LIVINGSTON, NJ — After being unanimously nominated to serve as Livingston's mayor for 2021, lifelong Livingston resident and local ophthalmologist Shawn Klein addressed the community about what he hopes to see occur in the coming months and year in the Township of Livingston.
As he reflected on the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the Livingston community and urged community members to seriously consider receiving the vaccination as they become eligible, Klein looked ahead to 2021 with great optimism.
“[This] is going to be a great year,” he said. “It will start tough, but we can start to be excited about opening back up, renewing old friendships, going out to a restaurant or bar and enjoying good times…Clearly, this is a year of public health emphasis, but the town’s other work still needs to get done as well. This council will continue to listen to and work hard for our residents.”
In discussing his top priorities as mayor, Klein assured the community that the governing body would continue to keep the municipal budget “under control,” as it has done since his first year as a council member in 2015.
“These past years, town government has actually gotten smaller as taxes have increased at a rate below inflation—a major accomplishment given that we have many fixed costs,” he said. “In 2020, we were particularly mindful of the economic pressures facing our residents; so with the help of our fantastic township manager, Barry Lewis, we had a zero-percent increase in our municipal tax rate. And, of course, we provided the basic services that Livingston residents expect: the water runs from your tap, garbage gets picked up, and there is excellent public safety.”
Despite this and other successes during his first six years on the Livingston Township Council, Klein stated that there is still “so much more to do.”
“We have to fight for smart development in town,” he said as one example. “When surveys are done, one of the common comments about Livingston is that we have no downtown. Well, with smart design, we can. Building mixed-use development along South Livingston Ave. will create the vibrancy we would all like to see. Smart design means having people live near where they shop and eat.”
Klein, who envisions a Livingston with “lots of trees, people walking to restaurants and eating outside, safe streets for bicycles,” expressed the belief that Livingston would not be “doing a good job” by allowing developers to build “hundreds of units outside of walking distances,” therefore creating additional traffic and dirtier air and forcing people to be “secluded to their homes and their cars.”
In addition, Klein said he believes the township has its “part to play” in dealing with larger issues such as climate change.
“Fighting climate change cannot be aspirational for us,” he said. “It needs to be done at a bare minimum, and everything else we do should be in consideration of that.
“We have fought hard to make sure that Livingston is a leader in New Jersey on climate. I spearheaded the charge and was supported by this entire council to make Livingston one of the very first municipalities in the country to use the collective bargaining power of our households to purchase energy on the open market. In doing so, we were able to provide the majority of our residents with 100-percent renewable energy [at a] nearly 10-percent discount for our taxpayers—saving almost $1 million collectively.”
Although this program ended in the fall, the council recently accepted bids for a new 18-month energy aggregation program, which will begin in March for our PSEG residents.
Klein also discussed recent successes such as the acquisition of more than 20 acres of open space, including a portion of the Licari horse farm off of Northfield Avenue that he believes has potential to be used for summer camp activities. He also said the council is “considering efforts to re-wild the upper part of the [Licari] property.”
“If we succeed in re-wilding these grounds, Livingston would provide an outstanding example to the rest of the state and the country in providing park space for our residents as well as habitat for our wildlife,” he said, adding that the township should be taking steps encourage green building construction. “By most accounts, the carbon footprint of our buildings is second only to transportation. Working with our new township attorney Jarrid Kantor, we can create ways to incentivize the development of buildings with tighter envelopes, solar readiness and diminished gas usage. Livingston can lead on this.”
In addition to protecting the environment, Klein added that the township has a responsibility to “make sure [Livingston] is welcoming one to all those who live here.”
“2020 was a year which cast a brilliant and at times glaring light on our diversity and the issue of equality,” he said. “This council is dedicated to ensuring a safe and just community. I am particularly proud of our police chief, Gary Marshuetz, who has been a model for the state in this regard. We will continue our flag raisings, we will continue our diversity festivals, and we will support social justice.”
Klein officially began his second mayoral term and seventh year on the township council on Friday after being sworn in by Sen. Cory Booker—someone whom Klein has “huge admiration and affection for.”
“If 2021 gives us many reasons to be optimistic, he is the living embodiment of that sentiment,” said Klein. “He always believes in the best of us, he always leads with love, and he showed that to the nation and the world as he ran for president in this last election.”
Speaking highly of Livingston’s leadership, Booker said it was a privilege to dedicate his first official act as a United States Senator to swearing in the next mayor “of this extraordinary town.”
“You are a friend who I have come to have a great respect for,” he said of Klein. “I want to thank you for your leadership and taking the helm of a great city during very difficult times.”
As he accepted all the responsibilities that come along with the mayoral title in Livingston, Klein thanked his wife, Cindy, and their two sons, Jack and Leo, for being so supportive of his decision to serve his hometown in this capacity. He also recognized his parents, Barbara and Warren, who raised him in Livingston and reside there still today.
Also sworn into new positions during Friday's meeting were Ed Meinhardt, who will become deputy mayor for the year of 2021; Councilman Al Anthony, who is beginning his third term as a township council member after being re-elected to that position in November; and newest council member Michael Vieira, who was also re-elected in November and was the first to nominate Klein as this year’s mayor.
Noting that Klein was born, raised and schooled in Livingston, Vieira reiterated that anyone who knows the new mayor knows that he “bleeds Lancer Green.”
“From the moment I became a council member, Shawn Klein has been there for me—from the beginning by calling me and bringing me up to date on town issues that were discussed prior to me becoming a council member to creating for me a cheat sheet on how to properly make motions on resolutions and ordinances,” said Vieira. “I continue to look to Shawn for advice, and he continues to be a great council partner. Just as I know that Shawn Klein will always be there for me, I know he is there for our entire Livingston community, and I know as mayor he will continue to make Livingston stronger.”
To read more about Councilman Rudy Fernandez’s final days as mayor, including his reflection on the year as being an overall successful one, as well as Vieira, Anthony and Meinhardt’s swearing-in ceremonies, click on the headlines below:
Livingston Council Members Anthony and Vieira Sworn In Upon Re-election
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