By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was produced as part of the 2020 Election Reporting Fellowship with NJ ethnic and community media organized by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.
PLEASANTVILLE – Judy Ward officially made history Tuesday night becoming the first woman to be elected as the mayor of Pleasantville in Atlantic County, replacing longtime Mayor Jesse Tweedle.
Ward, who served on the Pleasantville City Council before throwing her had in the ring as mayor, collected more than 80 percent of the vote with tallies continuing. He was running against fellow city council member Tony Davenport, who ran as an independent.
On city council since 2005, Ward comes in with a wealth of city administration experience virtually serving on every city council committee since being first elected. She became the first female ever to be chosen at council president and had earned the respect of her colleagues.
Before her historic race, Ward answered email questions from Front Runner New Jersey.
FRNJ: Tell me about your family and where you grew up. Just anything you would like to share.
Judy Ward: I was born in Atlantic City and moved to Egg Harbor at an early age where I attended school and graduated from Oakcrest High School. I retired from Verizon after 30 years of service. I married my first love and we had two children, and three grandchildren, with one more on the way.
FRNJ: If elected in November, you’d become the first female mayor in the history of Pleasantville. How does that feel to be on that side of history?
Judy Ward: It’s always great to be a trailblazer and I would be honored to be the first female mayor in the city of Pleasantville, and the first African-American female mayor in Atlantic County. However, I am currently focused on the election and will not be presumptuous about anything. Confident — yes. Empowered women empower women and as wonderful as it will be to be the first, it’s equally important not to be the last.
FRNJ: At this point in life with your accomplishments, you could retire and not be bothered with anybody. Why was running for mayor so important to you?
Judy Ward: “A NEW LEADER, A NEW VISION, A NEW DIRECTION.” Along with everything else that I’ve been involved in as a public servant, being mayor seems to be the next progression. I was a public servant long before being on city council. When my sons were at South Main Street School I was on the Pleasantville Education Foundation, a committee called PACT, Pleasantville Absecon Coming Together, which was formed to act as a liaison between Absecon and Pleasantville schools. I worked closely with Principle James Watkins and Vice Principal Jean Barksdale, along with the Pleasantville Board of Education members. I also started the African American club at South Main Street School which the students really enjoyed. I was on the UEZ Board prior to being on city council. Before retiring when my sons were younger I didn’t have the time to devote to being a dedicated council person because my family always came first. Now I have more time and I really enjoy being active in my community so it’s not as if it’ a burden.
FRNJ: Quite a few people focus on the negatives in Pleasantville, especially after the football game shooting last November. Is perception one of your priorities? What do you want outsiders to know about Pleasantville?
Judy Ward: Yes, changing the perception of Pleasantville is definitely one of my priorities! The incident that took little Micah’s life was so senseless and cruel and that is definitely not a memory we want instilled in anyone’s mind about our city. I would like all outsiders to know that even though Pleasantville has it’s issues, as many cities do, many of the perpetrators committing the offense are not from Pleasantville, but the owness falls upon us. I’d like to focus on the positive. In Pleasantville we have record breaking athletes, famous musicians, and so much potential. That includes our waterfront area which I call Atlantic County’s best kept secret.
FRNJ: What will be two or three of your top priorities if you become mayor? Why?
Judy Ward: As Mayor my top priority would be what everyone wants of course, for their municipality to attract more ratables to stabilize the taxes. To continue with our community policing, to make our city safe, clean and revitalize Main Street to look more inviting and hopefully attract more businesses. Bring back our Little League Baseball. Seek ways to have a senior citizen’s building and more family entertainment. I plan to have community meetings quarterly in each of our two wards to hear what is important to the residents.
FRNJ: What will it take to accomplish those priorities?
Judy Ward: To accomplish those priorities it’s going to take a collaborative effort attracting businesses that can possibly hire residents for jobs and sponsor some of the youth or senior citizens activities. Also, improve our school system to make Pleasantville a more attractive place for families to live.
FRNJ: Front Runner New Jersey works to present role models to the community. How seriously do you take your role as a role model? Why?
Judy Ward: In 2011, I became Pleasantville’s first female city council president and was inducted into the Atlantic County Women’s Hall of Fame. Every March during Women’s History month we go into selected schools to speak to the young ladies. Many of them are so impressed to know they have role models among them that they can relate to.
FRNJ: Who has and continues to inspire you (parents, teachers, etc.)?
Judy Ward: I stand on the shoulders of strong women and I’ve been inspired by so many. Most of my inspiration came from my Mother who was always so supportive of me. Ironically, Mayor Ralph Sr. encouraged me to run for city council and was such a mentor until he became ill. My husband and sons even my grandchildren give me inspiration. From our future, the students that I see when I visit the schools and other youth activities, to those who have paved our way, the senior citizens.
FRNJ: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Judy Ward: In five years I see Pleasantville with an improved school system, the Lakes Bay area developed, more youth activities in our city and it is my hope that we’ll have a senior citizen’s building.
FRNJ: Anything else you would like to add?
Judy Ward: In the past the name Pleasantville really described our city. Due to economic and other reasons we may not be the city we used to be, nor as bad as the city we’re sometimes portrayed to be. With the help of the residents taking pride in our city and their properties, along with the city leaders making good decisions and seeking ways to improve our city, Pleasantville can once again be the city we can all be proud of. We didn’t get here overnight and there will be no overnight solutions. Working together and taking pride in our city, and respecting one another we’ll get there.
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