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Republican Ellen Brain Appointed First Woman Mayor of Somerville by Council Democrats

Newly-appointed Somerville Mayor Ellen Brain talks with Granville Brady, council president,after she was sworn to office Tuesday night. Credits: Rod Hirsch
Republican Ellen Brain reacts to her selection as appointed mayor by the all-Democratic Borough Council at Tuesday night's meeting. Retired firefighter Richard O'Neill is at right. Credits: Rod Hirsch
Ellen Brain is congratulated by Borough Councilman Dennis Sullivan while Councilwoman Jane Kobuta looks on. Credits: Rod Hirsch
Borough Clerk Kevin Sluka administers the oath of office to Somerville Mayor Ellen Brain, a Republican. Her friend Roberta Karpinecz, a Democrat, holds the Bible. Both were on the library board. Credits: Rod Hirsch

SOMERVILLE, NJ – Ellen Brain, a former AT&T executive who has served on the borough’s Zoning Board of Adjustment and is an adjunct professor at Raritan Valley Community College, is the new Republican mayor of Somerville and the first woman to serve as mayor since the borough was incorporated in 1909.

“I’m delighted and I’m honored,” she said Tuesday night before she was sworn in to the office by Borough Clerk Kevin Sluka. Afterwards, she said “I’m shocked.”

She was one of three Republican candidates interviewed for the open position by the six members of the all-Democratic Borough Council during Tuesday night’s meeting.

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The others were former Republican councilman Jason Kraska and Bernards police officer Hank Werner.

“I was sure it was not going to be me,” she said. “First, I’m a woman, and to have a Republican as the first woman mayor of Somerville carries a bit of prestige to it, and Jason and Hank were both excellent candidates."

The Democrats, however, did not let that influence their decision.

“The people who are on Borough Council are bigger-minded than that; they’re all Democrats, I’ve known them for years, I like them all, yes, they are Democrats, but that doesn't mean anything to me, whether a person has a D or an R after their name.”

Each of the three was interviewed for 20 minutes at the beginning of the meeting before the borough council took up routine matters on its regular agenda. The six members of the council – Granville Brady, president; Dennis Sullivan, Jane Kobuta, Thompson Mitchell, Fred Weid V and RanD Pitts - retired to an executive session, closed to the public, to deliberate. They returned about 15 minutes later to announce their selection of Brain.

As appointed mayor, Brain will fill out the next ten months of former Mayor Brian Gallagher’s unexpired term. Gallagher resigned Jan. 5 after serving 14 years as mayor to be sworn in to a three-year term as a Somerset County Freeholder.

She will serve in office until the results of the upcoming November, 2018 elections are certified. At that time, whoever wins the election will be sworn to office, and serve until the end of 2019.

Brain, 66, is single and a resident of Altamont Place; she has lived in the borough for 30 years. She is a “Jersey girl,” born in Bayonne and has lived in the state her entire life. She traveled extensively during her 25-year career with AT&T.

She was also a teacher in North Plainfield public schools for 10 years.

She described herself as “friendly, not adversarial.”

“I’m not a career politician but I’m a very good leader; I’ve been told that by people that have worked for me and my bosses,” she said. “People think that I’m kind and that goes a long way,” she added.

Brain also said she is pragmatic, but expects to have some impact during her ten months in office.

“I’m not a seat-warming kind of gal,” she said. “What I’ll do is listen to what Granville and the rest of the Council has to say, collect those thoughts and then see what makes sense, what can be done,” she added. “There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit, we’ll see what can be done quickly, put together a list and start knocking things off.

“What can I do in ten months about taxes; not much, I’m a realist,” Brain said, “but if I can make a difference, I’ll look to continue,” she said, suggesting she might seek elective office in the fall.

She has run as a Republican for a seat on the Borough Council twice, losing both times.

The next few weeks will be busy for Brain. She expects to meet with Brady on Friday and make the rounds before she presides at her first Borough Council meeting Jan. 29.

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