Julia Fahl is taking on Lambertville Mayor Dave Del Vecchio in the June 5 Democratic primary election, and with no strong Republican contender in sight, a victory there would virtually guarantee her ascension to office.
Born in Red Bank, N.J., raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and schooled at Bryn Mawr College, Fahl, 27, has spent the last few years raising funds for Democratic candidates around the country, including N.J. Governor Phil Murphy.
A visit with her this week at her Lambertville home revealed an insightful, savvy contender who is charismatic and intellectual, while disarmingly down to earth. In other words, a political force to be reckoned with.
We asked her why she decided to take on Lambertville’s longtime mayor, Dave Del Vecchio.
“The way the town is operating is not particularly professional, and it’s not particularly fair,” Fahl replied. “I think there’s a lot of people in town who would like to give back, and volunteer for this community. I think Lambertville engenders this passion for the town, but I don’t think those opportunities are available to people unless they’re connected to the mayor. I think Dave has done a really good job — 27 years as mayor in Lambertville — he oversaw a huge wave of volunteerism that shaped the town for the better. That being said, I think we need a new mayor because we need a new vision for what leadership in this town looks like.”
Fahl says she wants to open up the entire governing process in Lambertville, including the various boards and commissions that account for much of the city’s political workings.
“Board appointments happen at the reorganization in January, so in the lead up to that — September, October, November, and December — you should have a monthly board fair, where members of the board have to sit for two hours in a public space, and answer questions from people who might want to be involved. And then there should be an open application process. Right now, you don’t send in an application for a board, you ask Dave to be on a board.”
Fahl also believes there’s much that can be done to make city government work better for residents on a day-to-day basis.
“There’s a lot of small tweaks we can make right away that would make Lambertville operate just a little bit better,” she explained. “Most people in this town have two working members of their household, so it doesn’t make sense that city hall runs on soft banker’s hours. When we moved into this house, we needed a permit, and I had to stay home from work that day to get a permit — it doesn’t make sense.”
“Why don’t we host mobile hours for federal and state reps?” continued Fahl. “There’s lots of people in this town who don’t drive because they’re older, or because they don’t have driver’s licenses, or any other number of reasons they’re in ‘in town.’ We should make their local representatives come to them — it’s free to the town — you just ask the state rep to send a constituent service person down to sit for an hour to answer questions about social security, taxes, to lodge a complaint against the pipeline…and city government should facilitate those conversations.”
Communication is a consistent theme in Fahl’s approach. The candidate believes better communication can contribute to an improved quality of life in many ways, small and large.
“We have an opt-in emergency text system, but if you don’t know that this exists, or know somebody at city hall, you are not a part of the system,” Fahl observed. “We should have an opt-in city text message system through a service that can micro-target by block, so if you’re on Elm Street, and Elm Street has road work, you get a text two days in advance saying, ‘There’s going to be road work on your block. It starts at 7 a.m. If you have questions, call this number.’ That’s easy, and it’s not expensive.”
While campaigning around Lambertville, Fahl says that folks have shown a readiness for change, even changing their mayor. They also aren’t shy about speaking out about their personal peeves.
“I’ve been knocking on doors since I announced my candidacy two weeks ago, and about one out of three people have said they’re upset about the taste or smell of the water,” said Fahl. “The mayor really can’t do really anything about the taste or smell of your water. But what the mayor can do is call a member of the DEP, call an expert from Suez, and sit down for a town hall where people can ask questions for an hour.”
Fahl says that the changes she’s advocating don’t necessarily cost a lot, but they can mean a lot to residents. More importantly, she believes that change is essential to successfully position Lambertville for the future.
“If we want to continue to modernize and stay ahead, Lambertville is going to have to start getting with the times,” she said. “The Lambertville group on Facebook is very active, but the City of Lambertville’s Facebook page is not very active, and so that is sort of a problem. Residents are trying to find information online, on Facebook, and you know that’s where they are, so talk to them there. The City of Lambertville [page] has fewer followers than the firehouse does. That is a problem. And the website — you can’t register your pets online, you can’t pay your sewer bill online — it doesn’t make any sense.”
For Fahl, not all change involves a technological solution. Much of what she’s advocating is about creating a shared vision of the future.
“Dave has run the town well, it’s functioning, we’re not in a crisis…but we are stagnating,” she said. “And I think that’s why we need fresh blood in council, because we’re not questioning what we can do better. I think the town is starting to fray around the edges, and I think there’s a lot of work that we can do to make the town better — so we should do it.”
“We have to start focusing on investing in beautifying the town,” continued Fahl. “We have a Shade Tree Commission, but no dedicated shade tree fund. We need to start making commitments to the aesthetics of our town because our small businesses rely on having a cute town that people can walk through. And we should be trying to figure out what the next level of development looks like in Lambertville. New businesses are dumping millions of dollars into development right now over the bridge [in New Hope]. Where’s ours? We need to figure out what our next phase of development is. There has to be a way that the city functions well for its residents, and also helps drive dollars in/dollars out. We’re a small business town.”
Aside from economic development, Fahl thinks the city should invest in more “non-tourist programming,” i.e. community activities.
“They’re inexpensive, they’re fun, people talk about them, and they increase quality of life,” she observed. “An outdoor movie night, turning the green space by the Canal Studios into an afternoon beer hall, bringing in some local businesses for a farmer’s market — these aren’t tough things to do, they just require a little bit of seed money, and somebody’s time. There are people who would actively like to take these projects on, so give them the resources and let them do it!”
While a few observers have suggested that a contested Democratic primary election for mayor detracts from a united front against Republicans come November, Fahl points out that there’s really no viable Republican candidate on the horizon at this point in time. Besides, she says, a little competition can be a good thing for the city.
“I think that regardless of the general election, the June 5 primary election is where I’m focused right now,” Fahl said. “Win, lose or draw, it’s good for the town to ask themselves, ‘What do I want from my mayor?'”
That said, challenging a popular, longstanding leader like Dave Del Vecchio seems like an almost insurmountable task. Why take it on?
“Lambertville is a really special place,” explained Fahl. “I made probably the biggest investment decision of my life in buying a home here. I got married here. I love this town, and this is a public service for me. I want to help Lambertville, and work for the town. I want to be people’s mayor, whether they moved in 30 days ago, or 30 years ago.”
Can this relatively young candidate, who has spent her career thus far in the shadow of other political figures, successfully compete against a powerful incumbent? Fahl seems confident and determined to win.
“I’m going to run a really professional race,” she said. “I’m going to knock on every door in Lambertville.”
I just don’t understand why people in our city are comfortable with the idea of having the same mayor for over 30 years. Many public offices in the country have term limits in order to protect constituents from potential abuses of power and cronyism. I don’t know Dave and I am certainly not suggesting that he has taken advantage of his office in any way. However, I do think that all of us should be very comfortable with the idea of electing someone new as mayor, especially someone who is as bright, fair minded and hard working as Julia is. After all, a long time ago, Dave got his first shot as mayor when he was about her age.
I don’t disagree with someone new. As I said I think it is healthy. When I first heard that Julia was running I was all in. I read about her and met her and started to analyze what we had in both candidates then, for me, Julia turned into a “shiny new object” that I wanted.
I think the person that has been through the rigors and trials of the town or experiences overrides voting for someone “because they are new”. Being new is not an asset to vote for and the learning curve that goes with it will actually affect the town. If there is cronyism then yes this is a sound reason to change but at this time it is implied or imagined and not actually a reason at all. One candidate has developed quite a list of skills and a history- the other has only implied thoughts, words and perceptions (“bright, fair minded and hard working”). I don’t mind a change but they really should be for the right reasons.
It just seems like she just moved here and got excited and for her the town became her shiny new object. I said it before, if you want to help the town in a healthy cooperative way, get on the city council become a helpful member of the team and show what you can do or at least develop the skills you will be needing to actually do better than what we have now.
Being young and bright fits into a category like being handsome or pretty- but these word don’t describe character or a depth of skills to bring to the table and do better by all of us as a whole.
All that she offers in this article are very trendy social networking ideas for the social networked generation. No mention of paving the streets, garbage pick up, or perhaps even noise abatement.
Further, who will pay to have representatives visit people?
This woman sounds very naïve and just trying to focus on her career and aspirations, Lambertville being just a stepping stone on her way up.
Lastly as a white married heterosexual male, I am alienated by her lesbianism, and the thought that she will funnel money to her gal pals drives me to vote for Dave Del Vecchio for the first time in my life. If Dave does lose to her, I will consider it to be karmic justice for Dave since he like all other trendies hopped on the homosexual marriage bandwagon when he preformed homosexual ceremonies as justice of the peace.
I met both candidates. Politically I can see a lot of similarities so not much to change here. Julia seems like she may be climbing a political ladder to get in to be Mayor and then move on. If so we’ll be looking for someone/anyone to run again. DelVecchio has his quirks and believe me we’ve butted heads- but in the end he seriously lives and breathes Lambertville and the town has become his identity. This I can’t say I feel the same about regarding Julia. While she is young and new with a fresh sense of millennial eagerness I don’t get any depth as a mayor. Nothing against being young but we have an “A” bond rating, dealt with multiple floods, hurricanes snowstorms, electrical outages (I’m thinkin the 2 a.m. call) that DelVecchio has dealt with. I appreciate that the mayor has faced perils.
Julia may- but does not seem to have the passion about the town as much as she has for winning. In reading up about Julia some things aren’t making sense. She would like to see more volunteering then goes on to say that Dave has done well with volunteers (the recycling program started with volunteers). She is proposing making applications available online, super good idea. But just so you know I really despise Facebook and government reading everything about me. Facebook is really popular with older people but young people are turning away from it. Besides the town is small enough and I have no desire to spread details about myself or read about others. Texts from the town about roadwork, ok, permits online or pet registration, ok. Julia mentioned the taste and smell of the water then goes on to say that the mayor can’t fix this. I am getting a confrontational vibe and think she could do so much better helping instead of fighting.
I embrace the ideas and competition as it promotes a healthy way of thinking. I would love to have Julia on City Council and develop the chops to work within the town and gain experiences, work with the personalities and develop some layers of mayoral skills. I want to see her energy go to work in a positive way. With Julia I’m feeling an aspirational personal goal, not really an unglamorous dedicated commitment in the trenches. If she loses I feel like she’ll move on, if Dave loses a passion for the town goes as with it.
Dave would you just loosen up please? Julia why not run for City Council and show a spirit to help in a co-operative way. I think together you will help really each other and the town. If it doesn’t work out then you can genuinely have a lot to say about change and know a lot about what you can do to help. Just sayin…
Can I get a poster to put in my window- 17N Union St
Let me know how one can contribute to you campaign.
You candidacy is important to the future of a town I still care about.
I would like to hear more. Is there any sort of debate?
http://www.panjradio.com/ you will find the interviews here
Can’t vote because I’m in New Hope…but I like this chick. Smart comments about current admin and future vision. We need term limits in both towns.