A program designed to involve more Jewish women in public life has inspired a West Orange woman to launch a political campaign.
Jill Tekel, a 32-year resident and a member of B’nai Shalom, is seeking a seat on the West Orange Town Council. The election will be held May 11.
Although long active as a professional and volunteer in the Jewish community, Tekel hadn’t considered running for office before taking part in training offered by the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.
The New Brunswick center, in partnership with the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, ran a program in 2007-08 on Jewish women and politics. That effort included a training program in February 2008 and the launch of JWIN, Jewish Women’s Involvement in the Political Process, a network of Jewish women elected officials.
JWIN’s goal is to form a Jewish women’s political base and engage the community at large in supporting Jewish women to run for office and win. Eagleton has long pointed out the relative underrepresentation of women in the state’s government leadership.
“If you don’t stand up for what’s right in your community, you’re allowing others to do it for you,” said Tekel in a phone interview with NJJN. “I participated in the training because I thought it was a great opportunity to get educated. And I heard what they were saying. It takes a lot of nerve to run, to put yourself out there. And a lot of people would just rather not.”
Tekel, a Realtor and former CRC staff member, announced her desire to run at a March meeting of JWIN. She described two of its seasoned participants, State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37) and Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Dist. 14), as mentors.
“It’s so difficult for Jewish women to get themselves motivated,” Tekel said. “No one ever asks Jewish women to run; they’re more likely to ask a guy.
“But it’s also very important for Jewish people not just to stand by and say, ‘It’s so nice that when our eruv is down they help us put it back up.’ Hello. They should be fixing the eruv. Our taxes are sky high. Where is our money going? So I decided to run. I’m giving the Jewish community the right to be heard.”
Two seats will open on the West Orange Town Council: incumbent council president Susan McCartney’s term in office is up, and she will run again for her seat. Renard Barnes’ term is up, and he will not run again. Other candidates for the two seats include Victor Cirilo, Gerard Guarino, Paul Krakoviak, and Rodolfo Rodriguez. Tekel is the only Jew in the race. “Should other Jews come and support a Jewish candidate just because I’m Jewish?” she said. “Maybe not. But if they listen to what I have to say, maybe they should.”
Tekel’s platform includes controlled spending, effective community government, quality of life issues, and changing the political status quo in West Orange. “How can we make West Orange ‘Best Orange’? We have to change things — we have to change the paradigm,” she said. “We have to put the brakes on overdevelopment and suburban sprawl. The current paradigm is let’s sell all the land we can for revenue. But tax revenue does not come from overdevelopment; we have to bring in business and industry.”
She also pointed to government waste. “Why are there six new speedbumps on my own block, a dead-end street? Who is speeding on a dead-end road? And that costs money,” she said.
“I think Jill personifies one of the goals” of JWIN, said Melanie Roth Gorelick, associate at the MetroWest CRC. “Women who are considering entering the public sphere but don’t feel supported or have the know-how now feel safe enough and have the support to begin the process.”
Gorelick said Tekel is among the first to participate in JWIN training and run for office.
The CRC does not endorse candidates, she emphasized.
Debbie Walsh, director of CAWP at Eagleton, said that JWIN was modeled on a larger “Ready to Run” program the institute created for women in 1998. When the program started, New Jersey was 43rd in the nation for women serving in the legislature; now, it ranks 14th. Walsh said about a third of the women who participate in Ready to Run go on to enter a race, and about 70 percent of those who have run have won.
“We know from research that women are more likely than men to need to be asked to run,” Walsh said. “We are doing this program to do the asking and give women the confidence to run.”