By Jillian Risberg
Aura Dunn has had a blockbuster 2020 so far and she’s just getting started.
The former top aide to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen was elected to temporarily fill the vacated Assembly seat of now Sen. Anthony Bucco, during a District 25 Republican convention.
“When I took my oath to become the 38th woman legislator in the General Assembly, which marks the most women in politics ever — that was very exciting,” says Dunn, a Mendham resident.
She says it’s great to see a prosperous America, but New Jersey’s already got it.
“We’re smart, we’ve got grit, we’ve got persistence,” the Assemblywoman says. “I’m just so honored to be in Trenton to defend that and in the seat to stick up for those values.”
Referring to the 80s tourism campaign, “New Jersey and You — Perfect together” under former Gov. Tom Kean, Dunn says we need to keep that desire alive.
“Have companies and employers still recognize the wealth and the human resources that we have here in New Jersey and want them to come and establish here,” the Assemblywoman says.
Dunn also plans to parlay her extensive community service experience into real change for mental health, the addiction epidemic, battered women, veterans and our families.
“It’s really an extension of what I’ve been doing my whole life and at the core of it is advocacy,” she says. “When I worked for Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood it was about advocating for early childhood social-emotional development. That stays with me because that’s my passion.”
So it made perfect sense in 2009 when the Assemblywoman expressed interest in becoming a host mom.
“Aura is an amazing wife to Keary and mother to Ava, Lila and Sullivan,” says Jennifer Baxter, Southern Morris County Chairperson for the Fresh Air Fund. “I love the fact that she wanted to share her beautiful family with a child who needed a friend.”
When she worked for Sen. Arlen Specter, Dunn handled education policy and fought for the Clery Act (named for Jeanne Clery, the 19-year-old who was raped and murdered at Lehigh University). The landmark legislation requires colleges and universities to issue on-campus crime statistics and security information.
“And I worked closely with the Clery family to see that to passage,” the Assemblywoman says. “It’s one of my proudest accomplishments legislatively.”
Dunn is a fierce fighter/protector and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
“Aura has continued to host the same child year after year. He is now 13 and has been coming to the Dunn family since he was six,” Baxter says. “It has been a joy for me to watch his relationship with the family blossom. Even though life has become much more hectic with two kids in college, Aura always makes time to host her Fresh Air Fund child.”
The Assemblywoman is also a believer.
“I feel I live the American dream, I personify the American dream,” Dunn says.
According to the Assemblywoman, if it wasn’t for opportunities that came her way as a young child growing up in poverty in Brooklyn by a single parent, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
“My dad would always say, ‘education is your ticket out’ and that’s so true,” Dunn says. “I even had the good fortune to attend a magnet school in Brooklyn, so that really put me on a trajectory and I don’t want to see that go away for any future generations.”
For the Assemblywoman, she did not go into her career thinking that she would ever be an elected official.
“I enjoy working for the public sector that’s why I got my Master’s in public administration,’” she says. “Coming at it from the management side — it’s kind of corny but I do talk about ‘Just getting the job Dunn.’”
So when Frelinghuysen’s Chief of Staff (a childhood friend) once gave the Assemblywoman a piece of advice, she ran with it.
“Aura, it’s not like Washington, you could have more control over your life,” the COS told Dunn. “So I said, ok you know what — did you regret more what you didn’t do in life than what you did — I’m gonna go for it.”
And the rest is history.
“I always tell constituents, I may not get you the answer but you deserve an answer (because) government is about ‘for the people, of the people,’” Dunn says.
“I’m here for a reason and I don’t really know quite what the reason is but I gotta keep going, and I’m sure happy that I did.”