Posts Tagged ‘Mayor Eric Houghtaling’

Mayor Eric Houghtaling with grandson Ryker Butcher, 5 1/2; wife Linda and grandson Cade Butcher, 4. Photo by Mary Walton

Eric Houghtaling celebrates with grandson Ryker Butcher, 5 1/2; wife Linda and grandson Cade Butcher, 4. Photo by Mary Walton

By Mary Walton

You may have run into Eric Houghtaling pumping iron at the Jersey Shore Fitness Center, or atop a ladder in Wegman’s doing something complicated with wires. At Christmas he can be seen mounting an elaborate two-story lighting display on his Gables home. (He is, after all, an electrician.) These are some of Houghtaling’s everyday venues. But for the past two years, since taking the plunge into politics, he has occupied a seat on the Neptune Township Committee. He is a regular at meetings of homeowners in Neptune Township, including in Ocean Grove.

And on New Years Day he was sworn in for a one-year term as mayor, taking the reins from Randy Bishop, his 2010 running mate. In his inaugural speech, Houghtaling pledged to see that the Township continues to help homeowners and businesses recover from Hurricane Sandy damages. Topping his list is getting displaced residents back into their homes. “That saying is true,” he said. “There is no place like home, and we will make that happen.”

Ocean Grove’s Broadway project will be completed, he said, with the addition of new street lighting “desperately needed to replace the hodgepodge of lights currently in use.” And the Township will continue to challenge the owners of derelict properties “who would rather spend their money fighting the condition of their property rather than making the necessary improvements.”

The son of a maintenance man for Freedman’s Bakery, Houghtaling, 58, grew up in the Hamilton Gardens section of Neptune and attended township schools. He is married to the former Linda Deeves, a medical assistant to an Avon physican. They have three grown children and six grandchildren.

Houghtaling graduated from Neptune High without a clear idea of what he wanted to do, but a summer working with his father introduced him to electrical work. It took him four years and repeated applications to gain membership in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 440, a ticket to advanced electrical training and steady employment. Since then he has worked on projects in five states, including bridge maintenance for the state of New Jersey, and calibration, testing and start-up work on nuclear power plants. Since 2011 he has been employed by a contractor for Wegman’s, which has seven New Jersey locations. He enjoys the independence of moving from job to job. “I never really wanted a permanent job with a contractor.”

For 15 years he was a member of the Monmouth/Ocean Central Labor Council, where political issues often surfaced. He was appointed registrar for the local, a post that required him to give monthly motivational speeches, encouraging members to take an interest in politics. As it happened, Houghtaling himself got interested. He knew he’d have to start from scratch, never having been a fixture in Democratic politics nor a regular at committee meetings. “In my whole life here,” he said, “I’ve not been one to complain. That’s why I never got involved in Township meetings.”

To run as a Democrat for a Township Committee seat, he needed the endorsement of a majority of the Neptune party’s district leaders. The candidate they selected would be Bishop’s running mate, so Bishop’s vote was key. As it happened, the pair had met once before, when Houghtaling was president of Little League and a member of the Township’s recreation committee.

 “I was impressed with his earnestness and his dedication,” Bishop told Blogfinger. “I thought to myself, what a great guy.” When the pair met for a beer to discuss Houghtaling’s desire to run, Randy’s impression was ratified all over again. In the two years they have served together, the former mayor said, “He has been not only an incredible colleague but an incredible friend.” They will run for reelection together next November.

One thing Houghtaling is proud of is a plaque recently presented to Jose Cruz, a Township public works employee for 40 years. He ran into Cruz at the gym and was stunned to learn that he had retired with no fanfare, not even a ceremony. Houghtaling, the Township Committee liaison with the Public Works Department, put into place a procedure to recognize not just Cruz but all retiring Township employees with lengthy terms of service.

And today he recognizes the importance of complaints. “If you have a problem, let us know.”

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Olive Houghtaling and her son the mayor. Photo by Mary Walton

Olive Houghtaling and her son the mayor. Photo by Mary Walton

By Mary Walton

One thing a reporter learns when writing a profile of a person is always to talk to the mom.

“So what kind of a kid was Eric?” we asked Olive Houghtaling when we were introduced to her at a gathering of her son’s friends and family at his home. This was just a few hours after his swearing-in as mayor. “Was he obedient?”

“He didn’t listen,” she answered immediately.

We asked her to tell us more.

“We told him not to go to the candy store. He went anyway and he got arrested. I told his father, ‘You go get him, I’m not getting him.’ ”

Standing within earshot, the new mayor flinched at this revelation of his childhood past. “Mom, what are you doing? You’re killing me.”

So this is the story: Houghtaling was 14 and he and his buddies used to hang out in the Jumping Brook Mall, outside a certain luncheonette. “We didn’t like the owner,” Houghtaling said, suddenly red-faced. “He gave us a hard time.”

The owner had his revenge. The police were called. Eric was arrested for loitering. His dad came down and got him out of the pen. After six months his record was expunged.

Seated next to Houghtaling, Neptune’s outgoing mayor, Randy Bishop, couldn’t contain his laughter. “I’m concerned about having such a reprobate as my running mate.”

 “He didn’t do any harm,” said Mrs. Houghtaling. “He just didn’t listen.”

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