Cary Africk: A Guide for Voters

Some thoughts for the voters. What I would look for in a candidate. What would YOU look for?

1. This may come off as “elitist,” but I’m sorry: We need people who are smart. The issues are complicated. Council members need to dig in. Reports most always raise more questions than they answer. They need to read, call experts, ask questions and set up meetings. In addition to being able to comprehend things, it’s important that the candidates be able to clearly express themselves, especially in writing.

I would ask the voter: Look at the candidate’s background. See what they’ve done, professionally.

2. I would ask the candidate: “How much time, per week, can you devote to the position?” Serious contenders should be prepared to spend fifteen hours per week, at a minimum. Sorry, but that’s the job. Don’t take it if you don’t have the time. This doesn’t include the three Council meetings per month. You can also count on at least three other evening meetings per month.

The Mayor’s workload is twice this!

3. Look for the candidate to have had positions of leadership. Leadership within a sizable volunteer or non-profit organization is good. Unlike corporate management jobs, as an elected official you don’t have the power to order people around. You accomplish through persuasion and through collaboration.

4. Financial Responsibility. A person who has had responsibility and accountability for controlling income and expenses will have more sensitivity to our issues.

5. Numeracy. You have to understand “numbers.” You have to wade through inches thick documents and be able to do analysis. I am constantly amazed at how a report will be presented to the Council and numbers won’t add, or assumptions will be wrong. The absence of basic statistical thinking is stunning. Two points don’t make a trend we were taught in 7th grade, for example.

6. Proven ability to set goals, priorities, and tactics. You can’t just address the easily solvable problems. You must recognize and be willing to attack the big problems. You can’t spend an hour Council meeting reviewing sewer grate designs when the budget has yet to be passed. For that matter, you need to say, “it’s not my job to evaluate sewer grates.”

7. Ability to pursue the electorate’s agenda, not your own. Don’t take this job because you want to implement a personal agenda. We’ve seen it. It doesn’t work.

8. Great work ethic. Drive for accomplishment. You need follow through. You will get a lot of input that makes no sense. You have to be driven to resolve it.

9. Have you been a member of a commission, e.g. planning or zoning board, etc. In you’ve served in Montclair it’s a plus, but even experience from other towns would be helpful. This will give the candidate some inkling of what he or she is getting into.

10. Ask the candidate: “How many council meetings have you attended over the last four years, in the last six months?” A serious commitment to the town should have started a long time ago, not when you decided to run for office.

11. Ask the candidate “Do you have children in the public schools? Have you had children in the public schools here, or in other towns?”

12. Sorry to tell you this, but the Internet isn’t a passing fad. And, yes, you are going to have to learn how to use email. And word processing. And no, we won’t give you “hard copies” of all this. Surrounding towns have all gone paperless, some decades ago.

14. Any special work experience? Legal, corporate finance, planning, environmental, and development are all pluses.

And, apologies to the protesters, but experience in financial services would be a plus. For many reasons, not the least of which is an ability to throw yourself into work for as long as necessary to get the job done.

And, don’t hit me, but having an MBA is also a “plus.”

Click here to sign up for Baristanet's free daily emails and news alerts.


  1. Did anyone read Selma’s posting today on the ‘cooler regarding last night’s BOSE meeting? It’s somewhat surreal, and it’s really no wonder the town is in such financial straits.

    Here’s a excerpt:

    “Next, the BOE presented the Capital Budget in the amount of almost $3.0MM. Both
    Mayor Fried and Mr. Lewis, as well as Mrs. Lombard, talked about the necessity
    to control and reduce our debt. Among other things, they mentioned a consultant
    hired by the Township to help us with that. Mr. Fried and Mr. Lewis mentioned
    that as part of his report, the consultant recommended a maximum amount of new
    debt to be taken on by the municipality, but they couldn’t remember what it was.

    Fortunately for all, I happened to have a copy with me.”

    I wanted to cry when I read the rest.

  2. Debt has never been an issue to those two clowns. When one can afford to quit their day job to play mayor for four years, understanding the impact of debt and the cost to service it is out of his realm.

  3. Selma, too bad you’re not in my ward. Thank you for that BOSE info. I know I shouldn’t be shocked anymore, but somehow I still manage to be amazed by the cavalier attitude toward budgets Fried and Lewis seem to have.

  4. Though the list is a good start, there are many nuances that need to be explained in further detail.

    Though all members of the Council have equal voting powers, the Mayor position is more complicated. In regards to the Mayors ability to appoint BOE Members. This is very important and these candidates should be pressed on there views of the current BOE and Schools in general. Also what is there 5yr outlook on the schools budget.

    “11. Ask the candidate “Do you have children in the public schools? Have you had children in the public schools here, or in other towns?””

    I do not agree this should be a prerequisite. If your children do not attend Public School, this would not necessarily inhibit your ability to provide deference on educational matters in a responsible manner.

    It could be a matter of Religion, Special Needs, Ability, Sports or CHOICE! Many current policy makers in the US(Local, County, State, Federal) send there kids to schools outside the public system.

  5. Is this the same Selma who actively discourages people from moving to Montclair? To wit:

    “These days I make a strong point to tell my friends interested in moving to
    Montclair to look elsewhere.”

    Oh yes, just what we need in a councilor – someone who hates Montclair enough to tell people to go elsewhere. That’s the spirit!

    Cary, perhaps you should add to your list:

    #15 – Actually wants people to live in our town.

    Too much to ask?

  6. kyle,

    You are absolutely right! I’m planning on writing another list with additional requirements for Mayor!

    And I agree that having kids in the school system isn’t a requirement, although it should be worth a few extra points!

    The schools are crucial. People move to a town “because” of schools. They also don’t move to a town “because” of schools.

  7. Cary, as usual, asks good questions. Here are my answers as a candidate for the Third Ward seat on Line C – For Montclair:

    I hold a Master of Governmental Administration degree from the University of Pennsylvania — kind of an MBA for governmental management — and a law degree from Columbia. I’m a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in New York, a top-ranked law firm. Every voter will have to decide for himself or herself what credentials and demonstrations of a work eithic are important; these are mine.

    My firm greatly values public service. We have had partners who have served as mayors of their towns. My family and I recognize the time commitment this job will involve and I’m prepared to spend the time needed to serve my neighbors in the Third Ward.

    I have no personal agenda other than wanting to see Montclair continue to be the town my family and so many other families have chosen as the best place to raise their kids. The time I spent as an official in the Philadelphia Streets Department gives me some insight into things we can do to improve (and, where appropriate, economize) sanitation, recycling, street maintenance and traffic engineering, but that’s not the same thing as saying I have an agenda I’d like to impose. Far from it.

    I think I’m as familiar with Montclair’s issues as anyone can be without being involved in the closed-door parts of Council deliberations. My wife and I moved here in 2007, which means I’ve been here long enough to know what’s great and not so great, but not long enough to be part of anyone’s old alliances. There are change candidates running this year and status quo candidates — believe me, I’m a change candidate.

    This should be an issues election. The candidates seem to agree on some issues but disagree vehemently on others. Let’s air those differences and let voters decide. Feel free to email me at I’ll also have an op-ed ready for the Patch within the next few days that will spell out my positions on many of the key issues we’re facing.

    Thanks for listening.

  8. “It could be a matter of Religion, Special Needs, Ability, Sports or CHOICE! Many current policy makers in the US(Local, County, State, Federal) send there kids to schools outside the public system.”

    Several of those appear to me to be non-disqualifying. However, “choice”? Yes, any parent [of sufficient means] has that choice. This would appear to reflect on that parent’s opinion about our public schools.

    In a parent, that’s their own business. In a Mayor that hold exclusive control over BOE membership, that’s far more of a problem.

    Perhaps we’d see a good deal more seriousness about caring for our public schools if fewer of our policy makers chose to avoid it.


  9. “Oh yes, just what we need in a councilor – someone who hates Montclair enough to tell people to go elsewhere. That’s the spirit!”

    This is disingenuous. She never wrote anything indicating that she hates Montclair.

    Perhaps instead she’s become aware of the serious financial threat to our town that previous administrations have created. Why shouldn’t she both (1) work to fix this and (2) warn her friends off in case she’s not successful? That sounds responsible both to her town and her friends.

    I recently discussed with some friends the idea of buying into Monclair. I made it a point to tell them about our finances, our debt, our Mayor having complete control over the BOE, etc.

    People should know the truth about the town in which we live, and this includes people considering a move into town. It may be more politically palatable to just wear a “don’t worry be happy” smile, but I believe we’ve spent enough time calling our town special and ignoring the mess into which we’ve let ourselves fall.

    I think it’s time for us to elect people that take the management of our town seriously – seriously enough that they don’t avert their eyes from real problems just because it isn’t pretty, and seriously enough that they don’t toss out unfounded accusations or neuter committees because of an unwillingness to look at the truth.


  10. Boy Andrew, you set the bar really, really low…

    It will be a sad day when we elect a bitter, angry candidate like Selma to office.

  11. Thanks, Cary: this is very useful. So much so that I’m going to copy it and share with friends.

    “A good public official needs three things: a cool head, a warm heart and clean hands,” to paraphrase Palmiro Togliatti.

  12. relax people(?)…..just read Selma’s post on the fantastic work done by the BOE and BOSE in yet again adding to our debt burden w/o a second thought

    not sure i see the bitterness and anger

    might you be projecting?

    this town is being run by incompetent, stale and business-as-usual people (probably your close friends) and we desperately need to change that

    darn right you have to think twice about recommending Montclair as a place to live given the deterioration of the town while taxes continue to increase – where is the accountability?; where is a normal cost-benefit approach; we need fresh blood to make a real change and get the place moving in the right direction

  13. Cary,

    Nice start. You have the spreadsheet and you have the first column defined. How about additional columns labeled with candidate names?

  14. To quote Donald Rumsfled “you go to war with the Army you have”. So what good is a list of ideal attributes when those people are not running? That, frankly, has always been my beef with Cary, he’s a reckless idealist. We should not design the perfect intelligencia to govern over us. We should, rather, constrain the size and scope of government so the eventual “activists” who are most likely to be elected can’t do much harm.

  15. The Montclair High School Civics and Government Institute will be hosting a community-wide mayoral debate.
    The debate will take place April 26 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the school’s LGI room.
    The focus of the debate will be on education in Montclair.
    It will be moderated by two high school seniors, Chris Murphy and Gabriella Peterson.
    Residents can submit questions for the candidates via email at or Twitter @CGIdebate.

Comments are closed.