When Lakewood Mayor and Township Committeeman Ray Coles ran his first Township Committee race in 2002, there was a strong movement among senior communities along the Route 70 corridor to secede from Lakewood Township. Mr. Coles spent a large segment of his maiden campaign convincing these residents to remain part and parcel of the fabric of our Township. Yes, Lakewood was growing and diversifying – but that would only be a boon to everyone in town in the long run.
“I was Lakewood’s biggest cheerleader,” Mayor Coles plainly states.
Indeed, Lakewood continued blossoming over the subsequent decade-and-a-half and Mayor Coles is proud to say that his promise to the seniors was vindicated. Growth and advancement have gone hand-in-hand under his watch. Lakewood has among the fastest growing and youngest populations of any municipality in the entire nation. But more than in quantity, the quality of community life has risen in countless ways as well.
“When I started off in office, many private schools were located in single family homes,” Mayor Coles recounts. “Today, Lakewood is filled with state-of-the-art campuses that offer great promise for the children of our community.”
Certainly, the Roshei Mosdos, parents and philanthropists of our community deserve lots of credit for the sophistication of our community’s Mosdos, but the Township government played a very significant role as well. Mayor Coles speaks with passion about how he and other Township officials helped over fifty schools secure parcels of land, including in the Oak Street area, to build adequate facilities for the children.
Mayor Coles notes that before this program started, the Mosdos had over 3,000 children learning in trailers along with those learning in private homes. Those were not appropriate environments for kids, which propelled the Township to focus on land for schools. Since then our Mosdos have added an additional 15,000 children, bli ayin hora, accommodating them in a way that was previously out of reach. With more schools, and more classrooms, it is easier to accommodate every child applying to school, and reduces the instances of painful rejection. Mayor Coles also notes that by doing this the Township was able to bring down costs of running a school, helping keep tuition costs Lakewood’s strapped parents under control.
To put it mildly, governments do not always utilize their resources to the betterment of the lives of everyday families, but Lakewood clearly have lived up to this. In addition to utilizing Township land to secure an adequate chinuch, Mayor Coles takes particular pride in helping get another trailblazing project off the ground: the Lakewood Commons affordable housing project, in the Vine Street area.
Lakewood Commons is a bustling contemporary affordable housing community, filled with low and moderate income families who were given the opportunity to enjoy their dream of home ownership. One hundred and ninety two families currently reside in the development – which has three completed phases – and Phase Four, with an additional sixty six units, in under construction.
This project is a reality thanks to the cooperation of officials at all levels of government. However, it is fair to say that no elected official played as significant a role as Ray Coles. Mr. Coles has made affordable housing a high priority personal project for years. He helped secure Township land for the project and cut through lots of bureaucratic red tape. The Mayor’s forceful advocacy also helped bring other elected officials on board.
As a result, 192 families are living in homes that were not affordable to them. Mayor Coles’ only regret is that this project will only accommodate 455 families upon completion and not thousands more. In NJ, affordable housing is a constitutional right guaranteed by the State Constitution, the only state in the Union to have such a requirement. He is proud that Lakewood, unlike other towns that fight affordable housing, has embraced the effort to help families in need. Hopefully, many more families can be accommodated through additional projects in the upcoming years.
No wonder, the primary thoroughfare in Lakewood Commons is named “Coles Way,” something that makes the Mayor…in popular jargon…kvell. “Every time I hear someone tell me how much his or her family is thriving in an affordable home, I am reminded once again why public service is so rewarding,” he says.
This Tuesday, June 6th, is Primary Day in the Township Committee race. Mayor Coles urges all registered Democrats to show up to the polls and pull the lever for him and his running mate, Moshe Raitzik. “Let us build upon all that we’ve accomplished,” he says.