Summit candidates to face off for council seat in Nov.

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SUMMIT — Summit is looking to have a real ballot battle on its hands. Vying for the Ward 1 seat are Democratic candidate Susan Hairston and Republican candidate Eileen Kelly. Both women were asked a series of questions regarding their candidacy and each gave LocalSource some insight as to why she should be selected as councilwoman this November.

Running to be reelected as Ward 1 councilwoman, Hairston has previously served as president of the Summit Board of Education and chairwoman of the Summit Municipal Democratic Committee.

When asked about her familial background and what sparked her interest in politics, Hairston emphasized her love for her town.

“I’m proud to be a fourth-generation Summit resident, and my love for this town is only slightly behind my love for my husband, Jerome, and our four children,” Hairston said. “I grew up on Ashwood Avenue, right down the street from what was then the new community pool, which is now the Summit Aquatic Center, and within walking distance of the Edison Recreation Center, which is now the Summit Community Center.

“My dad, Julius Dillingham, was the first African American police officer in Summit,” she continued. “My mother, Joyce Dillingham Miles, was a working mom with a generous spirit and relentless work ethic who retired from Fair Oaks Hospital after decades of long service. She taught me that, if you complain, you also need a plan to make things better. Inspired by her answer of courage and compassion along with a line of the other wonderful women in my family tree, you might say community service is in my DNA.”

Kelly, a strong advocate for community service who launched her campaign in February, is coming from a nonpolitical background and has familial roots in Ecuador. The first person in her family to graduate from a four-year college, Kelly is a finance expert and tech entrepreneur with a degree from Colgate University.

“No, I am not a politician,” Kelly said. “This is about community service. I’ve always been involved in the communities I’ve lived in. I call Summit home and I’ll raise my family here. I’m invested in Summit’s future, and serving on Common Council is an opportunity for me to give back to all of those who have worked so hard to make Summit such a wonderful place to live.”

When thinking about what pushed her into running for council, one word comes to mind for Kelly. That word is “change.”

“There are important and complex decisions on the horizon,” Kelly said “I want to help our community embrace the upcoming change, manage it well and make sure we maintain the small-town charm of Summit that makes it the place we’ve all come to love and call home.”

When thinking of running for council, one phrase comes to mind for Hairston.

“Municipal government is where the ‘rubber hits the road’: where tangible decision making and implementing of federal, state and county policies takes place. In times like these, where we are dealing with a global pandemic and economic uncertainty of unprecedented levels, I want to make sure our decisions serve the public good for all residents, businesses and employees in Summit,” she said. “Our local response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example. Because of my operations experience, I know that this is a time when everyone needs to be knowledgeable about the situation, which continues to change, and what each civic office, committee, businesses and individuals are doing to address various needs. Coordination is essential to ensure we leave no gaps, and we also want to avoid duplication and provide clear, consistent communication to the public.

“My desire to serve is reflected in my professional life. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh and earning a master’s in public administration from Seton Hall, I spent 20 years with one of the largest private international foundations in the country, overseeing a large staff, review of budgets and compliance, and process optimization,” she continued. “Seeing the results of grant-making has given me a deep appreciation for the interconnectedness of public and private endeavors, for-profit, government and nonprofit working together. I’ve also developed a keen appreciation for assessing both short- and long-term impacts of every decision.”

Challenging Hairston for the Ward 1 seat, Kelly was able to explain why now was as good a time as any to run for council.

“I think it’s important for women and people from diverse backgrounds to get involved in public service,” Kelly said. “I grew up in a working-class family, my mother immigrated from Ecuador and I’m proud to say I’m the first person in my family to graduate from a four-year college. After 12 years of experience in the private sector and nonprofit board experience, I believe I’m ready to help lead a city and can represent a multitude of people.”

Hoping to be reelected for the seat, Hairston explains why she’s running again this coming November.

“I was elected Ward 1 councilwoman in November 2019, in a special election to fill the seat made vacant by the untimely death of my friend, Councilman Matthew Gould,” Hairston said. “Prior to that, I ran unsuccessfully for Summit’s at-large council seat in 2011. Subsequent to that attempt, I became very active as a Summit Democrat Committee member and was elected chairman of Summit’s Democratic Committee in 2015. Then, in 2016, I was elected to be a New Jersey delegate at the National Democratic Convention. When I decided to run to fill Matt’s seat, it was because I know so much more now, and so many more people know me, that it felt like a perfect time to apply my experience and knowledge to the opportunities — and challenges — that my hometown faces in the next few years. I feel even more strongly now, having served a half-term on council, that my experience will be an important contribution.”

Many are wondering what each woman will bring to the table if elected.

Kelly assures that she has what it takes and that Summit residents can count on her to serve as their councilwoman.

“I have a deep experience in financial, strategic, operational and technology roles,” Kelly said. “I understand how to tackle complex problems within a responsible mindset, and I know how to find waste and opportunities for efficiency. I’m also an entrepreneur and founded a tech startup. I know what it takes to adapt to problems in real time and think outside the box to accomplish big goals. I’m excited to bring these skills to our city government.”

However, Hairston said her reelection to the seat is the best option, due to her past experience.

“Summit can count on me to go the extra mile to do my research, to listen and hear all sides of an issue, and make timely and considered decisions,” Hairston said. “For example, I recently led the selection process to hire a Summit Board of Education superintendent. Since joining the council, I have brought my experience with financial and operational management, strategic planning and governance to bear on the important work in progress and in shaping Summit’s future.”

The election will be held this November.