VINELAND – Ellen Testa was tired of business as usual in her hometown of Buena Vista, where she her husband have lived for over two decades. She complained to her son, state Senator Mike Testa (R-1), who told her she ought to run for the local Borough Council.
She mulled it over and decided she would do it.
They’re a political family, going back to when her father-in-law served as the first elected mayor of Vineland.
“My husband and I have always been in the background in Republican politics in Cumberland County,” Ellen Testa told InsiderNJ on Saturday morning. “Our family has always been active. On the first day we moved to Buena Vista (which is not in the 1st Legislative District served by her son), someone asked me to run and I thought they were crazy.”
Testa and his mother talk on the phone every day.
“Because of all of my complaining, he said, ‘Why don’t you do something about it?”
The GOP won two seats on the five-seat council last year, which means that if Ellen Testa and/or her running mate Aaron Krenzer win on Nov. 2nd, they will flip the council to Republican control.
The senator loves it, and welcomes his mother literally with open arms to this year’s South Jersey Republican ballot.
“My grandfather, Frank J. Testa, thought you owe a duty to your hometown,” the senator said. “I believe we were so lucky to be in Vineland and that we had a duty to give back. He truly believed in what we learned at Villanova [also the senator’s alma mater]: the values of Unitas, Veritas, and Caritas, meaning love thy neighbor, promote community unity, and live life in moderation.
“He always said, ‘Don’t just go to work and go home. Get involved.’ That’s how I got involved. That trickled from my grandfather to my father and mother.”
As she focuses on her own political career in Buena, Ellen Testa said she’s thrilled by her son’s success so far in the Legislature.
“I think it’s amazing and fabulous,” she said. “I think he’s a rising star in the party.”
Mike Testa also learned politics from the late Gerry Gormley, in whose place he tended bar, former state Senator Bill Gormley, and former Assemblyman Ken LeFevre. “They played three dimension political chess in that bar,” the senator recalled. “I would hear them in there and how they handled things.”
Ellen Testa said community service is their organizing political principle.
“He deeply does care about his constituents, community, and family and what he has to offer; he grew up in a family committed to community and to always trying to make it a better place to live,” Ellen Testa said. “He will only get better with time.”
Of his mother’s candidacy, the senator said he wants the voters to see a candidate who doesn’t need public office.
“She has decided to jump in the arena because she sees high taxes and limited services,” said her son. “The last number of years when she would say, ‘Do you believe our taxes went up? We deserve better services,’ I told her, ‘You need to find someone to run or you need to run yourself.’ So she finally said, ‘I’m going to run. I’m kind of tired of it and I think we can do better.'”
If the times are politically partisan and mean-spirited, Ellen Testa said she’s determined to offer what she has to her town – and it’s significantly different from the prevailing bitterness. “I’m not going to say I’m the most optimistic person, but his father is, and he [Senator Testa] has always been a very happy and grounded person. My parents came to Buena Vista Township in 1951. They came to America after the Holocaust, and they came here to try their hand at chicken farming. They ended up becoming very successful – not at chicken farming. All the neighbors back then were so helpful and so caring. I think it’s one thing missing now in society. I’d like to see that come back – just a little. Everyone is so alienated right now. We have to show that we do care for one another. We’re there to try to make it a better community, like it once was.”