A fervent salesman for Cherry Hill

Mayor Chuck Cahn credits administrators, while "I set the overall tone."
Mayor Chuck Cahn credits administrators, while "I set the overall tone." (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 05, 2014

Chuck Cahn looks quite comfortable behind the big desk in the big office.

"I really enjoy it," says Cahn, a personable father of three and grandfather-to-be who's in his third year as mayor of Cherry Hill, South Jersey's signature suburb.

Cahn was a political neophyte ("I had no idea what I was getting myself into") when prominent Democrats persuaded him to leave a leisure-laden early retirement behind and run for mayor in 2011.

"I'm a businessman at heart," he says. "And I feel like I'm running a business" again.

During our conversation, Cahn, 59, frequently flashes the sort of power smile that must have come in handy when he ran the family office-supply firm that made him a wealthy man.

Outside, a relentless rain is making drippy pink mush out of the blossoms on the cherry trees around the town hall. Inside the mayor's office, however, sunshine prevails.

"We have great administrators," Cahn says. "They really run the township day to day. I set the overall tone and vision."

The latter he describes as "resident-friendly and business-friendly," and if the details seem a bit vague, the salesmanship is earnest, unabashed, and confident.

Cahn, a township native who graduated from Cherry Hill East (where he played football) in 1973, knows who he is, and what he has to sell: a community with an enviable location, desirable neighborhoods, strong schools, and South Jersey's best shopping.

"As a result of all the great economic development that's happened, more younger families are moving into the older neighborhoods like Erlton and Kingston," Cahn says. "Last year we had 925 home sales, the largest [number] in almost 10 years."

Cahn's boosterism is familiar. I've known every Cherry Hill mayor since the late 1970s, and all of them cultivated close relationships with the private enterprises that have made the township a regional economic powerhouse.

So it's no wonder that development and redevelopment have been Cherry Hill's defining issues for generations. The latest mayor faces uncertainty about the future of the Woodcrest Country Club property, as well as the potential relocation of Subaru of America's corporate headquarters.

"We made it clear that we did not want to see any development at Woodcrest. We want to see it as a golf course," says Cahn, an early public champion of preserving the beautiful site as open space.

The joint bid by the township and Camden County to purchase the nearly 180-acre parcel at Haddonfield-Berlin and Evesham Roads fell short last year. Woodcrest is still in operation and is now owned by a Marlton developer.

"There have been no plans put forward," the mayor says. "I can't react to something I haven't seen."

Cahn also awaits a decision by Subaru's parent company in Japan. He says he has nurtured Cherry Hill's relationship with the company, and has strenuously advocated on behalf of the township as the best site for a new headquarters.

To that end, Cherry Hill has declared an industrial zone near the Woodcrest PATCO station as an area in need of redevelopment. The designation provides a municipality with flexibility to offer a developer certain incentives, tax-wise and otherwise.

"We feel good about it," Cahn says of the township's effort. "But ultimately, the decision will come from Japan."

Cahn, a cyclist, is proud of the township's sustainable and healthy-living initiatives. These include a fledgling network of bike lanes and walking trails, and the Mayor's Wellness Campaign, part of a statewide network of efforts to promote good nutrition and exercise.

The state network recently named Cherry Hill one of New Jersey's "healthy communities," a designation the mayor is eager to promote.

"I love what I'm doing," Cahn says.

Does that mean he's considering a run next year for a second term?

The mayor smiles.

"It's really too early to say."

Seems this "businessman at heart" is learning a thing or two about the business of politics.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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