A Political “First” and “Last” Will Highlight Somerville Reorganization Meeting Jan. 1

Somerville Mayor Brian Gallagher pauses from cleaning out his office at Borough Hall to reflect on his 14 years as mayor. He ran successfully in November for the county Board of Chosen Freeholders. Credits: Rod Hirsch

SOMERVILLE, NJ -The borough’s annual reorganization meeting on New Year’s Day will be remembered for the “first” and “last” acts of a former Council president and a soon-to-be former Mayor.

The meeting will mark the first official act of newly-sworn Somerset County Clerk Steve Peter, who will officiate at the swearing-in of fellow Democrats Dennis Cunningham and Fred Wied V as members of the Borough Council. Peter, a Cliff Street resident, had been president of the Borough Council, but resigned effective 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31. The letter submitted to Borough Clerk Kevin Sluka reads:

“In order to assume my duties as Somerset County Clerk on the first day of January, 2018, I hereby resign my seat as Somerville Borough Councilman, effective 11:59 p.m., December 31, 2017. It has been an honor and privilege to have served the people of the Borough of Somerville.”

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The Jan. 1 reorganization meeting will also be the last for longtime Mayor Brian Gallagher, who will have served 14 years in that position. He will resign his seat as mayor Jan. 5 to be sworn in as a Somerset County Freeholder.

Gallagher spent the afternoon on New Year’s Eve packing up his office at Borough Hall after completing the text of his farewell address.

It remains to be seen to whom Gallagher will hand off his gavel.

The mayor’s mid-term resignation requires the borough’s Republican committee to submit a list of three names to Borough Clerk Kevin Sluka, who will then pass the list to the all-Democratic Borough Council, whose members will select an appointed mayor from that list, no later than 15 days after Gallagher resigns officially, which will be on Jan. 5. Once their selection is made, the appointed mayor will be sworn to office presumably by Jan. 20.

 The appointed mayor will serve until the November, 2018 election is certified. Once it is certified, the elected mayor will be sworn in to fill Gallagher’s unexpired term until Dec. 31, 2019.

In the fall of 2019, another mayoral election for a four-year term will be held.  The new mayor would assume office Jan. 1, 2020.

Theoretically, Somerville could have four mayors over the next two years.

Likewise, the Democratic committee must submit a list of three candidates to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Peter sometime within the next 15 days.

Members of the Borough Council will elect a new president at the reorganization meeting who is expected to be Democrat Granville Brady.

Gallagher has been mayor for 14 years, and served a total of 17 years on the Borough Council.

Gallagher will also announce the 2017 “Citizen of the Year.”

More than 100 appointments to various boards and committees will be made, including fire chief, members of the planning board, zoning board, board of health, Downtown Somerville Alliance, Library board of trustees, recreation committee members, environmental commission, historic advisory committee, landfill redevelopment committee, fire museum committee, Somerville Television committee and others.

The Shiloh Pentecostal Church Choir will perform, and Town Crier David Lang will open the meeting, followed by the invocation by Rev. Dr. David Lehmkuhl of the First United Methodist Church of Somerville. The National Anthem will be performed by Meredith Sullivan Boyan.

Mentioned as candidates for interim mayor are Councilman Jason Kraska, who lost his bid for reelection in November to Wied and will give up his seat when the council reorganizes Jan. 1; Hank Werner, a police officer in Bernards Township and chairman of the Jacks’ Kids charity, and Ellen Brain, a member of the borough’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The Democrats have been in discussions, according to Sullivan, with as many as 15 qualified candidates in the mix. Two names that have been mentioned as replacements for Peter are Ran D. Pitts, a board member of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, longtime retailer and owner of the Evolve clothing store on West Main Street, and Margaret Weinberger, a former member of the Borough Council who lost reelection in 2011, and is a member of the Somerset County Federation of Democratic Women.

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