Rooney Trying Fourth Time for Chance to Give Back
John Rooney is running for one of two open seats on council.
Editor's Note: Each day this week, we will feature the biography of one of the candidates running in the elections this year. First will be the mayoral candidates, followed by the candidates for council.
This year is huge, with the mayor’s seat open as well as two council seats available—and resident John Rooney wants to be in on the action.
“This year, there is a lot going on with the mayor’s race at the top of the local ticket, there’s been a lot more intensity and focus,” he said. “From a political landscape, it is a whole new dynamic, and I wanted to be part of that excitement.”
Born on Staten Island, Rooney's family moved to the Martinsville section of Bridgewater when he was four years old, and his parents are still there to this day. After a six-year stint in Washington D.C. following college, Rooney settled in the Finderne section in 1996, and has been there ever since.
"The Martinsville section is more of a town feel," he said. "But Finderne is older in the sense that it is more ethnic and more diverse."
Although he said he is partial to Martinsville because he grew up there, Rooney is just happy to have "returned home" to Bridgewater to make his life.
"It has a great school system that is top grade A all the way," said the 1986 Bridgewater-Raritan High School graduate. "There are great teachers and great everything. I always said to my parents that the best move they ever made was to Bridgewater."
After graduating from Kean University, then Kean College, in 1990 with a bachelors degree in political science, Rooney moved to Washington D.C. to get his feet wet in the political arena. While there, he worked for the Democratic party, and served on the personal staff of Maryland congressman Tom McMillen.
After McMillen lost reelection in 1992, Rooney said, he continued working for him from 1993 to 1995 in the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
And in 1996, Rooney decided to return to Bridgewater.
"I always knew I would come home at some point," he said. "D.C. is a young person's town."
"And with me and my two younger sisters out of the house, I wanted to be closer to my parents," he added.
Once he moved home, Rooney said, he considered getting involved politically in Bridgewater, and did so with the Democratic party.
But his career path took a bit of a different turn when he got a job at Ethicon, on Route 22, in 1996, staying through 2003. The following year, he got a job as a project manager with Resource New Jersey, in Denville.
The company, Rooney said, is a commercial flooring company, and has worked on such projects as the Meadowlands Stadium and the new Prudential Center in Newark.
"I saw it and thought it was a good opportunity," he said.
But the political bug had never quite left Rooney, and he began attending council meetings to keep up with what was happening in town.
"I stay involved in politics in Bridgewater outside of my work," he said. "Politics is not my paying job."
This will be Rooney’s fourth time running for council, having already tried in 2005, 2009 and 2010.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m burned out,” he said. “But when you have good people around you, a network of friends and family and they know the commitment you bring, you are hoping for good results.”
After having run on his own in 2010, Rooney said, it is a little easier to work with others because of shared responsibilities.
“We can cover more ground in terms of visiting people,” he said. “But this year with the whole makeup of the elections, there is logistically more attention and focus, and it’s a whole new dynamic.”
Rooney said he was encouraged by results from last year, and the reaction of residents, which made him decide to run again.
“I felt that I did well in unique circumstances, and I was encouraged by that,” he said. “I didn’t want to let that loss last year get me down at all, and I still received a lot of encouragement. I had built some goodwill from last year.”
Rooney said he has continued to attend council meetings and events as often as possible to maintain face recognition and continue to learn more about the township.
And Rooney said he has brought his experience from past campaigns to this year’s work, including his ability to communicate with large and small groups.
“I learned there is no substitute in local politics for going to as many events, football games and other stuff,” he said. “I learn to be anywhere and everywhere, and people appreciate that. They want to be able to shake your hand and say hi.”
Rooney said he had initially entertained a possibility of running for mayor, but when running-mate Jim Ventantonio stepped up for the position, Rooney stepped back and opted to continue with council.
“I knew I could be fully involved on the council level,” Rooney said. “I didn’t want to take that step without having been successful at the council level, so I thought prudence would be best.”
Rooney said it is daunting to be a Democrat running in a historically Republican county, but the campaign has been great so far.
“I’m a proud Democrat, and I have to stick to my principles,” he said. “I think people on the local level aren’t so much concerned with parties.”
“To pave the roads, collect garbage and make sure folks have what they need, those are non-partisan issues,” he added.
And while Rooney said he is looking forward to continuing with the campaign in partnership with Pranzatelli and Ventantonio, it is his desire to give back to the community he grew up in that has pushed him forward.
“My love for Bridgewater gives me the energy to want to serve in an elected capacity,” he said. “As a concerned citizen, I love going to meetings and learning how local issues can affect me.”
“I love to be able to give,” he added. “To be given the opportunity to serve would be a great privilege and a great honor.”
Elections are Nov. 8.