Government

Departure of Somerville Mayor, Council President Stirs Speculation

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Steve Peter, Somerville Council president, left, and Mayor Brian Gallagher are resigning their positions. Peter was elected Somerset County Clerk and Gallagher was elected a County Freeholder. Credits: Rod Hirsch
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SOMERVILLE, NJ  - Mayor Brian Gallagher will gavel Monday's Borough Council meeting  to order just as he’s done every other Monday for the past 14 years, but this time, the banging of the gavel at the close of the meeting will punctuate the end of his 17-year career serving on the Borough Council.

Steve Peter, a Democrat and Borough Council president, is also moving on to higher office, having been elected Somerset County Clerk in November, defeating Republican Brett Radi, who had served in that capacity for 25 years. It will be his final meeting as council president.

Gallagher ran in November’s election for a seat on the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and won decisively; on Jan. 5, he will be sworn to the county board, replacing a Somerset County political legend, Peter S. Palmer, who is retiring after serving in various elected offices on the local and county level for the past 55 years.

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Gallagher, elected to Borough Council in 2001 and as mayor in 2003,  will preside one last time at the Borough Council’s annual Reorganization meeting  Jan. 1, which begins at noon in the Somerville High School auditorium, 222 Davenport St.

Some of Gallagher’s last official acts as mayor will be appointments to boards and committees.

Gallagher has sole discretion appointing members of the Planning Board and Library Board of Trustees; all other appointments he proposes will have to be approved by members of the council.

Members of the Downtown Somerville Alliance are appointed by the Borough Council; the mayor is precluded from that process.

Peter, who will be sworn in as county clerk early Jan. 1, will attend the Somerville Reorganization meeting to swear in two of his fellow Democrats to the Borough Council, longtime Councilman Dennis Sullivan and his running mate, newcomer Fred Wied V.

Wied was in fourth grade when he joined the chess club in 1996 at the former Central School on High Street - where he was mentored by Sullivan, who taught at the school for nine years. The school, adjacent to the Middle School, was closed in 2000 and was demolished about five years ago.

“He’s ready to serve, he’s the kind of kid this town produces,” said Sullivan, who is now retired.

Gallagher’s departure will require the members of the Borough Council – all Democrats - to select a new mayor from a list of three names that will be submitted to Borough Clerk Kevin Sluka by Rich Reitman, chair of the borough’s Republican Committee once Gallagher resigns officially prior to being sworn in as freeholder Jan. 5.

The Borough Council is then required to select one of those three candidates as interim mayor within 15 days. The interim mayor will serve until the end of 2018; that person, or another candidate, will run for a one-year term as interim mayor in November, 2018 and will continue to serve in that capacity until the end of 2019.

A four-year term as mayor will be contested in the November, 2019 election.

Reitman would not reveal any of the names on the list; other Republican sources have confirmed the candidates for interim mayor as Councilman Jason Kraska, who lost his bid for reelection in November to Wied and will give up his seat when the council reorganizes Jan. 1; Hank Werner, a police officer in Bernards Township and chairman of the Jacks’ Kids charity, and Ellen Brain, a member of the borough’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The Democrats have begun discussions as to who will replace Peter on the council. according to Sullivan. The Democrats will also elect a new Council president at the reorganization meeting. Other Democrat members of the council are Granville Brady and Jane Kobuta.

Sullivan is the senior Democrat on the Borough Council; he was first elected  in 1994.

“We are in discussions right now,” Sullivan said. “We don’t have the official resignation to trigger the vacancy, and I am reluctant to release any names,” he added. He did say there are as many as 15 “qualified” candidates.

He would not divulge any of the potential replacements for Peter, but other sources have mentioned Ran D. Pitts, a board member of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, longtime retailer and owner of the Evolve clothing store on West Main St., and Margaret Weinberger, a former member of the Borough Council who lost reelection in 2011, and is a member of the Somerset County Federation of Democratic Women. 

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