The mayor and Town Council plan to nominate Rachel Andre-Tomlinson, a freelance media professional, to the Secaucus Housing Authority (SHA) at the Sept. 25 council meeting, to fill a seat left vacant after George Broemmer’s recent resignation. If appointed, Andre-Tomlinson, 26, will be the youngest commissioner on the seven-member board, currently comprised of four men and two women. She would also become the first African-American woman to serve on any municipal board in the town’s history, according to Town Clerk Mike Marra. She could also quite possibly be the first African-American to serve on any board in the town’s history, according to the former Mayor Paul Amico.
New resident voices
The SHA manages and operates three senior housing complexes that total 275 units, which are subsidized under the federal Public Housing Program. SHA also manages the Housing Choice Voucher program.
Commissioners typically serve a five-year term. Among the current commissioners, Michael Schlemm and Nicholas Costantino were both appointed within the past two years while Frances Jodice was appointed by the governor in 2001 and Arleen Kroll is in her 20th year of service to the board. Michael Harper was appointed to the board in 1999, at the age of 23. Former councilman Michael Grecco was appointed to the board in August.
“I would love to hear what the senior citizens want [and] what is important to them.” – Rachel Andre-Tomlinson
“I would love to hear what the senior citizens want [and] what is important to them,” said Andre-Tomlinson. “Then coming back and meet with our team and see how we can deliver.”
Andre-Tomlinson, who grew up in Jersey City, moved to Secaucus two years ago. She works for a local non-profit World Changer Church New York as their social media manager in addition to working as a freelance journalist.
During an informational meeting on Sept. 17 between local officials, SHA Executive Director Christopher Marra, Andre-Tomlinson, and Mayor Michael Gonnelli discussed his vision for the board.
“We are trying to really get this group a little more diversified,” said Gonnelli. “We have a changing population. We have new people coming in all the time.”
At 51.4 percent, more than half the population of Secaucus is comprised of women, according to the 2010 US Census. Of the town’s 16,264 total population, 68.4 percent is white, 20.4 percent is Asian, 18.6 percent is Latino, and 4.1 percent is black.
“We definitely wanted another woman on the board,” Gonnelli added.
At the start of the year the mayor and council took strides to add more women as well as diversify local boards with younger voices. They appointed 28-year-old Jennifer Modi, a senior civil engineer, to the Planning Board, and as an alternate to the SMUA board; Eleanna Ballis, 25, a recent graduate of Rutgers, to the Environmental Committee; and Amanda Nesheiwat, 22, a recent college graduate, to serve as an alternate member of the SMUA board in addition to her role as chair of the Environmental Committee.
“In the past 10, 15 years there has been a big turnover in the population of Secaucus,” said Marra following the meeting. “Older people have moved out, passed away, [or] sold their houses.” He pointed to new communities in developments like Xchange and Osprey Court.
“All of these new residents need to feel like they are getting involved in Secaucus and not just standing on the sidelines,” Marra said.
Commitment to service
“I was raised in a single family home [and went] to Catholic school,” said Andre-Tomlinson. “I helped people in soup kitchens and the homeless. If I can do [service] in my community – this is worthwhile for me.”
Andre-Tomlinson met Gonnelli when she offered to serve as a volunteer and offered up her media skills to produce video segments of local events two years ago. She received a Masters in Communications and Media Management from the New York Institute of Technology. She also lists production and on-air experience on her online biography with places like ABC, CNBC, News 12, and Verzion Fios 1.
“It is something that I am tremendously interested in,” said Andre-Tomlinson. “My experience is being the voice of the people and just really connecting with people.”
Contributing communication skills
“You have an opportunity to interact with a lot of people,” said Gonnelli. He noted that she could help with communications with seniors given her background in journalism.
“I just love sitting down, meeting people and hearing their voice and understanding them,” said Andre-Tomlinson during the meeting. “Some people they just want someone to listen and then take action.”
After an unofficial survey of the demographics in the senior buildings, the SHA found that approximately 26 percent of the residents spoke Spanish and that as many as eight languages are spoken in the buildings other than English, including Russian, German, and Chinese.
Andre-Tomlinson recognized that there is a need for diversity on the housing authority and that she hopes to not only give voice to African Americans but to also represent other minorities such as Asians, Indians, and Latinos.
She offered to revamp the housing authority newsletter and showed interest in the mayor’s suggestion about the possibility of creating a special segment on a health topic that pertains to the senior population that would be broadcast on the web site or cable channel.
“You would be a great asset to try to put something like that together,” said Gonnelli.
Andre-Tomlinson said that she is looking forward to serving on the commission and that she expects it to be “a great learning experience.”
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.