As Burlco Freeholder, Moorestown Mom 'Finding a Way to Give Back'
Leah Arter figuring out the lay of the land after being sworn in as freeholder earlier this month.
Given that Leah Arter spent part of her young adulthood studying politicians and political history, there is perhaps a degree of irony in the fact that she now serves as an elected official herself.
But in the course of her studies, she discovered a theme that dovetailed with her own upbringing.
“As you study American history and you see the Founding Fathers and what their goals were in establishing our country, it was service to your community is very important, and a responsibility of the individual to the whole,” she said. “My father was a minister. It was always very important in our family value for you to find a way to give back, or find an area that you were able to do something for the greater good.”
In keeping with that sense of civic duty, the mother of two was sworn in as new Burlington County freeholder at the beginning of the month. Before that she had served on Beverly City Council, including a one-year stint as council president—the first woman to ever serve in that capacity in Beverly.
Arter, now a Moorestown resident, arrived on the political scene in Beverly in sort of a roundabout way. Initially aspiring for a law career, she enrolled in a number of American Studies courses as an undergrad at Penn State—“They say (for law school), take something where you’re going to write a lot, and research and write. So I always enjoyed American culture, American history”—and quickly became enamored with the subject matter.
She earned a master’s in American studies at Rutgers, with the intention of pursuing a teaching career—she’d subbed and taught a summer session at Camden County College—but ended up taking over Imprintz Custom Printed Graphics, a screen-printing business in Beverly.
When, in 2006, the opportunity arose to run for a seat on Beverly City Council, Arter said she “jumped at the chance.”
“I thought if the opportunity ever arose in life, that’s something I would enjoy,” she said. “It was a way to be involved in your community.”
One of the most significant lasting impressions from that initial campaign experience was the importance of face-to-face contact with constituents, Arter recalled. Pushing a stroller around Beverly—her youngest, Ethan, had just turned 1—knocking on doors was an education for Arter, as it would be again three years later when she campaigned for a State Assembly seat in the Seventh District.
“I knocked on over 7,000 doors and got to meet a lot of people, and hear their concerns and their hopes for their community,” she recalled. “People really appreciate personal attention—going out and knocking on doors, that means something to people.”
Though her Assembly bid was unsuccessful, Arter—like her political idol Abraham Lincoln—didn’t let the defeat discourage her and pursued a seat on the freeholder board alongside running mate Joseph Howarth, of Evesham. Along the way, she said, she “learned quite a bit about Burlington County and what people’s concerns were and what they’re facing. You meet people who are second mortgaging their houses so they can pay their taxes.”
Naturally, her primary goals as freeholder are fiscal and social responsibility. But as for specific plans, Arter stressed she doesn’t like to “come into a situation with a preconceived idea of what’s needed. I like to come in and look at the lay of the land and see what the needs are and be able to address those needs … (My job is) to have spent time knocking on thousands of doors, and listening to what people’s concerns are, and coming in and getting to know each area so you’re able to make the best-informed decisions you can.”