Democratic Primary Council CandidatE
Christie is a mother, wife, lawyer, mediator, volunteer, community builder, and, most importantly, a proud Rutherfordian. Drawn to Rutherford by her brother’s move before her, Christie, her husband, Jason, and their two children, Anabella and Leo, and their pup, Spumoni, have found a respite from the city they never planned to leave. Christie, an employment lawyer, has been nationally recognized in her field and has moderated large-scale employment law conferences. Christie has represented employees and employers in a broad range of matters. For eight years, Christie co-owned a thriving employment law boutique firm in lower Manhattan – even through the pandemic. Christie’s conflict resolution skills led her to add mediation to her employment law practice.
Christie spends a significant amount of time giving back to Rutherford. She is currently a Commissioner on the Rutherford Civil Rights Commission. She regularly volunteers at the Union Middle School, where her daughter attended, and her son is currently a 7th grader. Beyond Rutherford, Christie has been committed to supporting people living with cancer through significant work in a grassroots foundation started in her mother’s memory and with the American Cancer Society.
1) What are some of the non-political activities that you participated in prior to running for Council?
It’s safe to say I like to keep my life full and I like to keep learning. Philanthropy has always been important to me and I have spent a significant amount of time giving back to my community. For 16 years, I served as President of the PDR Foundation for the Study of Uterine Cancer, which was a grassroots organization that was started following my mother's brief, but valiant, battle with cancer. She passed away in 2004 - ten months after I became a mother myself. Both through the PDR Foundation and independently, I have been a passionate supporter and fundraiser for the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in New York City, which provides free lodging for cancer patients receiving treatment in New York City. I have regularly served as a speaker at fundraising events for the American Cancer Society including as the mission speaker at the Mothers of the Year Luncheon which honored Hoda Kotb. I have served on ACS’s Board of Advisors for Manhattan and on their Women’s Committee. I also like to use the non-legal parts of my brain to teach barre fitness classes for a studio in NYC and, for two years, I had a podcast that I co-hosted, From Where She Sits, that explored generational commonalities and differences in women’s lives. I have thoroughly enjoyed serving on the Rutherford Civil Rights Commission, as well. Other than endeavors of my professional life, my passion projects and organizations, my life revolves largely around family and, particularly, my children (Anabella (18) and Leo (13)), my husband (Jason) and our pup (Spumoni). We love taking walks into town and enjoying the local businesses. Living next door to my brother, sister (in-law), nephew (Sebastian) and niece (Scarlett) is one of the greatest joys of my life. I also enjoy being active in the children’s school communities, attending their theatrical performances and soccer, basketball, and lacrosse games and cooking big Italian dinners on Sundays -- a tradition I inherited from my mother and embraced.
2) How do you feel about the Borough's handling of the Williams Center transfer?
I’m not sure I feel that the Borough “handled” the Williams Center transfer at all. And that’s probably because the residents were not taken on the journey in a transparent way. Many residents (myself included) feel as though the Williams Center transition went from a huge sign on the building with an offer to auction to sitting in the hands of its current owner in the blink of an eye. I have spent weeks educating myself about redevelopment, preservation and zoning. While that takes time and I do not expect the Council to serve as educators on all things development, I do expect and plan to provide enough education that the residents do not feel duped. Our Borough, like many towns, has a Master Plan. It’s accessible to anyone who wants to read it. Many residents and the Planning Board contributed to the creation of Rutherford's Master Plan and while it is aspirational in its goals, it is supposed to be a guidepost to decision making. The Mayor and Council owe the residents a clear and transparent explanation when there is a deviation from these plans and we have not received that. That is not to say the Mayor and Council should not deviate from the Master Plan but, if it has to happen, we should have the benefit of knowing why - whether we agree or not. If I have learned anything in my years as a litigator, a mediator and a mother (ha!), it is that most conflict is avoided through adequate, fulsome and respectful communication. While I believe that the Williams Center’s greatest chance of survival was the current choice, I am befuddled that the path to the current plan was hundreds of residents protesting, being disregarded, showing up at council meetings, being disregarded, engaging the press and, seemingly, being disregarded. Now we sit in a place where that effort is barely recounted and, instead, the Council allows the shine to focus on them.
3) If elected to council, how will you help encourage and sustain new businesses throughout the entire town?
I was a small business owner for nearly eight years operating a legal practice. I understand the stress of not knowing what take home income will be in any given month. As a small business owner, there are times you are actually only spending money and taking in none at all. I understand how the pandemic took that anxiety to another level as I watched small business income (including mine) screech to a halt. For this reason, it’s a bittersweet time for small businesses in Rutherford. We have seen businesses that existed for decades close their doors, while we have seen premiere new businesses open. Park Avenue is simply electric on a Saturday night and will only get better when we start Dining Out in the street. Coming out of the pandemic, it is exciting to see small businesses thrive. We are not just lucky to live in a Borough with beautiful landscape and quaint architecture. Sometimes the beauty makes it easy to forget that we are in a central transportation hub and a true walking small city. With those gifts comes social responsibility to our small businesses and there are a variety of ways to keep that momentum going. First, we need to foster the accessibility of our businesses. Our government should be partnering with small businesses to ensure that they serve our uniquely abled community. Small, inexpensive enhancements can make small business access more equitable. Moreover, we need to think about new businesses beyond the development of downtown. Our West End has true gems - some old and some new - and we need to keep our attention on those businesses to ensure their survival.
The top theme of our candidacy is focused on engaging those affected by the governing authority of the Council. We need to center our residents and, in the case of new business development, our business owners and entrepreneurs in the Council’s priority setting and decision-making. What has helped some business owners thrive over others? What are their struggles? How could the Borough supercharge their success?
In that vein, I would work to immediately convene business owners from the West End and initiate a process with them and other experts in Borough Hall to analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that these businesses face. The economic realities are vastly different than those operating on and off Park Avenue. Rutherford needs to wrap its arms around all of its businesses. But we have to start with asking the questions of those impacted by decisions taken in Borough Hall.
4) What do you consider the most pressing issue facing our town right now that you want to focus your attention on if elected?
My motivation to run for Council is pretty simple. The pandemic allowed me to sit through many Mayor & Council meetings during a time that our community (like many others) was fraught with innumerable challenges. I watched resident after resident bring their issues, research, concerns and ideas to Zoom. Public commenting would open and close with often no response and no engagement from our elected officials. The information flow from the Council was a drip, at best, which led residents to develop their own theories fueled by fear that they are then compelled to hash out on social media. That is the most pressing issue - a lack of trust between residents and the leadership of the Borough. We cannot tackle the tough questions of development, public safety, education, or other issues without building back trust. When I was out canvassing, I spoke with a resident on the West End. I asked him if he votes and he responded that he does not. When I asked why, he simply said, “Because it does not matter. No one listens.” I was devastated and he meant it. I fear that leaders are afraid to engage in hard conversations where they disagree with the position with which they are presented so they simply do not respond. Since I have a career that requires me to disagree with others daily, I’m not afraid of it and I know how to do it respectfully. The primary thing constituents want is to be seen, heard and respected. For me, that’s easy. Respect does not always equal agreement but it definitely equals responsiveness.
5) How would you fulfill our affordable housing obligations while keeping Rutherford's suburban, small-town feel?
Quite simply, I do not think affordable housing and a beautiful suburbia are mutually exclusive. I do not believe affordable housing obligations will negatively impact the town we love. I want our town to continue to grow in diversity of every type. The way that happens is by making living here palpable and realistic for folks of different generations and backgrounds. The reality is, we are going to see additional buildings join our community that contain multifamily dwellings and those multifamily dwellings can (and should (legally and otherwise)) include affordable housing options. That is an opportunity, not a risk. I have spent a lot of time talking to residents about what brought them to Rutherford and I have spent a lot of time talking to residents about why generations of their families have stayed here for decades. I do not believe Rutherford ever runs the risk of becoming a metropolis.
Furthermore, maintaining or fostering affordable housing, both through the creation of new multi-family dwellings or moderating property tax increases, is essential both for infusing our community with new residents and allowing our longtime residents, many of whom live on fixed incomes, to be able continue to live in Rutherford for as long as they want to be in our community.
Lastly, I would bring my legal expertise to support the work of ensuring the town does meet its legal obligations under the 2019 settlement agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center. That agreement requires Rutherford to meet certain affordable housing targets no later than July 1, 2025. The Council has to be vigilant to ensure that the Borough is not at risk of failing to satisfy the stipulations of this agreement. Susan and I are both attorneys so we are uniquely suited to help the Borough critically analyze risk in all regards.