After coaching youth soccer, leading local Girl Scouts, serving as Junior Woman's Club president, and volunteering with Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bernadette Walsh set her sights on her next Ridgewood challenge—Village Council.
"It's an interesting progression," she said of her decision to run. "Years after moving here, we're glad because this is a community my husband and I believe in—people working together to support things... My youngest son is in school fulltime, now I can help out with my experience."
She quietly went through the petition process and was publicly confirmed as a candidate last week. Walsh—a 13-year resident, wife and mother—says the council needs independent thinkers.
"I'm running by myself, and I think that's best. With a voting block with two people running together, you're tipping the scales," she said of opponents Brian Dowd and Doug Cronk. "Five voices are needed so everyone can to give their own opinions."
Running against Dowd, Cronk and Planning Board member—and former councilman—Thomas Riche, Walsh seeks one of two seats vacated by Mayor David Pfund and Councilman Patrick Mancuso, who opted against reelection bids.
A corporate relocation consultant in the real estate industry, Walsh says her broad business cliental allows her to provide a national perspective to issues facing Ridgewood.
"I think for a little while we have been insulated, but we have to take on issues now before things get out of hand," she said.
She said the economy's effect on Ridgewood, revitalizing the central business district and maintaining quality schools are her three biggest issues. For all issues, she wants to use her real estate background to bring a practical, common sense approach to council.
Pointing to the train station as a key to bettering the village's economy, Walsh said, "With gas prices going up, there's an increase in public transportation to get people where they need to go ago. We need a viable downtown to complement the station."
As for the village's own struggles—layoffs are expected following a decrease in state funding—Walsh wants to rely on department heads to efficiently trim budgets while maintaining quality service.
"The people at the top of their divisions know what's going. They need to take action within their groups," Walsh said. "I think I can help give the village manager an independent voice and an unbiased opinion."
Despite recognizing the need for some reorganization, Walsh said she felt paid, full-time police and fire departments are crucial for the village.
With the schools, Walsh said Gov. Christie has sent a clear message. "We have to be proactive and figure out a way to make do."
For improvement issues within two village fixtures, Walsh opposes massive overhauls to Graydon Pool and The Valley Hospital.
With Graydon, Walsh was approached by proponents and opponents of plans to renovate the facility and possibly transform the bottom to concrete. In a practical sense, she opposes the move because Graydon lies on a FEMA flood plain.
"I'd never support building something $10 million in value in that area... I lived here during [Hurricane] Floyd when it was a lake from Graydon to Vets Field," she said.
Walsh attended a Preserve Graydon Coalition meeting with Riche last night. Both have been identified by the organization as "candidates who want to preserve Graydon."
Dowd and Cronk say a change—in some form—is needed. Cronk's wife, Melinda, was a member of the Ridgewood Pool Project.
As for Valley, Walsh has nothing but complimentary things to say about the hospital where she and her children were born. However, she opposes significant expansion.
"I don't like the fact that they're seeking a zone change... I favor reasonable modifications but not a zone change," she said.
The nonpartisan Village Council election is May 11 with newly elected officials taking office July 1.