CALDWELL, NJ — Important topics for all 22 Essex County municipalities and small businesses within those communities were addressed by local mayors and a discussion panel at the seventh-annual Essex County Meet the Mayors breakfast event on Saturday at Greenbrook Country Club in Caldwell.
The Inter-Chamber Coordinating Council, which includes the West Orange, Millburn-Short Hills, North Essex, Maplewood, South Orange, and Livingston chambers of commerce, joined the New Jersey State League of Municipalities to host this free, public event that invited the mayors from all 22 municipalities. The panel included Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Millburn Mayor Cheryl Burstein, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta and Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia.
In addition to discussing important topics like how to recruit small businesses, parking issues, creating business-friendly ordinances, rebranding, bridging the gap between urban Essex and suburban Essex, and the development of Newark, the event was also intended as a networking event between the local chambers.
“First and foremost, I feel like it is so critical for us to participate in events like this to understand—at a leadership level all the way to the resident level and business-owner level—how people are feeling about decisions that are being made on their behalf,” said Mike Daniels, executive vice president, North Essex Chamber of Commerce (NECC). “The other thing I really appreciated was how everyone can collaborate—and not only the residents and business owners, but also their locally elected officials so that everyone’s on the same page in terms of what’s important, what needs to be done and how.”
A popular discussion item among the mayors was affordable housing requirements and the State Supreme Court decision relative to it. Roseland Mayor John Duthie, who stated that he was glad the Fair Share Housing Center topic came up, said it was a topic that all the local governing bodies should be discussing in depth.
“If you’re going to have a 15-to 20-percent affordable housing component of what is the true market-rate number, a town like Roseland that has 2800 housing units at present, with the State Supreme Court ruling, will end up adding another 2500 housing units, which will basically double our population and our infrastructure is already struggling to accommodate the units that we have,” said Duthie. “We truly understand the need for affordable housing and we understand that it affects the entire population—the single mother, the veteran, folks of low income—but my issue is not with affordable housing. My issue is with market-rate housing that comes along with that.”
Many mayors agreed with Duthie, stating that they welcome the idea of providing affordable housing, but were concerned about the obligation only being a small percentage of total housing units built.
“The whole meeting—all of its content—was very rewarding, I think, for everyone involved,” said Duthie, who has been attending ever since he was elected as mayor. “It’s nice to get together with our business leaders and my colleagues that serve in elected positions throughout Essex County.”
Duthie added that business is especially important today given the economy, and that all the municipalities need to “attract and retain good business” within their respective communities.
“I look forward to working together with my colleagues throughout the county and the business owners and entrepreneurs that are seeking to establish businesses and maintain businesses within the Essex County area,” he said.
Duthie’s affordable-housing comments echoed panelist Joseph Tempesta, Mayor of West Caldwell, who said he was enthusiastic about the turnout of the event. He added that trying to relate to the business community, develop businesses and help the smaller businesses grow within the respective communities is extremely important.
Livingston Mayor Shawn Klein said it was interesting hear about all of the different challenges nearby towns are having and the unique ways each governing body deals with them.
“There are a lot of different kinds of municipalities in New Jersey,” said Klein. “I think that Livingston, when you hear what everyone is dealing with, is doing pretty well as a town. I think it reinforces that we’re moving things in the right direction—our retail is doing well, we’re one of the first towns to start really taking big steps after the recession, we have a lot of exciting retail that’s coming to town, and the town council knows how important it is to work with businesses and try to foster their success.”
Ira Drucks, president of the Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce, was impressed with the presentation by the mayors as well as their support of the local businesses within their communities.
“Being president of the Livingston Chamber of Commerce, our major objective, of course, is to support the businesses, so learning about the positive and negative concerns about their businesses is a good opportunity to listen to what other communities are doing to support their businesses and how to promote them better,” he said. “Looking at only Livingston, hopefully by meeting representatives from the other towns it will give us an opportunity to work together and learn their successes and failures so we don’t have to duplicate them.”
Denny Klein, who organized the event, said he believes the local mayors recognize the connection between suburban Essex and urban Essex and why it’s important to spend more time looking at it. He thanked the panelists, sponsors and guests for making the seventh annual Meet the Mayors breakfast the most successful one yet.
“The mayors breakfast has gotten bigger each year and continues to reach more and more people,” said West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi. “I enjoy having an opportunity each year to discuss local issues with other municipal officials. It provides us all a chance to learn how other towns address issues and it is comforting to be reminded that we are all, in many cases, dealing with the same challenges.”
Event sponsors included the League of Women Voters of Montclair, which has been the biggest sponsor for all seven years; exclusive event sponsors Aciem Studios; Budd Larner; RWJBarnabas Health; PSE&G; BCB; Smolin; Rand, Feuer & Klein, LLC; and media sponsors TAPinto.net; Suburban Essex; and Vicinity.
Photos by Doug Zacker/ACIEM Studios