CEDAR GROVE, NJ — Last week, Kerry Peterson took the oath and was sworn in as the mayor of Cedar Grove, the town in which she grew up and where she has always lived.
Although as deputy mayor, Peterson already knew that her turn as the new mayor of Cedar Grove would be coming in July, that timetable was moved up slightly when former mayor Robbie Vargo stepped aside shortly before his term was due to expire at the end of June.
"When I first came on the council, we had a very inexperienced council members and the only one with a lot of experience was the mayor himself, and he ended up serving two terms," said Peterson of her three-year path from township council member to deputy mayor to mayor. "I feel like this is my way of giving back. I had always volunteered in different capacities, and the more you become involved in town, the more you see different decisions and ordinances and how people react to the community."
Peterson, a graduate of Felician University, relished her volunteerism, but hoped that by becoming a member of the township government she could more effectively serve the community of which she has always been a part.
"This puts you in a role where you can really engaged," she said. "This gave me a platform to do more. I am not a politician. I love being engaged with residents. I want to act upon ideas, implement programs and issues. I like being able to help."
Cedar Grove is governed by a five-member township council. Peterson ascended to deputy mayor last year and knew she would become the mayor this summer. Cedar Grove's governing body is non-partisan, an important factor in Peterson's desire to serve the community.
"We are a non-partisan council, thank God," Peterson said. "In Cedar Grove, we just don't make those kinds of partisan decisions. We make decisions that affect Cedar Grove, but not on a partisan level. We have a really great group of people on the council; they have always really been so positive."
Peterson said that how the township deals with the aftereffects of the pandemic, the ensuing shutdown of schools and businesses and how the coronavirus--whether the worst is over or whether there will be a "second wave"--all present the new mayor with unique and potentially monumental challenges.
"The pandemic certainly isn’t going away. It’s a bit settled right now, but when I think about the year ahead i think about the fall, our national election and how things trickle down," said Peterson, who is a nurse with Atlantic Health Systems. "There could be a divide in how we address that and bring the community together. We don’t want to have a deep divide, but regardless of who gets in office in November nationally, I see (some people being) upset. How can we address that in Cedar Grove.
"Schools going back, keeping everybody healthy, those are big issues," she said. "School sports, how can that affect the community? There are many things to figure out. I am a nurse, so I definitely have a frontline perspective. Things with the virus are much better now, and I do anticipate a wave. I think it’s a matter of keeping people calm, and we’re going to get through it. Things are much better, people are sticking with all the precautions, masks and hand washing."
Peterson pointed out that, with five long term care facilities, Cedar Grove's number of cases and deaths attributed to COVID-19 were "disproportionate to other communities."
Another paramount goal of Peterson's is to foster an atmosphere of inclusiveness, especially among those who are new to the community.
"Every Cedar Grove resident should feel welcome in this town," Peterson said. "I have seen comments on social media that sometimes new people don't feel so welcome here. I want to make sure every person who moves into this town feels welcome and can get involved in anything they want to get involved in. I want them to be aware of that fact. It is important to me that everyone feels welcome here."