SOMERSET, NJ – State and local politicians packed the council chambers last night to celebrate the swearing-in of Franklin Township’s mayor and council members.
Incumbent members Crystal Pruitt, Kimberly Francois and newcomer Sivaraman Anbarasan secured 4-year terms over their Republican counterparts in November to keep Democratic control of the township council. Phillip Kramer was also sworn in for another term as mayor after defending his seat against challenger Beverly Briggs-Lawson.
Following the ceremonies, the council elected Councilman Charles Onyejiaka to serve as deputy mayor for a 1-year term. He is the first African deputy mayor in the township’s history.
State Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, swore in Kramer and Anbarasan and put their election in the wider context of the strong Democratic showing throughout the county.
“This is truly a historic time in Somerset County with an all-female leadership team, which is just remarkable, at the freeholder level,” he said. “I’m so happy to be here in Franklin not only because Franklin is a large and important community, but, I think, more importantly, it is the model of what municipal government ought to be.”
Anbarasan plans to focus on keeping municipal taxes low – the main concern of residents he spoke to while on the campaign trail – and promoting careers in public service to underrepresented communities.
“I believe the township’s workforce should reflect the population we serve,” he said. “To that effect, I plan to establish a private scholarship to promote and support the underrepresented for a career in public service, especially our public safety department.”
Kramer addressed the recent shootings in Franklin and reiterated his support for the township’s officers as the police force looks to return to local control. He said residents have reached out to him, concerned about the spike in violence.
“Law enforcement must be the ones to take the lead on communication, so as to not interfere with ongoing investigations,” he said. “It is the elected official’s responsibility, in the long run, to ensure there is support for law enforcement and the community as our force returns to local control. We will be endeavoring to fill our ranks with highly qualified officers that reflect the diversity of Franklin so our police can be as involved with our people as much as possible.”
Francois chose to be sworn in by freeholders Shanel Robinson and Sara Sooy – who were both recently elected as Somerset County freeholder director and deputy director, respectively –and state Democratic Party Vice Chairwoman Peg Schaffer.
“My passion and my mission as an elected official has always been to improve the quality of life here in Franklin Township,” Francois said.
She said that because she doesn’t have family in the area, she wanted history-making women to stand with her as she took the oath of office.
Robinson was elected by the freeholder board as the first African American freeholder director on Jan. 3, alongside Sooy, who became the first Latino deputy director.
Speaking after the ceremonies, Robinson said she didn’t plan to make history.
“I did not set out to be the first African-American to be a freeholder in Somerset County, nor the first African-American director, but with that being said, it is my pleasure to serve each and every one of you each and every day,” she said. “For me, this is not hard work, but heart work.”
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon, swore in Pruitt, who also works as his chief of staff.
Even though she was appointed to the council following Robinson’s election to the county freeholder board, Pruitt said that winning the election in her hometown was special.
“This is and always has been and will continue to be a mission of service for me. Being able to serve the community that raised me is a tremendous honor, it’s one that I will not take for granted,” she said.
She said she sees the year ahead as full of challenges for the nation and local communities alike.
“2020 is a year that we will be tested and we will all have to reckon with who we are as individuals, as a community, all the way up to who we are as a country. There will be those in power who will continue to maintain their supremacy by pitting groups against each other, using the oppression of one group as a weapon while simultaneously using it as a shield to obscure their own prejudice and ignorance. That providing for some will ultimately take away from others. They will seek to divide us by making us choose,” she said.
“I will use my voice to challenge and dismantle the systematic power structures that keep people oppressed because it’s not justice for some, it’s justice for all.”
Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, D-Somerset, congratulated the new and returning officials and championed the work of the governing body.
“I can say from the bottom of my heart that the nine members of our township council are great people,” he said. They are very hardworking. I can personally attest that they will always be listening, always be responsive to you, always be diverse, always work hard and always deliver the best results they can for the benefit of the people of Franklin Township. That I can promise you.”
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