WEST ORANGE, NJ – Mayors from throughout Essex County met with New Jersey Sen. President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem and New Jersey Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, R-Westfield to discuss issues in their communities.
The atmosphere was friendly at Mayfair Farms on Saturday as mayors met for the ninth annual breakfast sponsored by several local chambers of commerce. Mayors grabbed plates filled with scrambled eggs, bagels, bacon and fresh fruit and mingled with mayors from other towns both who they already knew and those they met for the first time.
The breakfast is meant to give mayors a more relaxed forum to talk with each other, members of the local chambers of commerce, and the guest speakers, who this year were two state-level politicians, about politics, taxes, housing and other issues affecting their towns.
“The Meet the Mayors event provides the Essex County mayors the opportunity to discuss important issues pertaining to the State of New Jersey and local issues,” said Millburn Short Hills Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Roxanne Giacalone, one of the organizers for the event.
As the mayors asked questions and received feedback from local leaders, Sweeney and Bramnick addressed ways to solve some of the issues that came up.
“We get to see how many issues overlap and how many do vary from town to town,” said Millburn Mayor Dianne Eglow, who attended the breakfast as a first-time mayor.
Eglow was appointed to the mayor position by members of the Millburn Township Committee in January.
Eglow asked about issues involving NJ Transit trains not always leaving their stations on time and how the gateway tunnel project, which is a program designed to improve rail line infrastructure, is moving forward. Glen Ridge Mayor Stuart Patrick also asked about the train lines, stating that many commuters ride on the trains located in his town as well as Millburn, Short Hills and others to get to and from New York City each day.
Bramnick said the gateway tunnel is “absolutely necessary.” The tunnel program will create four tracks between Newark and Penn Station in New York, which will increase track, tunnel, bridge and station capacity, according to the Amtrak website.
Gov. Phil Murphy wants to bring in new engineers to work for NJ Transit, a company that has been losing funding for at least two decades. On Saturday, the state assemblyman and senate president said the employees’ union contract need to be reviewed for the current engineers.
“When you decide an hour before a train leaves that you don’t want to go to work that day, that’s not fair to the customers,” said Sweeney. “The contract has to be addressed.”
Verona Mayor Kevin Ryan asked about legalizing marijuana, something that Murphy is pushing to do, and suggested that people compare the legalization of marijuana to the legalization of gambling.
“A gambling addiction can be just as injurious to a family as smoking pot so I would ask the people in the legislature, if you voted to legalize gambling, and you’re against legalizing marijuana, I’d ask you to go back and look at your position,” said Ryan. “There are always going to be people who abuse certain privileges.”
Not everyone agreed legalizing marijuana is a good idea.
Newark community activist Donna Jackson said legalizing marijuana wouldn’t be helpful for Newark because too many people overdose on it.
“We use Narcan 15 times a day,” said Jackson, noting that the drug abuse problem would become even worse.
Other town mayors and elected officials asked about other issues, such as Livingston Mayor Al Anthony, who asked about the proposed plastic bag bans in retail stores; North Caldwell Mayor Joseph Alessi, who asked about spending and housing; Essex Fells Mayor Edward Davis, who asked about how municipalities will be impacted by COAH regulations; Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson, who asked about state funding for the public schools; South Orange Village Trustee Deborah Davis Ford, who asked about regionalization for the municipality’s fire department; and Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, who asked about liquor license relief.
“We’re all similar but we’re all different,” said Davis. “This event was a good chance to interact with the community.”
The event was hosted by the chambers of commerce in Millburn Short Hills, Maplewood, South Orange, West Orange, North Essex and Livingston. West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta Jr. served as the event moderator.
Other attendees included the NJ State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association, local PBA members, concerned citizens, sponsors and more.