HARRINGTON PARK, N.J. -- A couple of apples did not fall far from Paul Hoelscher’s teaching tree. Even Harrington Park’s long-time mayor found himself seeking elective office, influenced in part by a 33-year teaching career of in political science.
Hoelscher, who won re-election last November, has served as the borough’s mayor for 25 years. Some former students of Hoelscher’s at Passaic Valley High School in Little Falls found their political calling in part through Hoelscher.
Keith Kazmark, the current mayor of Woodland Park, found his political interest as a direct result of sitting in Hoelscher’s classroom. “He was very passionate about political science, giving back to the community and serving constituents,’’ said Kazmark, a 1996 graduate of Passaic Valley. “He did not focus on it. It just came through in his teaching of the subject matter. He made the interaction fun.”
Kazmark, a Democrat, found himself at odds in Hoelscher’s classroom with classmate Robert DeBlock, a Republican, who later worked as chairman for the Committee to Save West Paterson. Hoelscher, an independent, carefully moderated debate as both young men advanced their positions in his classroom.
“He encouraged us to fully develop and articulate your point of view in politics and current events,’’ said DeBlock, who now works as the vice president of an environmental services company. “Keith and I were on different sides of the spectrum, but we had real discussion and debate that was civil. He allowed us to articulate and disagree, but still be pleasant.”
Hoelscher has been retired from teaching for 20 years, but still reaps the rewards. “The thing I enjoyed the most was contributing to the intellectual advancement of the students,’’ Hoelscher said. “Some former students are mayors, which is rewarding. Just hearing from former students is great, and every so often you get a thank you. It was a great career.”
Hoelscher’s teaching skills transferred nicely into politics. Organization, listening, evaluating, structure, compromise -- and a 24/7/365 commitment to the job -- are hallmarks of the classroom and political office.
“My overriding objective has been to keep a balance of all that’s good in Harrington Park, with the idea that whatever changes we consider are for the better,’’ Hoelscher said. “We want to maintain Harrington Park as a residential community, but also keep us modern and not lose the old-time flavor that we have here.”
Harrington Park has a population of approximately 4,800 residents and a landmass of just over two square miles. There is very little industry -- “It takes about 30 seconds to see it,’’ Hoelscher said -- and his main challenge during his tenure has been maintaining the quality of life while holding the line on property taxes.
“We’ve been able to do that with shared services and attrition,’’ Hoelscher said. “We’ve been able to save a lot of money cooperating with other towns and the county. People work together and we have tremendous cooperation. We’re ahead of the curve in terms of shared services.”
Harrington Park’s largest commercial taxpayer, United Water, reached agreement last year to sell its 9-acre parcel to Allegro Senior Living of St. Louis, which plans to develop up to 195 rental units on the site.
Hoelscher feels he has been successful in maintaining a high quality of life in the borough by working with both parties. Hoelscher is one of only three independent mayors in Bergen County -- the others are in Tenafly and Montvale -- and is unchained from political parties.
“Local politics really transcends traditional party values and platforms,’’ Hoelscher said. “I know I benefit from a lot of Democrat and Republican support. When I look for candidates to run for elective office, it’s never based on political affiliation. It’s based on what you’ve done and the interest expressed. It’s also true of people who I appoint. I want to know their interest and their background. That’s what is going to help best serve the borough.”
Hoelscher’s leadership style agrees with his electorate, which gave him 69 percent of the vote in last year’s election. “I imagine his residents see the same leadership skills that we saw as students,’’ DeBlock said. “He wanted us to succeed.”
Hoelscher spends downtime listing to music, reading and weekend vacationing. He also works as a real estate appraiser in addition to his duties as the Harrington Park mayor. He has about 3 ½ years left on his term.
“I’d like to make sure the ship remains stable and on course for the rest of my term,’’ Hoelscher said. “We’re going to continue to go after grants and whatever shared services we can secure. I really don’t have plans to sit in a chair and retire. I guess I’ll just keep moving along.”