October 7, 2012 at 8:00 AM
LIVINGSTON, NJ - As his 12 years on township council come to a close, Livingston Mayor Stephen Santola is proud of what he’s accomplished during his time in office. In January, he will officially be done and out of the limelight.
Santola, who is a real estate attorney, grew up in Livingston and moved back in 1995 with his wife when they started a family. He always admired his town and knew when he was older he did not want to be the resident who complained about everything.
"I wanted to be a part of the decision-making process," he said. "I’ve always enjoyed both the political side and the community service side."
So he got involved in the community and served on the planning and zoning boards and in 2000 he ran for council. He accomplished many things during his time that benefit the town today, he said.
In 2002, he established the Open Space Commission, which helped the community a great deal and was used for many purchases, as well. Santola also contributed to renovating the athletic fields, formed a sports council and opened the first dog park in the county.
"As each election neared, I felt like there was something that needed to be completed," Santola said.
It is tradition in Livingston for no one to stay in office for more than 12 years and Santola said he couldn’t break it. Looking back on his time, he is quite pleased with the vibrant community senior center, which in the last three years has had over 3,500 meetings and events. He is also proud of the additions to the library, which is the third busiest one in the state, the development downtown and the new police station.
The police and fire departments are remarkable, he said. They provide security for the town that makes everyone feel comfortable and safe, Santola said. He has a close relationship with the fire chief, with whom he went to high school.
“As far as being great for the town, they’re so dedicated and they also save us a fortune,” he said referring to the volunteer firefighters.
In his last few months as mayor, he said the biggest challenge is installing a new turf field. It is a good problem to have, he said. Sports have become huge in Livingston with girls soccer ranked number two in the state He said that 1,000 girls now play softball and lacrosse, as well.
“We don’t have the facilities to accommodate everybody,” he said.
He is trying to make one final push for the field before his term expires. More importantly, he stressed they plan to use private fundraising and open space money to fund the project.
“If I can’t get something done, it’s going to eat at me for a while,” Santola said.
Santola said there are qualified and excellent candidates to fill his position. While he admitted the community is in a good place, it will be odd not being involved, he said. However, he does have a few concerns for the future.
“I do see the board of education and the town council bleeding together more than I’m comfortable with and the election in November is only going to further that,” he said.