RAHWAY, NJ — Last night, speaking virtually, Mayor Raymond Giacobbe delivered Rahway's 2021 State of the City Address. In it, he touched on a number of topics and themes, including especially what he called "two transformative events" of the last year: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and renewed calls for social justice in the wake of the deaths of both George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in police-related incidents in 2020.
After a brief welcome by Danni Newbury, the president of the Rahway City Council, the Reverend Allen Thompson, pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, delivered the invocation. Following this, Congressman Donald Payne Jr., who represents Rahway as part of the 10th Congressional District, offered a few opening remarks.
Payne began by saying, "Mayor Giacobbe has shown extraordinary leadership during these uncertain times." After commenting specifically on the mayor's management and guidance of the city during the COVID-19 pandemic, he went on to characterize Rahway as "a great example of a community that supports each other."
Noting that this year's safety concerns due to the pandemic dictated the necessary virtual format, Mayor Giacobbe took to the podium to begin his address. After thanking a number of individuals and groups, he highlighted several notable "firsts" for the city, including the first female African American council member, Vannie Deloris Parson, and the first member of the LGBTQ community to serve as a council member, Danni Newbury. He also asked for a moment of silence to acknowledge the 106 Rahway residents who had thus far lost their lives to the COVID-19 virus.
Immediately prior to moving into the heart of his address, Giacobbe thanked his family, saying, "I know what I do as a father and as mayor will affect [my children's] generation for many years to come." Quoting the late poet Maya Angelou, he added, "I sustain myself with the love of my family."
Much of the first portion of Giacobbe's speech understandably addressed the actions taken by his administration in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the city's response in the first weeks and months of the crisis. He noted that several decisions at the local level were made "well ahead of the pace set by the state", anticipating policies and practices later adopted elsewhere and statewide. For example, the decision to close municipal courts and playgrounds in Rahway came prior to Governor Murphy's executive order later requiring cities to do so. As well, the city extended the interest-free period for second quarter property taxes and chose not to conduct a tax sale of delinquent properties.
Other accomplishments the mayor highlighted included his administration's dissemination of "accurate and timely information" related to the pandemic through various means, including live broadcasts; the implementation of the Rahway CARES grant program, which assisted local businesses in weathering a weak and shaky economy; the city's efforts to transition a number of previously live city events, especially holiday events, to a virtual platform, rather than canceling them altogether; the establishment of a free tutoring program for Rahway's youth, amidst the unavoidably disruptive academic year; and city hall's focus on Rahway's senior citizens, through a free transportation system, as well as thousands of wellness calls, checking on residents and ensuring their safety and well-being. The mayor also noted that Rahway was one of only two municipalities in Union County officially designated a "vaccine center" by the state of New Jersey.
At this point in Giacobbe's address, he paused to thank several organizations, particularly those working to alleviate hunger and food insecurity throughout the city. He mentioned three organizations specifically: the Rahway Food for Friends, the Rahway Community Action Organization, and the recently established Rahway Frontline Appreciation Group (FLAG), the last of which raised over $20,000 over the course of its efforts. The mayor also mentioned tomorrow's food distribution event with Buffalo Bills lineman and former Rahway resident Dion Dawkins and his charity, Dion's Dreamers.
The mayor then shifted to his second major theme of the evening: social justice. He acknowledged the tumultuous national events of the last year and emphasized his administration's commitment to ensuring equity and decency for all the city's residents.
Giacobbe listed several initiatives he and Rahway City Hall had taken within the past year: efforts to bring the Rahway Police Department and local community leaders together in greater dialogue; the establishment of a racial justice commission in June, under the direction of co-chairs Jeff Brooks and Brittany Hale; and the holding of the first ever flag-raising event commemorating the Juneteenth holiday, in conjunction and with the support of the local Rahway branch of the NAACP, along with ensuring the day would be a paid holiday in the city.
The mayor reiterated his continuing commitment to social justice and insisted that his support had been, and would continue to be, "strong and visible." He concluded his address by mentioning a number of the other programs, initiatives, and endeavors his administration had played a role in bringing about over the last year.
He noted work the city had done at a number of the local parks and fields, both in terms of safety features and upgrades; the creation of the Hometown Heroes Banner program, honoring residents who had served or were serving in the armed forces; the implementation of free Wi-Fi services and increased security cameras in public areas throughout the city; an agreement between the city and first aid services; the support the city had demonstrated in bringing in new local businesses, especially in the downtown area; and the news that pharmaceutical giant Merck was planning to bring its headquarters back to Rahway in the near future.
Mayor Giacobbe concluded the evening with a short quotation from poet Amanda Gorman's inauguration poem, "The Hill We Climb." He insisted that "the state of the city of Rahway was strong" and applauded the city's residents, employees, and community members for "the resilience you have shown and demonstrated over the last year."
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