True Blue: Bill Allen

August 23, 2023

Bill Allen is inarguably Bernards Township’s most knowledgeable resident when it comes to the history of Democratic politics in our burb. At 94, Bill is a two-time Township Committee person, having served in the 1970s and again in the 1990s as the town underwent significant expansion. The sole Democrat to serve on the committee since the 1930s, before Joan Bannan was elected in 2018, Bill has been a force behind many of the improvements we’ve seen over the years.

Although Bill’s father was raised in Bernards Township, Bill grew up on a farm in Hunterdon County. It was only after meeting his late wife, Joyce, and needing a home for his growing family that he landed here in 1968. His interest in politics at the time was more national in scope, as the nation was transfixed by the Watergate scandal, but a friend in the county Democratic party urged Bill to try to round up Democrats to run for office in his new hometown.

Unsuccessful in that effort, Bill decided to enter the race himself as a write-in candidate for Township Committee in 1971. He garnered 400 votes – not enough to win – but his work wasn’t for nothing. “I got a lot of publicity, so I just continued going to meetings and the paper took note of that,” Bill said, referring to the Bernardsville News. He ran again in 1972 and lost. In 1973, he tried a third time and was elected. This was at a time when the township had about a 4:1 ratio of Republicans to Democrats, he noted.

During his first six years on the Township Committee, Bill found that being a Democrat was not an obstacle. “We had no partisan difficulties at all and it was a very constructive period,” he recalled. Among the issues he and his fellow committee members tackled was affordable housing, which was by then a state mandate. Bill remembered the first affordable housing proposal in 1975 being roundly opposed by two standing-room-only crowds. “We developed a much better proposal that was formally adopted in 1976 with broad community support,” he said. “This accomplishment is what I am most proud of from my government service.”  

Bill played an important role in the development of the Pleasant Valley Pool, which he and Joyce and their two young daughters immediately joined when it opened in 1979. He had learned by then that no person can do much by himself in government, and that significant accomplishment requires contributions from many. 

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Bill focused on his family and his career in semiconductor manufacturing, but after retiring in 1994 he felt the pull of politics once again. When Bernardsville News reporter Jake Perry ran an article recounting Bill’s 1970s accomplishments, Bill was back in the saddle again – literally, as he rode his bike all over town to knock on thousands of doors during the 1995 campaign. 

During his stint on the Township Committee from 1996 to 2001, Bill felt that the atmosphere had become more partisan, perhaps mirroring the national trend, and being a Democrat was a liability. Nevertheless, he persisted, and was able to find common ground with his Republican colleagues on many important issues, including introduction of a tax for the purchase of land for conservation, expansion of the township’s network of sidewalks and paths for walking and biking, and development of the deer-management task force that cut the amount of deer in town by half. 

Today, Bill stays active in the Citizens Climate Lobby, a national organization with foreign affiliates, and the local Raritan Valley chapter that he helped found. CCL members work with members of Congress to advance their climate initiatives. The Inflation Reduction Act was adopted in 2022, providing more funds for climate purposes than the nation has ever seen. Bill believes that CCL advocacy helped produce this outcome.

Bill also has high hopes for the now-inactive Millington Quarry property, which was just sold. A longtime advocate of developing the property into something usable by township residents, he’d love to see it turned into a lake supporting fishing, non-motorized boating, swimming, and other water activities.  This would be flanked on the south side by homes. 

It’s not surprising that Bill remains so involved with and committed to Bernards Township. He’s steadfast in his belief that local government should do more than the bare minimum, such as repaving rutted roads, and should actively work to improve communities and the standard of living they offer.  

When not thinking about the future of the township or working for climate action or staying in touch with his two daughters and two grandsons, Bill stays busy in front of the computer. “I’ve become a computer nut,” he admitted. “I spend entirely too much time reading stuff online.” While other people his age have decamped to warmer climes or moved to live near family, Bill is content in the tidy dwelling on two acres he’s called home for 55 years. “I know the town has changed, but it’s still a nice town,” he said. “I plan to stay here as long as I can.”

— BY LAURIE SALOMAN

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