“There’s a lot to be said for that single-gender environment, especially when the girls are in their teen years,” she said. “You just develop a backbone and a courage that you may not have developed in another setting.”
Noting she will be the only Democrat and woman on the committee, Duarte said she expects to lean heavily on the leadership she gained at Oak Knoll, where she was one of the five inaugural members of the Gerald P. Butler Athletic Hall of Fame as part of the basketball team that won the 1978 NJIS-A Prep Basketball Championship.
As for the advice she would give young women mulling leadership roles of their own, her message was unequivocal – seize opportunities.
“Don’t hesitate. Just do it. What I’ve heard in the past, and studies have proven, is men don’t think twice about leadership and women have to be asked numerous times to step up,” Duarte said. “We need women, not only in public service, but on boards for companies and nonprofits.”
She then referred to a quote most recently attributed to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts: “If you don't have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”
As for her run for a committee seat in Mendham, she said the main catalyst was a lack of funding to rebuild Ralston Playground and murmurs about the potential closure of Brookside Beach, another township recreational spot.
Duarte, hearing her fellow residents’ concerns of taxes and affordability, said she also hopes to pursue shared services with Mendham Borough.
“All I’ve ever heard about is that we have two Mendhams, literally interlocked, yet they do very little with partnering and sharing services,” she said. “It’s not an easy issue, but it’s definitely something I’m going to focus on.”
Another priority for Duarte is having a more transparent local government. Specifically, she said she would like to add a second public comment portion to committee meetings to allow for more opportunities for residents to voice their opinions and ask questions of the governing body.
Duarte studied journalism and political science at New York University where she earned a bachelor’s degree. She wrote for numerous publications including the Bergen Record, the LA Times and People Magazine.
She then transitioned into the field of corporate communications and marketing, which included stints at tech giant Nokia, CitiGroup, the Seeing Eye and ECLC - Education, Careers & Lifelong Community, a nonprofit where she currently serves as public affairs director and grant writer.
Duarte also has a wealth of volunteer experience in and around Mendham, including serving as a youth athletic coach. She also previously served as vice chair of the Recreation Commission and the Board of Adjustment, as well as a board member on the Open Space Commission.
She and her husband, Gene Messina, have resided in Mendham for 18 years. The couple has one daughter, Elena, and son, Matthew.