Fair Haven’s Democratic Council Candidates: A Chat with Evan Hughes

Evan Hughes
Photo/Fair Haven Democrats

In the race for the three seats that are up for grabs on Fair Haven Borough Council, six candidates are vying for the wins. Three are Republicans. Three are Democrats — all newcomers to the local political arena.

Of the Democrats, one is an RFH senior, one is a native Fair Havenite, and one is a well-known karate teacher in the borough who is seeking to fill the unexpired term (one year) of former Councilman Rowland Wilhelm. That Democrat is Evan Hughes.

Evan gave Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect a glimpse into his background and political vision for Fair Haven in a Q&A chat … 

Name, address, age:

Evan Hughes,16 DeNormandie Avenue, 32

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Little Silver, in the neighborhood off Pinkney Road.

How long have you been a Fair Haven resident? If you left and returned, explain when and why. 

I’ve been living in Fair Haven for five years.

Any past experience on a local board or commission, organization or governing body? If not in Fair Haven, where, in what capacity and for how long? 

No direct experience.

Volunteer work? Community organizations? 

My volunteer work includes black belt testings at the dojo, Boy Scout self defense seminars, and I ran a women’s self-defense class as a non-profit fundraiser for 180 Turning Lives Around.

If you are running to fill an unexpired term, why did you opt to run to fill in for a short time rather than full term? Local politics can prove to be more overwhelming than anticipated.

If you are running for a full term, elected and find the job isn’t what you expected, is it your intention to complete your term, regardless?

When I offered to run, I offered to run for any available position. The unexpired term was the one available. I vey much hope to serve more than one term.

What do you do for a living, for how long and how do you think your professional career/skills will make you an asset as a public servant?

I teach karate in town six days a week. I have longstanding relationships to people on both sides of the political aisle, and experience working with people of all ages and abilities.

Every class I run has a new mix of people with different needs that I must try my best to accomodate, without losing the spirit of improvement for everyone.

Working with the autistic community has taught me a lot about understanding how a person who views the world very differently is approaching and understanding a situation.

Working with children of young ages has taught me the value of patience and clarity in planning and communication.

Working with the elderly has given me insight in to later stages of life and the needs of elderly citizens, particularly running exercise classes at nursing homes.

I am accustomed to being a public figure who needs to have a sense of humor about himself and not take his own beliefs too seriously. I can see absurdity in my own actions without becoming defensive. I can take criticism in to consideration without losing sight of my values.

I have friends in the dojo whose political beliefs diverge widely from mine, but I can still focus on their improvement, and I can separate their opinions from their character to work toward the common goal of self-improvement. I always make a point to treat everyone with compassion and respect.

If this is your first go at public office, what prompted you to run? 

I have been interested in politics since the run up to the Iraq war, but it wasn’t until I had matured enough to understand what a sacrifice it can be to put oneself on the line for public service that the I found the idea appealing.

I started a daily meditation practice a few years ago, and it has taught me that service to others is the most fulfilling endeavor. I think too much of our politics is driven by fear and negativity, and I hope to rise above that.

Which U.S. president is your political role model? Why, specifically?

John F. Kennedy. If I can plant the seed, to inspire a generation to shoot for the moon, to care about their fellow citizens as human beings, and have faith that humanity is on a path toward justice and equality, the world will change.

If you give people the skills to better themselves, and the hope that it’s worth the effort … when you set that free in a person you will always be amazed at what he or she can accomplish.

What is your favorite charitable organization? Why?

St. Jude’s or Doctors Without Borders, either one for the same reason: every child deserves the best we adults can muster to give them a chance to change the world.

Which local or regional official/representative (municipal governing body member, senator, assemblyman, congressman) do you admire most? Why?

I have been very impressed with Senator Vin Gopal for his ability to rise above the dark side of politics and galvanize people around a positive message.

Fair Haven Borough Council members are completely uncompensated volunteers. There is no pay involved. It is also a very time-consuming job that requires transparency and accessibility to the public.

What benefit is there for you, specifically, besides the obvious of serving the town in which you live? 

I studied political science and I have been interested in public policy my entire adult life, but serving as an elected official will give me insights that can only come with the responsibility of the office. Just running for office — canvassing the town, really listening to residents and their concerns — has been a life-changing experience.

What are your key platform issues? Why did you choose these issues as focal points?  

Transparency, fiscal responsibility, and environmental preparedness. My running mates and I all agreed the first two are high priorities for everyone in town.

Fair Haven Martial Arts, for example, has been surprised by capital improvement projects on multiple occasions, and some of our clients who live here have had similar experiences. Not knowing about a project before the construction crew is ripping up your lawn is unacceptable, and “you should have come to the council meetings” is not a reasonable excuse for this lack of proactive communication. People, parents of young children especially, are very busy.

Fiscal responsibility is always important. There are older people in town living on fixed incomes fighting to pay property taxes. There are families struggling to keep their kids in the school district. As the son of a single mother who fought fiercely to make sure I attended a great school system, I am not under the mistaken impression that everyone in town is living the high life and can afford big spending. Owning a nice home does not preclude tough times.

The climate is changing. This is no longer controversial among climatologists, meteorologists, or even the top brass of our military. Exxon spent decades trying to deny and obfuscate the link between carbon consumption and temperature rise, and even they have conceded the link is real. The town needs a voice in government with an eye on the future. Fair Haven is our haven, it should be prepared for the inevitable superstorms on the horizon.

How do you plan to address these issues? Please be specific.

I plan to keep open lines of communication between contractors we hire and the residents and businesses whose lives are affected by construction.

I learned the importance of this from my mother, who is an interior designer: I know that it can take active effort to keep contractors accountable to their promises, lest projects run over time (and therefore cost). Sidewalk repair and imrovement crews shouldn’t be swooping in out of nowhere, and as we have learned on the campaign trail, it doesn’t take much effort to simply knock on someone’s door (whether you’re there to hear their concerns or inform them of an upcoming project).

When it comes to finances, I live in town on a humble salary. Skepticism of large purchases, reading fine print, and spotting potential hidden costs is a way of life for me. I also believe preparing the town for climate change can save us money and/or improve our services in a tax-neutral way.

If we are building a new police station, fitting it with solar paneling will add little to the overall construction cost, reduce the cost of operations (especially in emergencies like Sandy, where we were without grid power for weeks), and reduce our carbon footprint. We are only borrowing this planet from our children.