SUMMIT – Former Summit Councilwoman Kelly Hatfield stands downtown on a corner where she can see the old Town Hall, the parking garage and the historic horse trough – all items that were either renovated or built during her nine years on the council.
"I have proven experience as a problem solver," says the microbiologist who retired from the council in 2005 and now is a longshot to represent the Republican Party as a candidate for U.S. Congress in the 7th District.
Daughter of an Irish-American New York cop, Hatfield said she didn’t come to politics because of a family name but out of a sense of familial obligation.
Her work some 20 years ago trying to get the right special educational opportunities for her developmentally disabled daughter eventually led her to the board of education, where she served for six years before winning a seat on the city council.
"I have 15 years of experience serving on the front-line of government," says the 30-year Summit resident. "When people have a problem, who do they call? They call us, the local elected officials. That is how I would distinguish myself from the two other front-runners."
Breaking a 20-year discussion period, she spearheaded the five-story parking garage project, which pays for itself in this one-time silk factory town turned commuter hub and high-end bedroom community. Hatfield also helped develop a public-private partnership with non-profit Interfaith Hospitality Network, which purchased the old Town Hall for $900,000.
First hand knowledge and experience of making government work for people from a woman who has a PhD in microbiology.
That’s Hatfield’s plug.
Then the subject of campaign money comes up and at the moment it’s not her favorite subject. She’s raised $106,000 and has $94,000 on hand, while businesswoman Kate Whitman is in the neighborhood of $450,000 and state Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) has almost $300,000.
In her favor, Hatfield owns the organizational line in Union County – one of four county sections that comprise the 7th district and the district’s battlezone, where Democrats and Republicans are almost equal in number.
Comparing herself to Lance and Whitman, not only does she have the municipal government experience, she says, but, "I am the only candidate who has the experience of running in contested races," Hatfield argues. "I learned first hand what it means to be in a political battle. One election I won by 100 votes. I’ve run campaigns and I’ve organized campaigns."
But Whitman, who won the organizational line in Middlesex, and Lance, who won in his home county of Hunterdon and in Somerset, are not the only candidates with whom Hatfield must contend.
Her main competition arguably comes out of her home county in the person of Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks, who stands to Hatfield’s right on the issue of abortion. Marks is staunchly pro-life. Hatfield says her pro-choice position derives in part from a conservative’s sense of wanting government out of people’s personal lives.
Walking the streets of her hometown, when she talks about her work and what she would do in Congress, Hatfield comes back to fiscal conservatism and public infrastructure improvement – a chance to do what she’s done in Summit, on a larger scale.