CALDWELL, NJ — Local mayors held a discussion panel and addressed important topics for all 22 Essex County municipalities and small businesses within those communities at the seventh-annual Essex County Meet the Mayors breakfast event on Saturday, April 1, at Greenbrook Country Club in Caldwell.

Maplewood Mayor Vic De Luca and South Orange Village President Sheena Collum both attended the event. De Luca, who attended Meet the Mayors for the seventh time this year, said, “I’m glad to see so many here and have the opportunity to hear what the mayors of both small and large towns and cities have to say regarding how they handle the same issues we all deal with. I’ve been coming to the Meet the Mayors event year after year.”

This year was Collum's first time at Meet the Mayors. "As a first time attendee, it was great meeting other elected officials, small business advocates, and subject matter experts in the county. I certainly learned a lot from the panelists and felt somewhat relieved to hear that across Essex, we’re all experiencing the same types of challenges as it relates to parking, business retention and recruitment, and different perspectives on how we can collectively meet our affordable housing obligations," said Collum. "This is definitely the type of discussion that needs to be ongoing, we can all learn so much for one another."

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The Inter-Chamber Coordinating Council, which includes the West Orange, Millburn-Short Hills, North Essex, Maplewood, South Orange, and Livingston chambers of commerce, joined the New Jersey State League of Municipalities to host this free, public event that invited the mayors from all 22 municipalities.

The panel included Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Millburn Mayor Cheryl Burstein, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta, and Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia.

In addition to discussing important topics like how to recruit small businesses, parking issues, creating business-friendly ordinances, rebranding, bridging the gap between urban Essex and suburban Essex, and the development of Newark, the event also served as a networking event between the local chambers.

“First and foremost, I feel like it is so critical for us to participate in events like this to understand—at a leadership level all the way to the resident level and business-owner level—how people are feeling about decisions that are being made on their behalf,” said Mike Daniels, executive vice president, North Essex Chamber of Commerce (NECC). “The other thing I really appreciated was how everyone can collaborate—and not only the residents and business owners, but also their locally elected officials so that everyone’s on the same page in terms of what’s important, what needs to be done and how.”

A popular discussion item among the mayors was affordable housing requirements and the State Supreme Court decision relative to it. Roseland Mayor John Duthie, who stated that he was glad the Fair Share Housing Center topic came up, said it was a topic that all the local governing bodies should be discussing in depth.

“If you’re going to have a 15-to 20-percent affordable housing component of what is the true market-rate number, a town like Roseland that has 2800 housing units at present, with the State Supreme Court ruling, will end up adding another 2500 housing units, which will basically double our population and our infrastructure is already struggling to accommodate the units that we have,” said Duthie. “We truly understand the need for affordable housing and we understand that it affects the entire population—the single mother, the veteran, folks of low income—but my issue is not with affordable housing. My issue is with market-rate housing that comes along with that.”

Many mayors agreed with Duthie, stating that they welcome the idea of providing affordable housing, but were concerned about the obligation only being a small percentage of total housing units built.

“The whole meeting—all of its content—was very rewarding, I think, for everyone involved,” said Duthie, who has been attending ever since he was elected as mayor. “It’s nice to get together with our business leaders and my colleagues that serve in elected positions throughout Essex County.”

Duthie’s affordable-housing comments echoed panelist Joseph Tempesta, Mayor of West Caldwell, who said he was enthusiastic about the turnout of the event. He added that trying to relate to the business community, develop businesses and help the smaller businesses grow within the respective communities is extremely important.

Denny Klein, who organized the event, said he believes the local mayors recognize the connection between suburban Essex and urban Essex and why it’s important to spend more time looking at it. He thanked the panelists, sponsors and guests for making the seventh annual Meet the Mayors breakfast the most successful one yet.

Event sponsors included the League of Women Voters of Montclair, which has been the biggest sponsor for all seven years; exclusive event sponsors Aciem Studios; Budd Larner; RWJBarnabas Health; PSE&G; BCB; Smolin; Rand, Feuer & Klein, LLC; and media sponsors; Suburban Essex; and Vicinity. 

Photos by Doug Zacker/ACIEM Studios