Democratic Primary Council CandidatE
A lifelong volunteer, Matt Ackermann is one of eight children, who all graduated from Rutherford High between 1992 and 2012. The Ackermanns have lived in Rutherford for more than 50 years. Matt and his wife Marisa, who've been married since 2007, met at Memorial Field in 2004 when Matt was coaching a baseball game. Today, they are the parents of two boys, CJ, 10, is a 5th grader at Pierrepont School and Ryan, 4, will head to the Kindergarten Center in September. During the pandemic, Matt and CJ created a YouTube series, Summer of Sandwiches, when there wasn’t another performing arts summer program available for kids. Ryan is starting t-ball in Rutherford and Matt hopes someday he’s the starting catcher for the Baltimore Orioles. Professionally, Matt is a filmmaker, a marketer, and a content producer for Integrated Partners. After spending two decades on the road for work as a member of the media, Matt is now a work-from-home Dad who loves being able to drive his boys to school every morning and cook dinner for them every night.
1). What are some of the non-political activities that you participated in prior to running for Council?
Rutherford has always been home for me and I've been a volunteer here for more than three decades. Much of that volunteer work has been focused on the incredible teens and youth of Rutherford as both a coach and mentor. In 1991, when I was 16, I started coaching Rutherford Rec basketball and just fell in love with coaching. I have coached baseball and basketball in Rutherford and beyond since 1994 (and now I'm coaching soccer, basketball and t-ball with my youngest son.) I won three state titles in Senior Babe Ruth, American Legion and Babe Ruth. I ran the South Bergen Bullets, a semi-pro baseball team that plays home games at Memorial Field, for the past 12 years. I was president of the Rutherford Babe Ruth League and coordinator for Recreation Basketball for more than a decade. I am a member of the board of directors of the North Jersey Metropolitan Baseball League. I am a member of Seton Hall University’s President’s Advisory Group and the Rutherford Volunteer Committee. And I am the director of the St. Mary Youth Group
Win or lose on election day, I'll proudly continue volunteering my time in this community on June 8. It is who I am.
2). How do you feel about the Borough's handling of the Williams Center transfer?
I think the Borough - and that is everyone from the Mayor and Council to all of our amazing neighbors who spoke up and spoke out over the past year plus - have all done an incredible job when it comes to how we as a community handled the Williams Center. The idea of losing this iconic space spurred true community ACTION and, at a time when it is always easier to sit on your hands and do nothing, ACTION is awesome.
This was a complicated process, and last year I paid close attention to comments at Mayor and Council meetings as well as on social media to learn what our neighbors wished to happen with this property. I was struck by the wide variety of opinions, and how differently we all viewed the same project based on our own experience and needs. Ultimately I believe the transfer of the property to a local businessman who pledged his love of the arts was the best case scenario in a difficult situation. It's easy to say what we don’t want, but it is much more difficult to figure out what will work and see it through.
Honestly, I'm looking forward to being part of the generation that gets to see the rebirth of the Williams Center.
The Mayor and Council listened to every perspective and worked diligently with the county to get the Williams Center sold to a local developer with a big vision, which ensures that a theater (and the arts) are at the forefront of whatever comes next.
From the outside looking in, local politics is a thankless, behind-the-scenes effort that features more complaints than congratulations. But Councilman Mullahey worked tirelessly to make sure the Williams Center wasn't demolished and the theater - a place where I can remember seeing so many movies and going to so many events growing up - can be a place our kids and their kids can enjoy for decades ahead. Tom’s hard work on this project is one of the many reasons I’m proud to be on the Democratic ticket with him.
3). If elected to council, how will you help encourage and sustain new businesses throughout the entire town?
Business and commerce are critical to the success of Rutherford. Great businesses, like Goffins or Paisanos, can thrive for generations in Rutherford because we have a community that is committed to shopping locally. I know that successful businesses and a thriving downtown will help us attract more great businesses. Success is contagious. When one business succeeds another will follow.
But spreading that story doesn't happen by accident. I've spent my professional career as a marketer and a storyteller. We need businesses to see and experience our thriving community. We need to show and tell the stories of successful and thriving local entrepreneurs, like Dan Meredith and Barry Goffin and the Muscio family, in video and documentaries to create a real FOMO about Rutherford.
The good news? This is what I do everyday. I know that I can bring a unique set of filmmaking and storytelling skills to the Borough Council and a real tenacity to help businesses thrive because successful, well-marketed businesses will most certainly help us to attract more successful entrepreneurs to Rutheford.
4). What do you consider the most pressing issue facing our town right now that you want to focus your attention on if elected?
In the questions above we talked a bit about redevelopment and business growth, so I’d like to focus this answer on helping new residents feel like part of our amazing community.
With our amazing schools, downtown and recreation programs, Rutherford is this incredible hidden gem in Bergen County. Close enough to commute to New York City, but far enough to be this incredible suburb.
As neighbors here in Rutherford, I know you know this, but there are so many people that are unaware of how amazing Rutherford is.
This town has such a unique opportunity to be a magnet for young families. But many still come to Rutherford and find a house, but don't find a home. We need to offer support, resources, community and connections to new residents so that they become lifelong neighbors. We need to do a better job of creating a network, so families, children and teens can find their "tribe" in Rutherford.
What does that mean?
*Creating a Welcome Center to connect new residents with everything Rutheford has available
*Enhancing our Recreation program to include more non-athletic programs to create a more inclusive community
Rutherford stands at an inflection point. We need to help new residents know that they are now neighbors and part of a friendly and thriving community that is excited to welcome them.
The great thing about Rutherford? If I've learned anything from volunteering in town for a long time, you don't need to be an elected official to make change happen. If you are willing to roll up your sleeves and put in the work, you can ALWAYS be part of the solution. My wife Marisa and I are proud to be helping teens and young families through our work at our church, but bringing that energy and enthusiasm to the entire borough would help exponentially more people feel like they aren’t “residents” or “constituents,” but welcome neighbors in our community.
5). How would you fulfill our affordable housing obligations while keeping Rutherford's suburban, small-town feel?
The Borough is facing an affordable housing deadline in 2025. Three years ago, the Borough reached a settlement with the Fair Share Housing Center that established certain goals for development around affordable housing.
As we head toward that deadline, it is critical for the Mayor and Council to help lead the charge so we can fulfill these obligations but preserve our community. This means carefully considering each developer's ideas and then seeing if and how they can fit into the overall strategy.
I don't think this requires high-rise apartments. I don't think it means overwhelming our schools and hard-working educators. We need to be willing to evolve and listen and be creative. We need to be willing to look over the fence at some of our neighboring municipalities to see what has worked - and what hasn't.
We have some amazing volunteers working tirelessly on our local rent board to ensure that people renting in town have a voice. We all want to make sure that every member of our community is heard and protected.The "suburban feel" of Rutherford isn't about bricks and buildings or houses and lawns. It is about people and community. We feel safe and secure because we have known and trusted our First Responders for generations. Our neighbors know our kids and will tap us on the shoulder if they are misbehaving.
The best thing about Rutherford is we are all in this together. As this amazing borough continues to grow and evolve, we will all continue to be vigilant advocates, observers, and, yes, occasional adversaries, to make sure that what’s next is better than what was.