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Meet the Township Council Candidates: Debra Johnson

A series of profiles on the Democratic candidates for Township Council vying in the June 5 primary.

Eight candidates filed to run in the November general election for three, three-year terms on the South Brunswick Township Council. The terms of incumbent Democratic Councilmen Joseph Camarota, Charles Carley, and Republican John O'Sullivan have expired. Both Camarota, of Kendall Park, and Carley, of Kendall Park, filed to run for reelection, along with Josephine "Jo" Hochman, on the Middlesex County Democratic Organization ticket. Also filing to run, under the Township Democrats ticket, were former South Brunswick Mayor Debra Johnson, of Monmouth Junction, and Shilpn Patel, of Monmouth Junction.

Voters will cast their ballots on June 5 in the Democratic primary to decide which three candidates will move on to the November general election.

On the GOP side, three candidates filed to run under the Middlesex County Republican Organization. In addition to incumbent O'Sullivan, of Monmouth Junction, are Michael Kushwara, of Kendall Park, and Paul Saltin, of Monmouth Junction.

Meet the Candidates: Debra Johnson

Johnson, an attorney who graduated from South Brunswick High School, was the first elected mayor of South Brunswick. She served on the Township Committee in 1995 and as mayor in 1997. When the township changed its form of government, she was elected mayor in 1999, where she served until 2002. 

Johnson ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2010 as an independent, but said she decided to enter the upcoming race as a democrat with intention of breaking away from the Middlesex County Democrats.

"When I ran (in 2010), I didn't articulate well enough that I was and always will be a democrat," Johnson said. "This way people understand that I'm not leaving my basic beliefs, I'm just stepping away from the Middlesex County organization. I wanted to come back because I really do love public service. I only left because my mom was ill."

with no tax rate increase. Johnson said as a council member she would work to keep taxes more consistent.

"Right now we're at zero (tax rate increase). The last couple years we had 8-cent (tax rate) increases, 7-cent increases and now we've gone to zero," she said. "When I was mayor we had budgets that were stable and consistent. We had 2-cent to 3-cent increases. We need a seasoned CFO and manager to work on and develop a budget that stays level and not going for an extreme plan for the short term that doesn't work out for the long term. We called it zero based budgeting, where you go to the very base of each budget and start anew."

Johnson said she also supports bringing back a citizen's budget advisory committee to work with department heads and take advantage of the township's skilled volunteers. 

The township ratable base dropped 4.3 percent to approximately $3.6 billion in 2010. South Brunswick experienced another decline in ratables of about $5.4 million (2.3 percent) last year. Johnson said the township must work with business owners to make South Brunswick an attractive destination.

"We need to try and develop initiatives that that get people excited about filling these empty warehouses near Exit 8A," she said. "I don't believe in pilot programs at all. We can get enough businesses without them. When I was mayor, we had the Industrial Commission meet and attract new businesses by talking to our current business owners and making them happy in a way that they become ambassadors for us. So we need to do that again so we can do something with those vacant warehouses on the Route 130 corridor."

With the township Johnson said the township should launch a grassroots campaign to prompt the state to move forward on the much needed improvements. Johnson said when she was serving in 1997, it appeared the improvements were close to fruition.  However, she said the plan would've made the situation worse through the addition of overpasses that would've caused residents to drive nearly to North Brunswick just to turn around and head south on Route 1. 

"This is an issue we've been dealing with that no one disagrees on, whether democrat or republican," she said. "When we were concerned about Route 522 or the MOM line, the citizens of this town pooled our resources. We need to launch letter-writing campaigns, emails, whatever avenue we can use to lead this community to let the state know our concerns. We need to start inviting public hearings on Route 1, advertising and working with our citizens to cause a groundswell of community action to urge for Route 1 to be widened."

As the founder of the South Brunswick Women’s Commission, Johnson said she also wants to bring back opportunities for volunteerism and internships in town for residents. 

Were she to be elected back to township government, Johnson said her top priority would be to keep the budget and future tax increases manageable.

"We need to make sure this town is affordable," she said. "I'm not sure why our water and sewer rates increased for the last several years before this year. When I was in office we kept it level. We kept our budgets level and controlled growth. Now we're buying stuff that's inappropriate for . I think developers are getting the feeling again that this is a town they can run amok in."

Johnson said the township must also work to build back up its surplus for emergencies instead of using the money to mitigate budgetary issues. She said her prior experience on the council and growing up in South Brunswick can continue to benefit the township moving forward.

"I believe my job is to fulfill the needs of this community and I work hard to make sure I keep my promises," Johnson added. "If people check my record they will see that the promises I've made, I've kept. My success is because of the educational system we have in South Brunswick. I have a great work ethic and the skill set to perform the necessary task at hand. I bring the experience, I'm invested in this town and I know the success of the township is through a partnership with the community to achieve the goals we set."

sbvikings June 04, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Winston, I guess you haven't lived in this town that long its a matter of record when the Republicans controled,there were rapid building ( contributions from builders), over crowding of schools etc. The Dem's have stopped growth as far as single family houses are concern, brought in more rateable's, again this year have no tax increase . It's a matter of record and I'm not any one of the people you mentioned
Winston June 04, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Viking you need to do something about that annoying stutter of yours! Blaming Republicans for the failed and impotent admintration off Frank, Bernie and the boys is a joke!
sbvikings June 05, 2012 at 05:22 AM
winston, what has failed or as been impotent about the Mayor's Administration ? No tax increase, increased commercial rateable's like Coke while the economy is failing, decrease in growth so the schools are not overburden. I don't get you point give me examples ? If it's there connection to the county dems, wow. The Old Republican majority had a major connection to the County GOP back in the day. Still do, example Linda Cleary is on the ballot again. So please give me examples
Concerned Citizen June 05, 2012 at 10:29 AM
Please check your facts. This is the first year we have not had a tax increase, which is going to hurt us next year because our budget surplus is so low. Decrease in growth?! South Brunswick had the highest percentage of growth in Middlesex County over the past 10 years. Only towns smaller in population size had higher percentage growth. Schools are not overburden? The High School is almost nearing capacity!
Winston June 05, 2012 at 10:33 AM
Sbviking....or is it frank, Bernie ,Ron or one of the others...please stop the lies. Anyone living in town or reading the patch knows that the SB dems are only interested in taking care of their own.... 1.CMA - the biggest pay to play scam as uncovered by the Star Ledger 2. Bernie the Political Boss - the unqualified town manager. 3. The dog park...buying a close to bankrupt business and unusable property at an inflated price with taxpayer money. And on, and on, and on....Please.....stop it Ron.

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