LIVINGSTON, NJ — The eighth annual Meet the Mayors event at the Westminster Hotel in Livingston on Saturday morning saw a wide cross-section of mayors from throughout Essex County, business leaders from across the same communities and residents looking to hear from this year’s panelists.
In addition to a panel discussion—featuring guest speakers Sheila Oliver, Lt. Governor; David Daly, president of PSE&G; Mary Ellen Clyne, president and chief executive officer of Clara Maass Medical Center; and Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, acting commissioner of the NJ Department of Transportation—the event also offered ample time for guests to network, meet new people and renew old acquaintances over breakfast. The hot topics of the event included health care, energy, infrastructure and government affairs.
“It’s a great day,” said event chair Deny Klein. “We have a futuristic panel to discuss issues of great importance to Essex County.”
Lou LaSalle, Senior Vice President, Corporate External Affairs of RWJ Barnabas Health said that the idea of getting a group like this together and hearing about the different issues local mayors are currently facing was “outstanding.” He added that he was impressed with this year’s speakers, who touched on “the concerns of all the residents of New Jersey.”
“This is a wonderful event with all the mayors and dignitaries,” said Livingston Mayor Edward Meinhardt. “It’s an honor for me and the town to host this very interesting event today.”
Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia said that this annual event is a great opportunity for both the business community and the local mayors to get together and speak about what they are doing in their individual towns and “bring ideas for improvements back home.”
Cheryl Burstein, mayor of Millburn, spoke of the importance of networking with fellow mayors. She said she was looking forward to hearing from the distinguished panel about “what’s coming on all levels” because “it’s important and keeps you in the forefront.”
Among some of the other speakers were David Black, who noted that 38 percent of the Essex County population is food challenged and that its 17 food pantries need the community’s support; Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., who spoke highly of the many creative, innovative people who reside in Essex County; LaSalle, who spoke of RWJBarnabas Health’s commitment to delivering the best possible health care; and West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta, who introduced the panelists.
Clyne said she was delighted to have been asked to represent RWJBarnabas Health as a panelist. She said that the event was a unique opportunity for her to share the exciting new things happening concerning wellness, opioids, community needs and more.
“Social input helps us understand the community needs and deal with food insecurity,” said Clyne, who highlighted some initiatives being undertaken at Clara Maass, including initiatives to reach out to senior citizens and assess their health needs, to provide fresh produce to help those who suffer from food insecurity and more.
Oliver, born and raised in Essex County, spoke of her “Essex County Attitude” and credited her ability to perform at her current level to the grounding she had in local and county legislative positions.
“Essex County is the center of economy, development and commerce and is engaged in development,” said Oliver.
As the lieutenant governor, Oliver assured residents that she is open minded enough to work with all the mayors to resolve codes and standard statutes and anything else they need assistance with.
“You have a friendly Lt. Governor—a consensus builder who will work collaboratively with all,” she said.
Daly spoke of his own rise within PSE&G, and the commanding place that the company has currently in comparison to the other utility companies in the state. He told guests of the investments made post-Sandy to strengthen the system, pointed out the age of their infrastructure, the work being done to equipment, and more.
Gutierrez Scaccetti said that Gov. Phil Murphy has added funds amounting to $242 million for improving NJ Transit.
“These funds will also enable them to ring the staffing level back up to standard,” she said.
Following their individual remarks, the panelists hosted a question-and-answer session with the audience.
A common theme among guests was transportation, and the future of transportation in Essex County.
Deborah Davis Ford, trustee of South Orange, asked about a possible restoration of the South Orange Train Station, which she said serves more than 4,000 commuters each day but that the concrete and paint are crumbling and that the lack of a public restroom is also an issue. Verona Mayor Kevin also addressed transportation issues, questioning whether funds could be provided for transport to nearby train stations.
Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca chimed in to request a meeting between the Transit Commissioner and all mayors whose municipalities are along the train line, noting that there has been lack of response from NJ Transit in the past. Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson asked how funding policies could be restructured to allow for moving people through towns and to transportation (trains).
Additional discussions included better communications between the municipalities, funding for education, how to help people with the “excessive cost” of health care, and more.
This event was hosted by the New Jersey State of Municipalities and the ICCC, which includes the West Orange, Livingston, North Essex, Millburn-Short Hills, North Essex, Maplewood and South Orange Chambers of Commerce. Klein thanked event sponsors RWJBarnabas Health, PSE&G, Rand, Fleur & Klein LLC, BCB, SMolin, Budd Larner, ACIEM Studios and Vita Quest International LLC as well as media sponsors TAPinto.net, Suburban Essex and Vicinity magazines. He also extended a special thanks to Renard Fiscus of AC Video Solutions.
All photos were provided by Fred Smith of TAPinto SOMA (South Orange-Maplewood).