Government

Somerville Democrats Set to Interview, Select New Republican Mayor

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Somerset County Freeholder and former Somerville Mayor Brian Gallagher speaks at the Somerset County Freeholders reorganization meeting Jan. 5 after he was sworn to office. Credits: Rod Hirsch
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Former Somerville Mayor Brian Gallagher pauses to reflect on his four terms as mayor while cleaning out his office in Borough Hall last month. Credits: Rod Hirsch
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SOMERVILLE, NJ - Borough Council president Granville Brady’s short reign as acting mayor will come to an end Tuesday night when he and his fellow Democrats select an appointed Republican mayor to fill out the unexpired term of former Mayor Brian Gallagher.

The Jan. 16 meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the Borough Council meeting room at Borough Police headquarters, 24 South Bridge St.

Gallagher resigned Jan. 5 just hours before he was sworn to office as a Somerset County Freeholder after serving 14 years as mayor. Brady has presided over Borough Council matters since then, including the selection of RanD Pitts as a new councilman at a special meeting Jan. 8.

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Pitts fills the vacancy created when Steve Peter, former council president, resigned to be sworn in as Somerset County Clerk Dec. 31.

The six members of the Borough Council – all Democrats – are Brady, Dennis Sullivan, Thompson Mitchell, Jane Kobuta, Fred Wied V and Pitts.

Immediately following Gallagher’s resignation, the borough’s Republican Committee, as required by law, submitted a list of three candidates to the members of the Borough Council who are required to select the appointed mayor. That person will serve in office for eight months 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.

The Borough Council will interview each of the three candidates for 20 minutes, beginning at 6 p.m.

The three nominees are former Republican Councilman Jason Kraska, who was defeated in November by Wied; Bernards police officer Hank Werner, chairman of the Jack’s Kids charity and Ellen Brain, a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and adjunct professor at Raritan Valley Community College.

Kraska will be interviewed at 6 p.m., followed by Werner at 6:20 p.m., concluding with Brain at 6:40 p.m.

The council will move on to its regular agenda before adjourning to go into executive session to discuss the mayoral appointment, and reconvene to announce their selection by voice vote.

Brady said it is unclear as to whether there will be an immediate swearing-in ceremony.

“It will depend on the hour, it’s going to be a long meeting,” Brady said. “Usually family members would like to be there.

“It’s really not urgent, as long as it is within the window set by statute,” he added. “We’ll have someone in place by the next council meeting.  “Right now, we’re still working on who it will be.”

One of the final items on the agenda that will be dealt with before executive session is the appointment of  new members to the Downtown Somerville Alliance board of directors.

There are five vacancies on the 12-member board; Brady said a few of those vacancies, but not all, will be filled at the Jan. 16 meeting. Interviews with potential replacements are continuing, according to Brady.

Three of the vacancies occurred within a 24-hour period last week; the council accepted the resignation of Pat Mannion, vice chairman, at the Jan. 8 meeting; Pitts resigned as secretary of the DSA board because of his appointment to the council, and Tom Genova, chairman of the DSA for 13 years and closely aligned with Gallagher, submitted a letter of resignation the morning of Jan. 9, leaving only seven members on the board.

“The time has come to step down,” Genova said in his resignation letter. “Boards need new blood, energy and, perhaps most important, perspective and ideas if they want their organization to flourish - which means boards need new board members.

“The Downtown Somerville Alliance plays a vital role in the economic vitality of Somerville,” Genova added. “New board members are vital to the DSA succession plan.”

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