As the weather starts to cool and the leaves begin to turn, the talk around politics becomes paramount as many municipalities around the United States hold elections. Generally speaking, while not on a big scale like those such as for federal office, local elections affect us the quickest and closest, making it extremely important to try to know about the candidates on the ballot.
Christopher Hillmann is one such candidate. He won the primary this past June as the Democratic candidate in the mayoral race for Hasbrouck Heights in Bergen County as an out LGBTQ town councilman. But in November general election he was not able to overcome the Republican mayoral candidates momentum.
Hillmann graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor of science in geography, he became invested in politics when he got a job at the Arizona House of Representatives as a page. He currently serves as a councilman for the town, and works as the legislative affairs director for the New Jersey Motor Vehicles Commission, both for five years and counting.
Before his job at the NJMVC, he worked for Health Professionals and Allied Employees, which prides itself on being the largest healthcare union in New Jersey. But when it comes to his experience in the political landscape, he has been there for quite some time, having worked in Bergen County since 2005. He also has experience working as the chief of staff for two assemblypersons, first Connie Wagner and then Tim Eustace, each for almost six years.
This most recent run for mayor was not his first. Last election cycle he ran against the incumbent mayor of Hasbrouck Heights, John DeLorenzo, in 2019. Hillmann was endorsed at the time by the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.
His environmentally enthusiastic mindset began coming to fruition when working with Eustace, who was the chair of the Environment and Solid Waste Committee, where he met other like-minded individuals such as those from the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, and Food & Water Watch. In his personal life, his passion for the environment is evidenced by the photos he has posted on social media of his hiking trips. Also found in his posts is his participation in LGBTQ-related events and organizations, attending events at the New Jersey LGBTQ Democratic Caucus and Garden State Equality.
Hillmann’s participation in the environmentally friendly side of life is not limited merely to the times he feels it will benefit him politically. He has advocated for charity drives and events with the Hasbrouck Heights Green Team, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit, in which he participates as one of three board members. As a part of their Plastic Free July, one of the team’s events collected over 100 pounds of toy Legos to donate for the 2023 Lego Replay Drive. The team regularly holds food drives as well as charity and recycling drives.
Hillmann is not a stranger to environmental advocacy. In his last run for mayor, his TV spot showcased all the things that he would strive to do if elected. Among them would be his effort to save money on energy bills through a bulk purchasing program. In recent years, the town began to look into wholesale purchasing, but it never went anywhere, which is something Hillmann hopes to change. On top of his efforts to save money through this method of purchasing, his eco and fiscally minded energy ideas is open to putting up solar panels on town buildings. Hillmann brought up when discussing this idea that other towns such as Maplewood and South Orange were able to save millions on energy bills because of their extensive solar panel projects.
He also is concerned with getting the town’s department of public works more resources to have an easier time doing their jobs, bringing up examples of how when trees come down, there are no tools to plant new trees when requested. Hillmann mentioned when walking around town there is not much shade because of this. He also pointed out that the DPW needs a whole new yard because their buildings are flood-prone and outdated.
Of the other two efforts in the former TV spot, Hillmann also wanted to create a parking, pedestrian, and paving committee to find more ideas and solutions. As well as advocating for this committee, he promoted a more inclusive government in which a diverse group of people could share their ideas. He again has a background in this field, not only because of his being LGBTQ but also acting as a liaison in Access for All, a group that advocates for equal employment for uniquely abled people.
Hillmann’s campaign for this past season was titled “Focus on Heights 2023,”, which used the slogan “Honesty, Action, Integrity,” Hillmann was also joined by other Democrats within this group effort. It included Hillmann for mayor, and Erica Golle and Gabrielle Riccardi-Mendoza for council. This group effort strived to make and maintain an inclusive space for all of their constituents. The campaign held events, which started with their kickoff and primary party in May, all the way to their bubble tea and ballot day at the beginning of August.
In between these events, the campaign also held meet-and-greets in July in which South Asian-American, Asian-American, and Middle Eastern and Arab-American residents of Hasbrouck Heights were invited to brainstorm and bring their ideas, questions, and concerns to the Democratic candidates. It also was an effort to help bring more recognition and access to the services the town offers, in the hope of being more open and transparent with their community.
In regards to being more inclusive, after his first run for mayor, Hillmann and supportive members of the town have held Pride flag-raising events with hopes of more acknowledgment of LGBTQ existence. Just after his first run, there was a comment made by the incumbent mayor that “the family values of our town have prevailed.” This not-so-subtle anti-gay jab sparked Representatives Bill Pascrell and Josh Gottheimer to release a statement condemning the homophobic comment. It was to Hillmann’s surprise that after this, allies and members of the LGBTQ community came together to hold their first Pride flag raising in Hasbrouck Heights. Since then there have been more of these held, some involving the local fire department and police.
But outside of the efforts and events related directly to the election and politics, Hillmann is often found supporting his fellow citizens by going to many different local events. In June, he attended the Hasbrouck Heights High School graduation, as well as the Bergen County Technical High School graduation, where he supported two of the Democrats for Hasbrouck Heights scholarship recipients. He also attended the junior police academy’s graduation. It is with these gestures that Hillmann shows up to support everyone for being themselves and being a part of the town and community. He does not go just to celebratory events either; he shows up to support people in other ways, such as attending funerals.
Hillmann aspires to create a space where everyone can voice their concerns and questions. He also hopes that he can make more services accessible, improve the infrastructure of the town by accessing the funding given to them from the state and federal government, and continue to foster a community that is welcoming to all.