Democrat for Maplewood TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE
To achieve greater equity in our community, negotiate better for our town, build consensus, collaborate more directly with our School Board and State Reps, and to inspire and mobilize people to get involved in their government. Maplewood is a magical place with a distinct identity and a vibrant community that inspire me to dive head first into protecting its great treasures. I feel a deep sense of duty and loyalty to the welcoming community that has embraced my partner George and me so warmly. I’m inspired by every Maplewoodian’s pride, energy, and engaging spirit to build upon our successes, especially now as our community’s values are being threatened by a national regressive conservative agenda that directly affects us here on every important issue. And, when our growth and greatness have been stunted by a legacy of doing things a certain way for a very long time which has resulted in inequality and divided our community into several Maplewoods.
What’s my philosophy of government?
Governing takes grit, courage, compassion, analytical thinking, people skills, strong negotiating skills, and commitment towards equitable solutions. It involves a lot of trial and error. It works best when it’s collaborative. At times it’s a tough and frustrating balancing act. The success of elected officials can be measured by how they build consensus toward achieving a common good. I am that consensus builder. Our greatest power as citizens is at the local level where we can truly change and shape our community. We must take action together to make Maplewood better for ALL of us. Unity in Community!
Maplewood's first LGBT for the TC.
Moved to Maplewood from Manhattan two years ago with my partner George Forbes. We LOVE it here!
It’s all Greek to me!
First generation Greek-American. Blue collar, working class roots in the stressful melting pot of downtown 1970s Philadelphia. In the hot summer, the fire hydrant was our pool. Our row house front door steps were our community center. Stick ball was our recreation. My parents came from Greece in the 60s to escape poverty and a military junta. Mom worked as seamstress and Dad performed several jobs until they were able to own their own business, a small diner where my brother and I learned the value of hard work and customer service at a young age.
My parents moved my brother and me back to the old country so we could experience life on the farm and Greek culture. I completed high school in Athens and returned to the States for my undergraduate studies at Temple University. I attended the T.C Williams School of Law in Richmond, Va. and went to work at Legal Aid before landing on Wall Street years later. After the market crash of 2008, I became a full-time political and community activist.
Experience in local community ADVOCACY
Community Engagement before Maplewood
Worked with local officials on community issues over 10 years in NYC as either a volunteer or official Board member in association with the following organizations/non-profits/groups:
Served over 100,000 constituents on issues such as: greater pedestrian safety; public safety; complete streets; better transportation; parks & recreation; affordable housing/mixed use development; balanced land use/zoning policy; senior citizen rent protections; locally/minority-owned businesses support; community policing, noise/quality of life restrictions; and, building code violation enforcement.
Community Engagement in Maplewood
Maplewood Library Foundation Board Member - working with the community, architects, and feasibility study experts in creating a model of a 21st Century library in response to our community’s changing needs. The library is where I learned English alongside my immigrant mother. In Maplewood today, the library isn't just a place for books and educational programming, it's the intergenerational and multicultural cornerstone of our community.
South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race Trustee - working on building coalitions in the community with residents, realtors, school officials, teachers, police, experts, neighborhood associations, and local government officials in promoting and strengthening our rich diversity, increasing our cultural competency literacy, and enhancing our understanding of race. The need for the Coalition’s work and its ground-breaking programming is more pressing than ever at a time of reduced diversity, lack of inclusion, and repeated incidents of bias in our community.
Maplewood Green Team - ensuring Maplewood’s pledge to sustainability through environmental programming and local advocacy. There is no Planet B! Right here in our small town we are a model for the nation on solar energy use, composting, sustainable irrigation, public utility efficiency.
Actively engaged with grassroots groups in Maplewood/South Orange - SOMA Action, SOMA DEMS, SOMA Justice; SOMA LGBT, South Orange/Maplewood Cares About Our Schools, and other groups.
Experience in advocating for greater equity, working with government officials, and building consensus
Marriage Equality Advocate - Mobilized grassroots support and lobbied state legislatures in support of marriage equality as Co-Director of Legal Affairs and Public Policy for MEUSA, a nationwide grassroots non-profit which started out as MENY (Marriage Equality New York) and mushroomed into a national catalyst for marriage equality and advisor to LGBT equality groups across the country. Working on one of the most progressive social/civil rights issues of our modern history and building real consensus among politicians, legislators, religious leaders, corporate sponsors, and affinity groups is one of my proudest achievements.
Anti-Conversion Therapy Advocate – Testified on panels and before government officials about the harmful (often deadly) effects of such therapy. Worked with New York State Assembly and Senate, and with medical professionals in the drafting of legislation banning LGBT reparative therapy.
Lambda Legal Cooperating Attorney Network - handled cases pro bono or provided legal advice to callers. Lambda Legal is a nonprofit organization and the nation's civil rights advocate for gays, lesbians, transgender people, and those with HIV.
Experience in business, financial services, and legal issues
Attorney on Wall Street -Represented JPMorgan Chase during the boom of IPOs in complex securities fraud litigation arising from its underwriting of debt in transactions involving billions of dollars. Duties included, reviewing company financial disclosures and prospectuses, drafting legal documents, researching and analyzing complex financial regulations, supervising outside counsel on case strategy and litigation budget, and managing the production of voluminous documents.
Managing Director/Executive Recruiter (currently) - Assist Fortune 500 companies and global law firms in meeting their staffing needs. Mentor young legal professionals; meet with clients and their practice groups to better understand their sophisticated business models and needs; generate high volume sales; compete for exclusive engagements.
Experience in law enforcement and criminal justice
Office of the Public Defender - Worked in the criminal courts of Virginia with indigent defendants and in collaboration with prosecutors, law enforcement, investigators and experts. Witnessing mass incarceration up close and personal was one of the greatest eye-opening experiences of my life.
TRAFFIC CALMING MEASURES FOR PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - Slow Down!
Continue implementing the recommendations of a recent pedestrian safety summit/study which includes better signage, speed bumps, repaving certain problem crosswalks, narrowing streets, considering bike lanes where appropriate, and reconceiving certain intersections..
ENFORCEMENT - Laws are only good if we enforce them, and do so equally!
We can only ensure public safety by better (and more equitable) enforcement. We need to perform more sting operations in those areas where we have regular reports of speeding, illegal parking or criminal activity. All parks should be clean and monitored for criminal activity. Pedestrians should feel safe to walk outside at night everywhere. Building code violations should be enforced fairly throughout the community.
COMMUNITY POLICING - Better bonds with our police; stop the bias, get to know us!
Policing doesn’t need to be a black box anymore. While Maplewood PD has done an admirable job of reducing crime overall, several repeated incidents of racial bias illustrate that we need to ensure that our officers:
SHARED SERVICES - Share more, pay less!
We must continue exploring opportunities to share services with neighboring towns (without sacrificing on essential services) and engaging in service agreements. We already do some of this and are getting closer to sharing a fire department with nearby South Orange. Establish a Shared Services Committee.
REVENUE - Increase revenue streams!
Generate revenue by leasing vacant lots, bringing in new businesses, eliminating unneccessary PILOTS to developers, increasing parking/traffic violation enforcement, and expanding parking permit areas.
HOUSING - Affordable and senior housing!
The seniors who built our community can no longer afford to live here! The apartments we’ve built have mostly been at market rate rent. We are not pushing our state reps to lobby for senior and low-income rebates and tax credits? We should push for responsible senior home sharing legislation and skillfully negotiate with developers for affordable/low-income setasides in future developments. Strengthen our Affordable Housing Board.
SCHOOLS The issues in our schools reflect the issues in our community.
We're overdue for our fair share in school funding, and under the incoming Governor we have the opportunity to advocate for reform, reallocation & redistribution of aid. A recently announced agreement on an adjustment is a good start but more needs to be done.
Despite the overall rich diversity in our town, our elementary schools are segregated. We should work with the School Board, state education officials, and our consultants towards real integration. The School Board's decision to allow Seth Boyden zoned families to opt out into Marshall/Jefferson is a good first step but addresses only one school. We must looking into rezoning and other big picture long term solutions.
Work with our teachers to focus on PreK education (the foundation) and ensure the full implementation of 2015’s approved Access and Equity Plan (for students K-12) .
TRAINING & DIVERSITY RECRUITMENT
Ensure that all of our teachers and administrators complete cultural competency training, and that we are hiring diverse teachers.
BOARD OF EDUCATION COMMITTEE
To serve as a liaison with BOE in order to monitor efforts and progress.
Expand our business offerings on Springfield Avenue focusing on those opportunities that would promote pedestrian traffic. The Springfield Avenue Partnership has made great strides in recent years in attracting new businesses, but we now need to focus on bookstores, coffee shops/cafes, and mini-grocery stores or bodegas to service the new apartment dwellers and generally promote greater pedestrian traffic on the Avenue. Establish an Irvington Avenue Partnership.
Strengthen our Economic Development Committee and establish an Advisory Committee comprised of local architects, engineers, business improvement experts, land use/zoning consultants who would study and advise on new development opportunities or proposals before negotiated deals get to the planning board.
Professionalize the development process. Negotiate better for Maplewood. What are the tradeoffs to giving away land? Do we get public parking? Open spaces or a park? Reduce PILOTS!
Since the original Master Plan of development was conceived, our demographics have changed significantly, so it’s time to revisit what kind of development is in keeping with the character and changing nature of our community.
QUALITY OF LIFE
One of the reasons that people are attracted to our community is its close proximity to Manhattan. Once Midtown Direct Service on NJTransit proves unreliable and even dangerous, our property values will plummet. Even before the forthcoming suspension of direct service on the Morris & Essex lines this summer, repeated delays and cancellations of service due to derailments, infrastructure breakdowns and overcrowding have already caused significant economic loss, and threatened the safety of our commuters. For the amount of taxes we pay we must demand system-wide infrastructure improvements and a new tunnel into Penn Station. Establish a Transportation Advisory Committee that would serve as a liason.
When it comes to the pool and recreational activities, many families feel left out because they simply cannot afford the associated membership fees. While funds (i.e. “pool pals”) and scholarships have been created for those families, we need to commission studies/reports of membership, attendance and demographic data, so that we can devise real permanent solutions towards greater access.
Our culturally rich and diverse community was built on the back of efforts by vibrant neighborhood associations and clubs which have since faded. We need to rebuild our neighborhood associations and connect them to one unified network as opposed to independent sections. Unity in community! I’d like to setup a neighborhood committee which would monitor all associations and address specific issues by district. Integrating our neighborhoods will help us achieve better diversity in our schools.
Every bit helps, no amount is too small.
Do it once and go big or do it several times in little increments, do what you can.
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