Video: Michelle Duprée Harris launches her ‘Michelle 4 Mayor’ campaign
By Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Councilwoman Michelle Duprée Harris made it official on Tuesday, announcing her bid to unseat Mayor Tim Dougherty in a video sent to potential campaign donors.
Running under the slogan “Balance, Vision, and Inclusion,” the five-term councilwoman cited her experience as a teacher with deep roots in the community.
“I would be a great mayor because I have vision. I have compassion. I listen. I understand. I’m innovative, coming up with ideas for programs on every level,” said Harris, a mother of three.
Dougherty kicked off his race for a third term last week, at an event where he was endorsed by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
Harris indicated her intention back in 2015 to challenge the Mayor–her former running mate–in this June’s Democratic primary.
At his kickoff, Dougherty took credit for a rapidly growing town with stable taxes, good services, and creative energy that has made the downtown a popular destination. Harris will try to claim some of that credit.
“A lot of people want to move to Morristown now,” said Chris Martin, a former councilman and former school board member who two decades ago recruited Harris to run for an at-large council seat because, he said, she “didn’t have ulterior motives.”
Martin encouraged newcomers to give the candidate a listen.
“She can recount to you what Morristown was like, and how it became a place that these people want to move to,” Martin said in the video.
On Tuesday, Dougherty said he is proud of the town’s progress over the last seven years. “I am looking forward to discussing the issues and how we can best move Morristown forward,” he said.
Harris’ camp includes Morristown’s former human services director, Tommy Alexander, who described Harris on camera as “a very good facilitator, and a very down-to-earth and truthful person. And that’s something that we need very much now.”
Alexander has clashed with town hall, retiring after a 2012 conviction on animal cruelty charges. The conviction was overturned on appeal, and Alexander claimed he was the victim of a political vendetta. The Mayor at the time called the allegation baseless, saying strict protocols were followed in the case.
‘THE TREES WILL STOP THEM’
Harris said she entered politics because town officials were nonchalant about a safety issue in her Second Ward neighborhood. She feared her young daughters might tumble down an embankment at the end of her street.
“The trees will stop them,” she remembered a town engineer telling her. “I was really furious… I started walking, I started talking. That’s how I got involved in politics.”
If she wins the primary and the November election, Harris said she plans to surround herself with “the best producing, performing workers for the town of Morristown.
“I’m not afraid to ask for help if I don’t know something. If I’m not strong in a certain area, I will make sure I bring staff in who has that capacity to do that job,” the councilwoman said.
Harris pointed to the transformation of a junkyard into the Early Street Community Garden — a joint project of nonprofit Grow It Green Morristown and the town — as a success story during her council tenure.
The daughter of a brick mason and a homemaker, Harris was 3 when her family moved to Morristown. She earned an undergraduate degree in education and a masters in educational leadership, and spent five years designing educational programs for the Urban League, she said.
Harris returned to Morristown years ago because it had programs for one of her children, who was born with a disability, she said.
She has taught elementary school in East Orange and now is a kindergarten teacher at the Alfred Vail School in the Morris School District. She said she is contemplating retirement after 29 years in classrooms.
For 19 of those years, Harris has served on the Morristown council.