By Jay Cook |
HIGHLANDS – Forget the glitz and glam of election night, because in Highlands they do it their own way.
There aren’t hundreds of supporters congested inside an upscale banquet hall. Heaps of multicolored balloons don’t hang in the ceiling rafters nor are there open bars or spreads of catered food.
Instead, six foldable tables and eight voting machines are flanked by racks of hanging firefighter gear and the borough’s firetruck parked against the back wall.
Every year on election day, Highlands residents and borough council candidates converge on Highlands Fire Department Station 17-1 at 171 Shore Drive for the tally of votes from the day’s election.
“Ever since I’ve run for office, we’ve always met at the fire station for the results,” former Highlands mayor and Borough Council candidate Frank Nolan said on Tuesday afternoon.
Announcing the results is a matter of tradition. First year borough clerk Bonnie Brookes assumed the position as town crier on Tuesday evening. Standing atop a chair, Brookes read ballot results aloud to the anxious candidates. She shuffled through rolls of ticker tape printed straight from the voting machines.
“It’s certainly not something I’ve experienced before,” said Brookes, formerly a clerk in Shrewsbury Borough and Shrewsbury Township.
As tallies from each district were read, pens and pencils scribbled quickly to do the math. By the sixth reading, the results were clear: political newcomers and running mates Rosemary Ryan and Ken Braswell had secured the two open seats in the 2017 Highlands nonpartisan election. Ryan finished first with 739 votes and Braswell followed with 599, garnering over 60 percent of the vote as a team.
“I think we ran a really positive campaign,” an emotional Ryan told The Two River Times afterwards. “Even if there were some negative things that we heard, we didn’t address it. And we didn’t come to retaliate.”
Braswell believed the campaign’s message resonated with voters because they felt people realized the duo was sincere. “We were genuine and passionate about the important things we really want to get done,” he said.
Borough council members Rebecca Kane-Wells and Doug Card did not seek reelection this year, but they didn’t distance themselves from the election.
Kane-Wells was seated beside Ryan and Braswell as the votes came in. She hurriedly wrote the totals into a chart to see the flow from each voting district.
“Personally, I feel they are two incredible people coming on board that are full of knowledge and have been volunteering for 20-plus years,” Kane-Wells said, after acknowledging she voted for Ryan and Braswell.
“I like the direction” of the town, she added. “We have fantastic employees in place and will have a cohesive council.”
Ryan, 49, a paralegal, and Braswell, 58, a small business owner in Highlands, said they want to get right into action as they prepare for January.
The crux of their campaign was to fix the perpetual flooding ailing small businesses and homeowners. Braswell pointed out that high tides, not even rain or wind, can cause a downtown deluge. He said he wants to focus on repairing the storm sewer systems to provide relief.
“The work we’ll complete during our term is going to last a hundred years. It’s very, very meaningful,” he said.
Ryan also said increased code enforcement along Bay Avenue and other egresses will soon happen to provide a better experience when entering town.
But until then, Ryan said she’s ready for borough briefings to prepare for elected office.
“We’re going to try and get ahead of the learning curve so we can start right away,” she added.
Borough Council candidate Greg Wells finished in third with 433 votes. Nolan, the former mayor, finished in fourth with 297. John Coberg finished in fifth place with 119 votes, and 11 ballots were cast for write-in candidates. Voter turnout in Highlands was 42.5 percent, just north of the 41.6 percent county-wide turnout.
This article was first published in the Nov. 9-16, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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