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Democrats To Choose Mayoral Candidate In First-Ever Primary

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Township Councilman Phil Kramer, (D-Ward 3).


Township Democrats head to the polls June 2 to choose whether a party loyalist or a young upstart will represent their party in November’s mayoral race.

This is the third time in township history that residents will be able to directly elect a mayor, but the first time the position has been primaried.

Running for the opportunity to carry the Democratic banner in the race are current Township Councilman Phil Kramer (D-Ward  3) of East Millstone and challenger Michael Williams of Franklin Park.

Kramer was the choice of Democratic Party committee members in their caucus earlier this year. Williams is running outside of the regular party.

Whoever wins will face incumbent Mayor Chris Kelly, who was selected earlier this year by the council after former Mayor Brian Levine – the township’s first directly elected mayor – resigned his seat. Levine is now a Somerset County Freeholder.

Kramer: Activist turned politician

A neurologist who also holds degrees in aerospace engineering and computer science, Kramer is a U.S. Air Force veteran – having flown B-52s – and a 16-year township resident who made a name for himself with a grassroots citizens’ group, Taxpayers United in Franklin.

“When we moved in, our taxes were $6,500,” Kramer said. “The next year they were $7,500 and the year after that $8,500. It became, enough is enough.”

Kramer worked with the organization on tax- and open government-related issues, and also became heavily involved in the township’s Democratic Party. That involvement deepened after the 2007 change in party leadership, he said.

Kramer said that while a member of TUF, he successfully lobbied the Board of Education and Township Council to audit their books, leading to millions of dollars in savings.

Kramer also lobbied the school board and township council to televise their meetings. That effort was expanded to the Planning and Zoning boards, he said.

By 2009, Kramer was a candidate for Township Council, taking his Ward 3 seat for the first time in 2010.

Since that time, Kramer said, he’s been instrumental in shrinking the township’s payroll by 16 percent with “virtually no reductions in service.”

“We’re paving roads four times faster than we did before I was here,” he said.

“I’m a true blue Democrat; I’m a social liberal, but I’m a fiscal conservative,” Kramer said. “All this money is taxpayer money and I have to be very responsible with that. I can buy something because it’s cool for myself, with my own money, but I can’t do that with taxpayer money. Everything has to make sense, have a reason and you don’t just buy it because it seems ok.”

Kramer said that in his professional life, he has developed problem-solving skills that would serve him well as mayor.

“Problems are opportunities,” he said.

Kramer points to an instance when Margaret Drive residents approached him about having the township take over maintenance of a retention basin owned by their homeowners’ association. While other council members could not help them, Kramer said, he worked out a deal where the township would maintain the basins at no cost, using money contributed by the homeowners.

Another instance occurred in the senior center, when a room divider wouldn’t work and the center received a $100,000 estimate to fix it, he said.

“I went there, I looked at it, I saw that parts of it were sagging,” he said. “I told maintenance about that, they oiled it, they greased it and now it’s basically working, for a relatively small expenditure.”

“As a mayor, those opportunities will come to me more often,” Kramer said.

“I think the gift I’ve been given is solving problems, and turning them into opportunities,” Kramer said. “I want to move this town forward in that way.”

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Mayoral candidate Michael Williams.

Williams: Home-grown candidate

Moving Franklin forward is also on the mind of Williams, a native of the township who has worked for several members of the U.S. Congress.

A 2008 graduate of Franklin High School, Williams received a degree in business administration from St. Peter’s College in Jersey City and spent three years in the Marine Corps before being discharged for medical reasons.

While in college, Williams interned for Rep. Albio Sires, D-8.

“His office was near the college,” Williams said. “That’s how I was introduced to politics.”

Williams also worked for Rep. Mike Capuano, D-Ma.7, and, most recently, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-6.

Williams said he took the job with Pallone because one of the Congressman’s district offices was close to Franklin, and it gave him a chance to “come home.”

“I decided to come back because I wanted to help out here,” Williams said. “I got an opportunity to use my skills to help my home, I had to take it.”

Williams said that while he was working for the Congress members, he was involved in issues dealing with education, veterans’ affairs, immigration and Social Security.

“My job was to help people,” he said.

Williams also volunteered with the One Less Move Committee, the grassroots organization formed to lobby for last year’s successful $85 million Board of Education referendum.

Williams said working for the Congress members was frustrating because “while it was helping people, it was only helping one person at a time. Usually it was a policy that had to be fixed or a law that had to be changed.”

“When I saw an opportunity to make a greater impact, I moved to make a greater impact and in this case, the greater impact would be running for mayor,” he said.

Williams said he opted to run outside of the party because “I am running my race. I’m doing what I think is best.”

“It’s not about outside or inside the party, I’ve lived here a long time, I care about what’s going on here, and I decided that I’m going to run for mayor,” he said. “I’m going to let the people of this town decide what they want to do. I think they deserve to have a choice.”

Williams said the biggest issues he sees in the township are:

  • Property taxes:  “People want a way for that to be addressed,” he said.
  • Public transportation: “We need to have some type of public transportation within the township so people can get from one side to another with relative ease and not rely on one bus line,” he said.

Williams said he would also work with the Board of Education to “benefit our kids and make sure the money that is going to the school board is going where it is supposed to go, and that the kids are getting the resource.”

“We could bring back some more after-school programs, we could work together with other towns to have cooperative events where kids from all over could come,” he said.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Note: Some polling districts’ voting locations have changed; for details, click here.

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