In one of its first acts in its new session, the Lakewood Township Committee elected Ray Coles to serve as the town’s mayor for the coming term.
In an interview with Hamodia, Mr. Coles said that goals for his term include working to decrease traffic, making zoning boards more responsive to the needs of different elements of the community, and “healing some of the divisions that have arisen in the town.”
“Lakewood is going to continue to grow, but it’s important that we make sure it’s being done in an efficient and responsible manner,” he said. “Creating affordable housing options is important and it’s something we will continue to work on, but we also have a responsibility to preserve some of the open spaces and protect the quality of life for those that live here already.”
Mr. Coles felt that addressing how growth in the Orthodox boom-town is handled would go a long way toward increasing harmony amidst the various elements of the community.
Local boards that govern zoning and other issues related to housing starts, he said, had been a source of “frustration” to some in Lakewood. Mr. Coles has met with leading board members in recent days and said that he hopes to “look at the way that business is done, and make sure that we are representing the people at the back of the meeting as much as those making noise up front.”
Traffic that has only increased with Lakewood’s growing population was another priority that Mr. Coles hoped to address. He noted that the committee is working to ease traffic flow through 25 major intersections and is engaged in an on-going dialogue with the state to widen the persistently gridlocked section of Route 9 on the southern side of Lakewood.
While he was skeptical that work to add additional lanes to Route 9 would begin in the next year, Mr. Coles said that “some work will be done … that will not solve the problem, but start to alleviate it.” He also noted that efforts were underway to open up an alternative north-south road that would give drivers an alternative to Route 9.
The committee is made up of five elected members. The mayor’s office is a rotating position. Each year, the committee elects one of its members to the post. Mr. Coles is the committee’s longest serving member, now in his 15th year. This will be his fifth term as mayor, having occupied the position in 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2008.
The mayor does not wield more official power than his fellow committee members, but does have more procedural control and acts as a spokesman for the township.
One unique aspect of this term is that on prior occasions Mr. Coles was elected by a majority of fellow Democrats. This time he was elected by a committee controlled by a Republican majority.
Other members are Menashe Miller, who was mayor in 2016 and will now serve as deputy mayor, Isaac Akerman and Michael D’elia, who are Republicans. Meir Lichtenstein and Mr. Coles are the committee’s Democratic members.
“It’s a humbling experience and I’m looking forward to the year,” he said. “It’s a further confirmation that after elections are over we don’t govern by party, but for the people we represent.”
Updated Tuesday, January 3, 2017 at 6:30 pm