests in front of residents’, you would literally run into massive apartment complexes smack in the middle of this lot and other City blocks. The next time you go to the train station, think about the leaders who fought to put the tracks underground. It wasn’t easy, but to use Millie Cooper’s words, ‘they fought like hell to get it right.’ Millie has reminded us there was a proposal to put City Hall on the Village Green, but they had to change direction due to public engagement with people who cherished green space ranswhere the community comes together. The possibilities for this space are endless. The more I door-knock, the more that’s crystal clear. Imagine how fabulous it could be. How about the people’s park, or Village Green II, as mentioned last week. How about a bandstand where all of our performing artists and musicians could perform? This could still include housing or recreational things for us and our children to enjoy. A few weeks ago I walked around with an artist and another resident. I would be able to show you renderings of what is possible. With your input over the next few months, we can make anything possible. One thing that is abundantly clear is that the silver lining of Broad Street West is that it has been the one thing that has bought Democrats and Republicans together for the first time in a long time. If Broad Street West is such a good idea, put it out on referendum and let the people decide. I ask you to put partisan politics aside on November 8. I will work hard to earn your vote and if elected I won’t stop door-knocking.

The general election is Tuesday, November 8; the deadline to register to vote is October 18, with early voting beginning October 29 and running through November 6. The full debate can be viewed at