I have known village president candidate Deborah Davis Ford since she was elected trustee in 2005. For over 14 years she has done everything in her power to make her “beloved South Orange” a welcoming community that gives everyone, including the under-represented and disenfranchised, a platform to be heard. The best example of her focus comes from the time and energy she has given in support of at-risk high school students in Essex County. Over the past three years, my non-profit has held several weekend filmmaking bootcamps for at-risk students, culminating in red-carpet screenings, open to students, their families and the community at large. Davis Ford has attended all of these events.
Last year, in fact, she organized an “Essex County Celebrates Youth” night, where our film students from Orange, Maplewood and South Orange received plaques signed by the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Their films were screened before the entire board at the Hall of Records in Newark, and a resolution honoring these students was passed. She organized the entire event - just one example of the kind of person she is.
Like Davis Ford, I am proud of how South Orange has grown and changed since 2005. What I am not proud of, though, is the way that she has been treated these past two weeks on social media, insulted and vilified for “going low” (as her opponents have posted.) Online trolls falsely claimed that Davis Ford is against shared fire services (she is not). The personal attacks grew, comparing her to Donald Trump and blatantly calling her a “liar”. This unfair social attack on her morals began when the SO Forward team released a mailer that attacked her opponent's positions.
When I asked Davis Ford why they sent it, she told me simply and honestly that the South Orange firefighters were not being heard. Her campaign wanted to quickly shine light on the issues that they and the firefighters felt were being ignored, especially the staffing levels and their loss of civil service protection.
A good thing that has happened since the flyer, is that firefighter staffing levels and civil service status are now front and center in the discussion. Our front line in fire safety, who previously felt left out of the planning process, now hopefully feels included. Shared control of a merged fire department that is civil service and gives both towns equal power over staffing levels, hiring, firing, finances and equipment, is now being openly discussed not only by our politicians, but by all of us. We have educated ourselves on this important issue.
Davis Ford is clearly someone who gives under-represented parties a voice in the planning and who stands up for those who want a place at the table. South Orange is truly a “beloved town” because of people like Davis Ford. I urge everyone to vote for her and the SO Forward team on May 14.