PROSPECT PARK, NJ – On Saturday, starting at 4:00 p.m., the Prospect Park Reorganization Meeting was held at the elementary school. With an extraordinary display of borough pride, the auditorium of the school was turned into a showcase for the administration, featuring guest dignitaries such as Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr., State Senators Nellie Pou from North Haledon and Vin Gopal from Long Branch, New Jersey State and Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie, Passaic County Democratic Vice Chairwoman Barbara Tanis, LD35 Assemblymembers Benjie E. Wimberly and Shavonda E. Sumter, members of the Passaic County Board of Freeholders, and other guests.
The meeting ceremony was begun with introductions from Bridget Arrick, recently sworn into the Manchester Regional High School Board of Education as its first-ever female African-American member. She opened with her remarks, describing Prospect Park as “A town with a big city heart,” and described how she appreciated the accessibility of her local elected officials. She also commended the borough’s recent job fair, partnership with Census 2020, and extended her congratulations to Intashan Chowdhury, believed to be the youngest borough administrator in the state. She shared some personal stories regarding Mayor Mohamed Khairullah and said the mayor “nurtures children to push them onto great things… he is more than a mayor, he has poured a lot into people.”
Khairullah saluted Arrick, saying that “Bridget was very active in Paterson. And we know that the well being of Paterson is the well being of Prospect Park, but it was time to bring her home to Prospect Park.”
The flag was presented by Sgt. Greg Williams of the NJ Army National Guard and the National Anthem sung by Lauren D’Imperio, a songwriter and music educator. The invocation was given by Pastor A.J. Santino of the Unity Christian Reformed Church. The pastor spoke of the re-election of Anand Shah and Adnan Zakaria, saying “The reason they are coming back is because they don’t just point out a problem, but offer solutions.”
Zakaria was sworn into office by the mayor and thanked the residents, civil servants, and employees of the borough, wishing all a happy new year and God’s blessings.
Dr. Mohammad Qatanani, Imam from the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson, offered a prayer, following by Senator Vin Gopal’s remarks prior to the swearing-in of Anand Shah. Shah is the first Indian-American elected to the Prospect Park council and begins his second term of office. Gopal said they met during an Indian Day Parade and “I watch all the stuff he does. I see intoxicating energy. It must be contagious in Prospect Park.”
“Over the last couple of years, serving in this municipality, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a great supporting team of Councilmembers,” Shah said during his speech. “Their encouragement and support have helped mold me into a better public servant. I’d like to thank Mayor Khairullah for continuing to serve as a strong leader and role model in and out of Prospect Park.” He thanked Senator Gopal and Chairman Currie, saying, “thank you for bringing it all together, every year. Your words of encouragement constantly make me feel valued and appreciated and I am certain that there is no better leader of our party than you.”
As Shah continued his speech, he spoke of breaking barriers and the associated risks and benefits. “My journey to becoming the first Indian-American councilman for Prospect Park started several years ago. I remember feeling scared and nervous, thinking I didn’t want to let my family or my community down. And those feelings only intensified as I suddenly felt the weight of responsibility on my shoulders, knowing that being the first means you must work harder to not be the last…. Although perhaps I’m no longer the underdog, I will continue to fight like one. I will continue to push forward for our town.” Shah was then blessed with a prayer from BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir of Clifton.
The reorganization meeting itself was called to order by the mayor who then swore in Erin Delaney of Elmwood Park to serve as Municipal Clerk. This was followed by an election to choose the Council President. Councilman Zakaria nominated Councilman Alaa Matari and he was duly elected to that post, succeeding Shah. Matari congratulated Zakaria and Shah on their re-elections and said he was “humbled and honored to be council president.”
The council consists of Robert Artis, Alaa Matari, Felicia Ortiz, Esther Perez, Anand Shah, and Adnan Zakaria. Esther Perez said, “It is a beautiful thing to come together from different backgrounds and religions to celebrate our dreams.”
Mayor Khairullah admitted that he printed the wrong speech for his address and spoke directly, saying “There was a lot of progress we made as a team,” citing developments in Hofstra Park and obtaining funding from the county, street striping to facilitate better parking, and building a “strong partnership with the Board of Education”. He thanked the legislators for fighting for them and said that “Despite Prospect Park being the smallest in Passaic County, inch for inch it is the most efficient and strongest, I say that proudly.”
When Democratic Chairman John Currie came up to speak, he addressed the mayor and council, which consists entirely of Democrats, saying, “This is where the work begins, this is about service. Let’s do what is in the best interests of the citizens.” He further encouraged everyone to participate in the census, saying that accurate census reports affect the allocation of resources on higher levels of government. “It doesn’t matter if you have a parking ticket, it doesn’t matter if you’re here illegally,” Currie said. “Once the count is in place that is part of how resources come back to the community.”
Congressman Pascrell said that, “Everyone is important, we are all equal in God’s eyes. Don’t let anyone put in your mind that some people are more important.” He quoted Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg in encouraging the audience to respect one another regardless of background. The Congressman also echoed Currie on the census, saying rather pointedly, “Fill out the census or we’re going to get shafted.”
The mayor swore in the Fire Department Chief and fire officers, Fire Inspector Fernando Nangles, and the municipal employees and committees. The consent agenda included resolutions 2020-07 through 2020-36. Following this, resolution 2020-01 to amend the salary ordinance of the borough.
A closing prayer was offered by Pastor Juan Sarmiento of the Iglesia Pentecostal La Senda Antigua, Prospect Park, and the meeting adjourned.
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