SOMERVILLE, NJ – More than once during yesterday’s annual reorganization meeting, Mayor Brian Gallagher spoke with pride about the bi-partisan good will on the borough council that has helped to encourage progress, bolster redevelopment and boost the borough’s image and fortunes.
But for just a few minutes, politics came to the forefront in full public view and bi-partisanship was shoved aside in favor of raised voices and wrangling over election of a new council president.
The Democratic majority on the council pushed back against the Republican mayor’s choice for borough president, electing newcomer Steve Peter as its new president.
The contentious vote came just a few minutes after Peter took the oath as the borough’s newest council member in front of several hundred people who attended the meeting held in the auditorium of Somerville High School.
He replaces Robert Wilson, who resigned to become a Superior Court judge last month.
Council member Jane Kobuta interrupted the mayor as he made a motion to nominate Councilman and fellow Republican Ken Utter as council president.
“I have not yielded the floor,” Gallagher snapped back.
Kobuta raised her voice to remind Gallagher that it is the council’s responsibility to nominate its president.
Gallagher’s move to nominate Utter was defeated along party lines, with Kobuta, Thompson Mitchell, Dennis Wilson and Peter voting no. The Democrats then nominated Peter, who was approved 4-2 along party lines. Utter and fellow Republican Councilman Jason Kraska voted no.
Gallagher said Peter was more than capable to serve as president, but objected to his inexperience as a member of council.
“You need a year of experience to be able to facilitate things,” Gallagher said.
Before assuming his position on the borough council, Peter had served as a board member of the Downtown Somerville Alliance which directs development and infrastructure improvements and governs the landlords and merchants on Main Street.
He is a project and systems manager at Princeton University Press.
Peter dismissed the face off with the mayor said he’ll have no problem working in a bi-partisan spirit with Gallagher.
The new council president and Gallagher did agree on one thing afterwards.
“It’s just politics,” they both said.