SOMERVILLE, NJ – With just four days to go before he resigns, outgoing Mayor Brian Gallagher presided over the borough’s annual reorganization meeting on New Year’s Day, closing out a 14-year stretch as mayor that has seen the face and character of the town undergo a dramatic revitalization that will continue for several years.
“Somerville truly is the center of life for Somerset County . . . we have all that anyone could want in a wonderful place to live and raise our families,” Gallagher said in his farewell address.
Elected four times as mayor, Gallagher will leave office mid-term to be sworn in Jan. 5 as a Somerset County Freeholder.
Former Council president Steve Peter, sworn to office as Somerset County Clerk just hours before the reorganization meeting, officiated at the swearing in of fellow Democrats Dennis Sullivan, who has served on the borough council for 22 years, and Fred Wied V, elected to his first term in office in November along with Sullivan.
The six members of the all-Democratic Borough Council elected Granville Brady as the new council president.
“This is not the Somerville many of us remember as we grew up here or moved here decades ago,” Brady said. “We are a bustling community with what seems to be new buildings going up weekly.”
It remains to be seen to whom Gallagher will hand off his gavel.
The mayor’s mid-term resignation requires the borough’s Republican committee to submit a list of three names to Borough Clerk Kevin Sluka, who will then pass the list to the all-Democratic borough council, whose members will select an appointed mayor from that list, no later than 15 days after Gallagher resigns officially, which will be on Jan. 5. Once their selection is made, the appointed mayor will be sworn to office presumably by Jan. 20.
The appointed mayor will serve until the November, 2018 election is certified. Once it is certified, the elected mayor will be sworn in to fill Gallagher’s unexpired term until Dec. 31, 2019.
In the fall of 2019, another mayoral election for a four-year term will be held. The new mayor would assume office Jan. 1, 2020.
Theoretically, Somerville could have four mayors over the next two years.
Likewise, the borough’s Democratic committee must submit a list of three candidates to fill the borough council vacancy created by the departure of Peter sometime within the next 15 days.
Continuing a longstanding tradition, Gallagher presented the 2017 Citizen of the Year Award to Rev. Ron Pollock of St. John’s Episcopal Church, active on several boards and chaplain of the Somerville Fire Department.
Dozens of uniformed firefighters were in the audience at Somerville High School for the presentation of the Fire Chief Badge to Greg Sorace and the Affirmation of Office for Chief Marc Pellegrino. The oath of office was also administered to Brian Iselin, deputy chief; Robert Wortman, first assistant and Dave Vallone, Sr., second assistant.
More than 100 appointments to various boards and committees were made, including members of the planning board, zoning board, board of health, Downtown Somerville Alliance, Library board of trustees, recreation committee members, environmental commission, historic advisory committee, landfill redevelopment committee, fire museum committee, Somerville Television committee and others.
Gallagher’s address covered a broad range of topics.
“We have seen many great changes in Somerville over the past 14 years, a revitalized Main Street that is the envy of communities statewide, investments in our recreational opportunities, the clean up and return to functional use of contaminated properties, a focus on our historic structures combined with the need to reinvest in our community, an open and accessible government utilizing technology including VilleTV, changes in day-to-day government to better serve the taxpayer, a return to a fully-staffed police department, a final and solid direction for the next 100 years for our emergency services and the list goes on,” Gallagher said.
“To the next Mayor of Somerville, whoever that may be, I wish you great success. As much as things change around us, Somerville remains this constant that lends stability to this region which other municipalities strive to emulate,” Gallagher added.
The Republican mayor offered some advice to members of the borough council, all of whom are Democrats:
“While you may butt heads with the Mayor at points, it is a system of government that works well to ensure stability in our decisions.
“You are neighbors working together to better this Borough, not political competitors trying to outdo each other.”I leave the Mayor’s seat with Somerville in a position in which people want to be here,” he continued. “Private investment wants in, state government investment is all in, young families beginning their lives with hopes and dreams are moving here, empty nesters downsizing and looking for that perfect place are coming, and the millenials finding that Somerville fits exactly what they are looking for. “
“As I leave the Mayor’s seat in four days, my words of advice to the council are short, concise and direct – don’t screw it up.”
Brady also offered advice to his fellow council members:
“I am amazed at how Somerville has changed,” he said. “We have new neighbors with little kids mixing with mature retirees. In almost every part of town you can see such diversity that Somerville reflects the changing face of America.
“It is the job of the Borough Council to represent everyone: renters, homeowners, business people and our guests that come here for fine dining and great local shopping,” he added.
“That is not easy and sometimes the interests of one group conflicts with the interests of others,” he continued. “And here is where the council members offer the best in constituents’ services . . . our job is to listen to peoples’ concerns and help them resolve their issues.
“My challenge to the 2018 Borough Council is always to keep the needs of our people as our primary focus.
“To paraphrase what that great philosopher Yogi Berra might have said. ‘Somerville’s history is ahead of us so we better do a good job.’ ’’
Four members of the Shiloh Pentecostal Church Choir performed, and Town Crier David Lang opened the meeting, followed by the invocation by Rev. Dr. David Lehmkuhl of the First United Methodist Church of Somerville. The National Anthem was performed by Meredith Sullivan Boyan, the daughter of the councilman.
Mentioned as candidates for interim mayor are Councilman Jason Kraska, who lost his bid for reelection in November to Wied; 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 been in discussions, according to Sullivan, with as many as 15 qualified candidates in the mix. Two names that have been mentioned as replacements for Peter are Ran D. Pitts, a board member of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, longtime retailer and owner of the Evolve clothing store on West Main Street, 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.