Haddon Heights mayor walks off his cares and 50 pounds

Mayor Ed Forte (left) chats with Andrea Boboc and her daughter Tanya, 2, outside Bobocs Rendezvous coffee shop on Station Avenue. Forte walks for fitness, fun, and work. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Mayor Ed Forte (left) chats with Andrea Boboc and her daughter Tanya, 2, outside Bobocs Rendezvous coffee shop on Station Avenue. Forte walks for fitness, fun, and work. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 06, 2012

Ed Forte, the mayor of Haddon Heights, is a rare politician, and not simply by virtue of being a Republican elected in Camden County.

Forte, 53, is unusual because he doesn’t just talk the talk. He also walks the walk, regularly traversing the leafy streets of the 1.57-square-mile borough. Wearing sneaks and sweats, he racks up as much as 28 miles a week and has lost 50 pounds in the process.

"It’s the healthy thing to do," says the affable mayor, who has invited residents to join his "Walk! Heights" wellness campaign.

Not only Democrats (see Michelle Obama’s "Let’s Move" campaign) favor fitness, it turns out.

"I love walking," says Forte, who has lived in Heights most of his life. "It’s a stress relief, it’s solitude. You get to think about things.

“Besides, I love the town, and as I walk I talk to people, I see dead trees or other issues, and I text them to the public works director."

Launched last month, Walk! Heights has 52 participants, including citizens, community organizations, and business owners. Free pedometers (courtesy of Walgreen’s), a cellphone application for tracking mileage, and a website (haddonhts.com/mayors-wellness-campaign) are generating interest, too.

"We’ve had some great responses," says Joanna Barron, 23, a health and fitness consultant who grew up in Haddon Heights and has volunteered to coordinate the campaign.

The goal is to have residents take a collective 7,493,376 steps — the symbolic number required to reach London from Haddon Heights — by the July 27 start of the Summer Olympics.

"Getting people to buy in is key," Barron says. "The easiest way to do that is partnering with other events where they’re already doing something they like to do."

Forte, who took office in January following Scott Alexander’s tumultuous single term, says walking in public reflects his desire to be accessible. ("People are always blowing their horns!") He has even incorporated outdoor office hours into special walks set for Saturday and June 23. Residents who want to tag along should meet him on the borough hall steps at 8 a.m.

A longtime supervisor at Public Service Electric & Gas Co. in Moorestown, he began walking well before he ran for mayor.

"I was big all my life," says Forte, who is 6-foot-3. "But in 2010, I weighed nearly 290 pounds.

“My doctor said my triglycerides were high and my blood pressure could be better, and he told me I was going to have to start taking medicine the rest of my life. I asked him what I should do. He said, ‘Start losing weight.’

“I’m not the kind of guy to go to the gym," adds Forte, a married father of two grown children. "It’s not my cup of tea. So I grabbed one of my kids’ iPods, put some music on, and started walking."

The campaign dovetails with efforts by Sustainable Haddon Heights to "encourage healthy communities," says chairman Marshall Hatfield, whose organization is affiliated with the statewide Sustainable Jersey group. "For the mayor to willingly participate is a good thing."

Forte, who is working on his bachelor’s degree at Thomas Edison State College, says the results of his treks around town were gradual.

"It took six to eight months to lose the weight, but it felt good," he says. "I took my cholesterol from 260 down to 170, without medication. I watched portions. I’m a sweets guy, and I like to drink wine, so I reduced those.

“Everybody puts a few pounds back on, and I could still lose another 10, but I was a 44 [waist] and in some pants and now I’m in 38s."

Generally, Forte hoofs it from his house on Third Avenue to the Black Horse Pike, choosing side streets as often as possible.

Rain? Snow? No sun?

No problem.

"Even when it’s cold," the mayor says, "I love to walk."

Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists’ blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq

Haddon Heights Mayor Ed Forte, a faithful walker who’s lost 50 pounds, encourages others to join him.  www.philly.com/walk

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