WAYNE, NJ – Wednesday night was Councilwoman Aileen Rivera’s last council meeting as the representative of Ward Five for the township of Wayne. In November, Fran Ritter won the seat and will begin as Ward Five Councilwoman starting January 1.

At the beginning of the December 18 meeting, Council President Franco Mazzei called Rivera up to the podium, presenting her with a commemorative plaque and starting a deluge of respect and admiration for the well-loved politician.

“It’s been an honor and a pleasure to work with councilwoman Rivera these last four years,” said Mazzei. “This plaque is a memento to remind her of how much we respect her and how much we appreciated working with her.”

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Mazzei read from the commemorative plaque: “This is presented to Councilwoman Aileen Rivera in sincere appreciation for her years of dedicated service to the residents of the Township of Wayne from 2016 – 2019…but, its already wrong,”

Turning to Town Clerk Paul Margiotta, Mazzei said: “This is wrong, Paul. Because it says: ‘to 2019.’  That is wrong because I can tell you that Aileen is going to continue to work for this town for a long time. It doesn’t matter if she will no longer be a council member.  She will be a neighbor, a friend, a resident and I know her to be so dedicated and hard-working as an advocate for so many different organizations, that I’d be here all night trying to name them all.”

Mazzei finished with: “I just want you to know, Aileen that I respect you so much.  I’m so proud to have worked with you.  Please accept this on behalf of the council, though it is really nothing compared to our respect which is the most important thing we can give to you.”

The audience in attendance broke out in applause and as it died down, Councilman Joe Scuralli announced: “I believe she deserves more than that.” The following applause turned into a standing ovation from the entire crowd in respect for Rivera.

“From the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you everyone,” said Rivera, looking across the seated council members and the members of the town’s administration. “I want to thank my council colleagues. It was such a pleasure to work with them. They care so much about our town.”

Rivera spoke about how it was an honor to work with the Mayor and all of the different departments of the Wayne Township Government. “I’ve been very honored to work with everyone in this town,” she said.

“To the Fifth Ward residents, I want to say: ‘Thank you for having believed in me.’ It really was an honor and a privilege to represent you and be your voice,” she said. “I will continue to be a voice for people because that’s just my nature: To help.”

“This is my last day at the council meeting and it’s a little sad,” Rivera said as she began to choke up and had to end her speech. “I’m trying to keep it together, so thank you.” Once more the audience broke into applause as she made her way back to her seat.

During Council comments, all of Rivera’s fellow council members spoke about Rivera and what she has done for the town.

Councilman Jon Ettman said: “We entered the council as neophytes together and have grown together and I’ve come to admire her hard work, her tenacity, her seriousness and her drive to do what’s right for the community.” He spoke of the numerous times they spoke on the phone on weekends and off hours: “All for the purpose of trying to make sure that she was doing right by the community and by her constituents.”

“You are unrelenting in your dedication to this town, to this community,” said Councilwoman Jill Sasso. “Thank you so much for everything you’ve done. I hope you consider coming back.  I think for the community, this is a loss. I don’t think the community really understands what they are losing with you gone.”

“Nobody works harder than Aileen, and she works hardest for the most vulnerable people in our community,” said Councilman David Varano. “I’ve learned something from everyone on this council, but what I learned from Aileen was most important: How to connect with people, how to learn from them, how to hear them. I think you do that so well.  I consider you a colleague, a neighbor and a friend, and I’m going to miss you up here.”

Councilman Joe Scuralli said: “She is one of the most considerate councilmembers that I have ever met. She’s always a team player; always eager to work with other councilmembers with the focus on helping the entire town. She always seeks out and values other opinions and that’s what makes her such an effective representative of her people.”

Councilman Al Sadowski pointed out Rivera’s son Daniel in the back of the audience: “I want to say Merry Christmas to my buddy Daniel back there. Hopefully, we’ll see you around at a council meeting in the future, because we’ll miss you’re smiling face here.”

Mazzei ended the council comments by saing: “I really do think Aileen has a calling, and that is to help people. It doesn’t matter what her title is, she really wants to help people and Wayne is lucky for that. Aileen, don’t ever change.”

When Fire Commissioner, Bob Minarick came up to the podium to give his report, he turned to Rivera and said: “I consider myself a good judge of character and Aileen, you are genuinely a good person. I’ve served as head of the fire department for a year now and you are always thanking me for our service to the town. Well, now it’s my turn: Thank you for your service to the town.”

During the Mayor’s comments, Mayor Chris Vergano took a moment to speak publicly about Rivera: “She is the most passionate person. She never has an off day. No matter what is going on, she is always upbeat and ready to make the world a better place.”

“What people don’t realize is that the council meetings are just the tip of the iceberg. Its two hours, twice a month,” continued Vergano. “The real work is all about the residents, and [Rivera] always puts the residents first. She’s a tremendous worker and an advocate for people.”

Vergano ended with: “Aileen, thank you. Thank you for your time and your service and I know it’s not over for you. I will miss you, but we’re going to find a place for you. Don’t worry. We will find a place for you.”

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Editor’s note: From the very beginning of my time covering Wayne news, Aileen Rivera welcomed me with open arms and a warm heart.  She has become a friend because of her genuine kindness and gentle nature.  I am looking forward to covering stories about the future good works of Wayne resident, Aileen Rivera.