On Tuesday, November 8, New Milford residents will head to the polls to fill three available seats on the New Milford Borough Council. First-time candidate Ari Weisbrot will be running as a Democrat along with former Councilwoman Randi Duffie and Ira Grotsky. Grotsky is seeking to fill the one-year unexpired term of a vacant seat.
A native of Bergen County, Weisbrot grew up in Teaneck in a Democratic home. Outside of a short stint in Brooklyn where he worked as an Assistant District Attorney, Weisbrot has resided in Bergen County for almost his entire life. When asked why he chose to settle his family in New Milford, Weisbrot explained that New Milford represented “a utopian combination of leafy suburbia, cultural/ethnic diversity, low taxes, great services and close proximity to New York and local Jewish synagogues and restaurants.” He and his wife found it an ideal environment to raise their four children. Weisbrot was particularly attracted to the cultural diversity that defines the streets of New Milford. “During the holiday seasons, you walk two blocks to the right or the left and you are likely to see families celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan and Kwanza.” The ethnic variations among local residents offer an insight into alternate cultures and viewpoints, things to which Weisbrot wants his children exposed.
Professionally, Weisbrot is a commercial litigator who spends much of his time representing major companies, local small businesses, charities, professional athletes and everyone in between. However, the cases he truly yearns for are those that are often more discreetly sent his way. “I have always tried to set aside a fair amount of my time trying to help people,” expressed Weisbrot. He receives phone calls on an almost daily basis from community leaders and others seeking assistance for people who require legal counsel or other services but cannot afford the help or just don’t have access to it. Weisbrot makes every effort to utilize his skill set and his resources, when possible, to help people who are in need of assistance. It is those cases that are the most gratifying and translate into who Weisbrot really is. “The phrase ‘I want to help’ is somewhat cliché. If half the people who say they want to help others actually did, we would all be better off,” he said.
Weisbrot explained how he first got involved in New Milford politics. Years ago, as the Jewish population in New Milford began to flourish, Weisbrot and his neighbor, Adam Berner, saw an opportunity to participate in the political process. About five years ago, they began hosting forums where residents could come and meet the candidates from both political parties and hear their positions on matters of interest, both as Jews and New Milfordians. “These forums were always well-attended and conducted in a civilized and respectful manner,” noted Weisbrot. The Jewish community began to see that they had a voice and could advocate for change. Crosswalks placed where requested and a traffic light on New Bridge Road programmed to be Sabbath-friendly were among various improvements residents successfully lobbied for.
While much of Weisbrot’s impact is performed behind the scenes, without fanfare or public acknowledgment, his exclusive goal in running for council is to improve basic lives in New Milford. If elected, Weisbrot said he hopes to fix the condition of the roads throughout New Milford, improve trash collection, beautify commercial areas and offer tax incentives to business owners in order to attract a more profitable tax ratable. “New Milford is a great town to work, live and raise a family,” Weisbrot said.
At the start of his campaign, Weisbrot dreaded walking door to door to introduce himself to local residents. However, it turned out to be his favorite part of the process and an opportunity to hear, first hand, the concerns of his neighbors. It was through these meetings with hundreds of residents that he learned, regardless of race, religion or party affiliations, they seemed to genuinely share his frustration with the governing council and those who control it. “Therefore, it is for those people, who don’t have the ability to facilitate change, that I am running for council, in the hopes to restore civility to the process, reduce the debt and its future impact on taxes, improve services and return governance to the people of New Milford,” explained Weisbrot.
Weisbrot aims to advocate for better oversight of the construction of the police station, which has been the subject of great controversy. He believes that, particularly in this case, the current council has become mired in hostility and meaningless partisan politics. “Instead of working together on a project that everyone agrees is necessary, the Republicans are ignoring serious concerns that not only impact the work itself but will almost certainly lead to substantial cost overruns and likely future litigation,” lamented Weisbrot.
“Don’t use your majority position to force questionable decisions upon the borough; use it as a platform for inclusion and open deliberations. And, most importantly, when you have the votes to win every issue, there is just no place for incivility. In order to govern correctly, they must break the divide by restoring civility and inclusion to governmental deliberations,” said Weisbrot.
“It sometimes seems as if some council members may vote against good ideas merely because they are proposed by a member of the opposing party, or vote in favor of bad ideas because they were proposed by their own,” Weisbrot added. The results are an increased debt of more than $18 million, which comes close to the entire borough annual budget. That needs to be paid off at some point, and will likely come in the form of tax increases. “Once it became obvious to me that the concerns of residents were taking a backseat to political agendas, I decided to run for council,” remarked Weisbrot.
Perhaps an achievement that will always stand out as a proud political moment for Weisbrot was his appointment to the New Milford Zoning Board. “I am proud that I am a Democrat appointed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment by our Republican mayor and council,” proclaimed Weisbrot. Weisbrot feels that if both the Democrats and Republicans, who can’t seem to agree on much, jointly believed that he was qualified to serve on the zoning board, they should clearly see him as a valuable asset to the council as well.
When asked why he thinks his election to the New Milford Council will make a significant difference in the current dynamic of the council, Weisbrot explained that his running mates share the same visions as he, and if successfully elected, it will cause an immediate change in how the town does business. “The goal is to work together in a dignified manner and obliterate the venomous politics that go on,” declared Weisbrot. The reality is that even one or two new voices can make a tremendous difference. In order to make change happen, one needs to make an attempt. “Change happens one step at a time, and this would be a big first step,” concluded Weisbrot.
By Andrea Nissel