CHATHAM, New Jersey — Election Day is approaching and Chatham voters will soon head to the polls to cast their ballots for three seats on the local city council.
Patch sent questionnaires to all candidates, seeking their answers. Here is candidate Carolyn Dempsey’s response.
Editor’s note: Patch emailed all candidates at the email addresses listed for their campaigns in the clerk’s office. The answers will be revealed between now and the general election on November 7. These comments will be published with only minor style changes. Candidates who wish to participate but have not received an invitation should email email@example.com.
Name: Carolyn Dempsey
City of residence: Chatham District
Membership party: Democratic
Family: My husband, our three children and I have lived in Chatham for 22 years. All of our children were educated in the SDOC; one is in high school and two are in college.
Education: BA in Russian/Soviet Studies, Major in Spanish, from the College of William and Mary.
Occupation: Music and Spanish Teacher
Previous or current elected appointee: I am currently serving my second term on the Chatham City Council.
Why are you seeking elective office?
I am proud of the accomplishments and culture of our current City Council and look forward to building on them as mayor. I am excited to continue working on many of the projects I started in the municipality, to see them through to completion.
If elected, what do you hope to accomplish while serving on the council?
I have been very busy as a member of the Chatham City Council for the past five years. When our current mayor decided not to seek re-election, my fellow council members and our Democratic Committee urged me to run. I was hesitant at first, but now I accept the challenge and opportunity to be the head of the executive branch of our local government. If elected, I will be the first elected Democratic mayor in the history of Chatham Borough.
There are many challenges as well as interesting new perspectives in Chatham. Many New Jersey cities are faced with the question of how to balance development while maintaining a sense of community and “small town feel,” and providing sufficient affordable housing. Chatham falls into this category. We have a new round of affordable housing obligations in 2025, which are mandatory by law. Additionally, we must remember that homeowners have rights and can build whatever they want within the existing zoning.
We are currently working with our planners to imagine something that could be a benefit to Chatham, having amenities available to all residents, having the required (and necessary) affordable housing, without being too large in scale, should a developer decide to build on your property. A difficult balance to achieve. We hope to soon incorporate the public into this process to help with potential visions, especially along River Road. We can’t completely stop development, but we can manage it.
Our city is in danger of becoming too expensive for millennials and young families to afford, and too expensive for retirees to stay. I firmly believe that diversity of all kinds (age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, economics, professions, etc.) is essential to creating a lively and healthy community. One of my main goals as mayor will be to ensure that we have inclusionary housing that is affordable for all residents, not just the wealthiest, and to manage the size and scale.
Working with developers could also help with another goal: reclaiming our riverfront for our residents and the continuation of our riverfront trail. We completed the first phase early in my term on the Council and I would like to continue with phases two and three, which will require working with commercial property owners along the Passaic and will involve environmental cleanup. I am currently a member of the Board of the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge; GSWA has an interest in cleaning up the Passaic River, so I hope to combine their nonprofit interests with our priorities in Chatham.
Much of what I worked for and accomplished during my years on the Council I will want to continue as mayor, such as continuing to improve our parks and public services, and celebrating with community events.
We just celebrated the grand opening of the Stanley Center and I want to ensure it lives up to its potential to be a thriving focal point in our city for culture and events. I have been the liaison to our Public Arts Council and we recently unveiled two new murals in Chatham celebrating the history and future of Chatham. I want to help the PAC stay active and beautify our city. As a Council member, I initiated the creation of a new “parklette” right off our main street.
I would like to move forward with an idea that came from Mayor Kobylarz to name this new area after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I am working with art teachers in our school district to guide students in creating an sculpture for the park that embodies Dr. King’s principles. I know I will continue to work with Chatham Community Food Distribution to help our most vulnerable neighbors and to promote and create local events that benefit our Chatham residents and businesses.
Then there are the practical needs of a small city that I will attend to, such as ensuring we have the funds and processes in place to acquire a new fire truck for our CBVFD, supporting our CBPD as they prepare to hire new officers and SLEOs for our schools and working with our municipal water company to ensure we have enough supplies for current and future needs while trying to avoid the need to dig a costly second well. Opportunities (and lots of work!) abound in the near future for Chatham and I am grateful for the strong support of my fellow councilors and the talented departments of the city administration.
My fellow City Council candidates and I ran unopposed. As we head into the November election without any opposition, it is the first time in Chatham history that Republicans or independents have not fielded candidates for local office.
I believe our current lack of opposition candidates can be attributed to the hard work we have put into campaigning over the past six years, and the hard work and achievements we have demonstrated while in office. We haven’t rested on our recent success, but have continued to knock on doors, appear at events, send mail, display signs, and reach out to residents in every way possible. We are committed to being not only the representatives, but also the delegates of all our fellow Chatham residents.
What do you think is the most pressing issue facing residents right now and what do you plan to do about it?
Development and compliance with our affordable housing obligations: see previous answer
Residents have expressed increased concern about overdevelopment in the municipality in recent years; How would you solve this?
See previous answer
What achievements from your past would you cite as evidence that you can do this job?
When I first ran for office on Chatham City Council I had several goals: focus on citywide activities to build a sense of community and revitalize our downtown, improve our parks and recreational amenities, and make our city a more welcoming community, all while maintaining the fiscal health of the municipality.
Some accomplishments in my first five years in office include:
- * Collaborate with our Community Services Department to create the first-ever summer concert series that draws hundreds of residents and visitors to our downtown for each performance throughout the season.
- * Oversee the renovation of Garden Park, including the resurfacing of the city’s tennis courts, the creation of two modern basketball courts, a new walking path around the park, and a canopy seating area. I also helped with the completion of the first phase of our Passaic River Trail and the accompanying historic kiosks.
- *Co-creator of Chatham Community Food Distribution. To address local food insecurity, we created food distribution in the early days of the pandemic. Once a week, through donations and volunteers, we distribute fresh produce, milk, eggs, bread and personal care items to families in need. We are still in operation and serve between 50 and 60 families weekly.
- * Oversee the donation of the former Stanley Congregational Church to the township and co-lead its transition to the Stanley Center, which provides performance, rehearsal and exhibition space for the arts, community meeting rooms and is a great venue for all types of events. .
- * Reintroduce the “Flag Award” to our Historic Preservation Commission, which recognizes the restoration efforts of a business or home. Assist with updating and digitizing design guidelines for architects, contractors, and owners in the historic district.
- * Establishing the first Town Hall Open Day for residents and Local Government Day for our primary school students, both now annual events. He helped establish regular office hours for the mayor and council, which had never been done.
- * Help with the first Diversity Celebration in 2021. Musicians, dancers, poets, speakers and local leaders and clergy come together for an evening to celebrate the wide range of cultures and traditions of the Chathams and Madison.
This is just some of what I have been able to bring to Chatham while in office, the city where we raised our children and that I have come to love. While we have a wonderful community, I believe we must always look for ways to improve the lives of our residents and be prepared for the future.
Is there anything else you would like voters to know about you and your positions?
I grew up in Nebraska, went to college in Virginia, met my husband in New York City, and settled with our family in Chatham. There are many wonderful places I have been lucky enough to experience, but Chatham is where we call home.
We are grateful that our children have received a wonderful public education through the Chathams School District that has prepared them for college and beyond. Our oldest will be graduating from college soon and has a job offer in New York City. He is excited to return to Chatham and begin his “adult life” traveling to the city, as is his father and many other residents. My husband and I often talk about what we want to do once our kids are fully “grown up and flown.”
There are many places we have loved visiting, but we always remember how lucky we are to live in New Jersey: we have access to excellent healthcare, major airports, the culture and excitement of New York City, plus we live in a state that cares about public education and the safety and rights of its citizens. Best of all, we are anchored by a wonderful hometown in Chatham, with its own perks and amenities.
I want everyone to feel welcome in Chatham as we have felt and, as mayor, take Chatham into the future by honoring our past.