MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca’s accomplishments were recently recognized at the state level when he was inducted into the New Jersey State League of Municipalities Mayors’ Hall of Fame on Nov. 18, as well as being named the New Jersey Municipal Management Association 2015 Elected Official of the Year.
DeLuca was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the silver level, which recognizes his 10 years of service as mayor. The New Jersey Municipal Management Association is a professional association of municipal managers and administrators; the award is for an elected official who supports and advances professional management in the state’s cities and towns.
DeLuca served as the mayor of Maplewood from 2001 to 2003, and has also served from 2009 to the present; it is a position he takes seriously, but also one from which he derives a great deal of personal satisfaction.
“I have the opportunity to work with other people to make the community the best it can be,” DeLuca said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record.
“It gives me a sense of accomplishment and pride.”
Though he enjoys the position, DeLuca admitted that the job is not without its challenges.
“It’s real, hands-on work; sometimes it can be very stressful but it’s tremendously rewarding,” DeLuca said. “If you like to solve problems, this is the job for it. You look at challenges and you try to find solutions. You have to be able to listen, learn and act. Those are all things that I like about it.”
Altogether DeLuca has served the township of Maplewood for 16 years, six as a Township Committee member, and 10 as the mayor. In 2005, he ran for Township Committee and, although he was defeated, came back the next year to serve from 2006 to 2008. In 2009, he was again elected mayor.
“It’s a lot of work, there’s no question about it,” he said. “I’m out every night and often on the weekends but it’s a privilege to do so.
“First of all you go out and knock on doors and ask people to vote for you and they give you their trust and confidence that you will do the best you can,” DeLuca continued. “I try to earn it every day and I try to do the best I can.”
Former Maplewood Committeewoman Celia King can also attest to DeLuca’s passion for Maplewood, and his fervent desire for the community to be well-informed and well-run.
King, who served on the committee from 1994 to 2002, and from 1997 to 2001 as deputy mayor, fondly recalls her initial dealings with DeLuca.
“At the time he wasn’t even an elected official, and I was recently appointed to the council and going to my very first meeting. There was a controversial issue on the table and the council was deciding on whether we would vote in favor and it was a tough decision,” she said. “Vic called me and said, ‘Do you have any questions and would you like some background information?’ And he broke it down in such beautiful detail and after he shared everything I realized that I did need him.”
King and DeLuca went on to become close friends as well as colleagues, and ran each other’s campaigns for the duration
of King’s tenure with the Township Committee.
“He has never told me how to vote or tried to push his own agenda on an issue,” King said. “He just made sure that I always had all of the facts. He has been a wonderful mentor, coach and teacher and his service goes well beyond his constituents, and that’s what I respect and admire about him.”
The obstacles that come with being a local official can be daunting, when critical issues are in the hands of the state government, but still have a significant impact on the community.
“There are things I can do, but there are things beyond us, like property taxes and the whole discussion about aid for our schools — some of the job is frustrating at times,” DeLuca said. “On the other hand, I was very pleased to be one of the first mayors (in New Jersey) to officiate a same-sex marriage and be part of that movement for social justice.”
These roadblocks do not deter DeLuca from working to make the town, whose village was recently voted “Best Downtown” in New Jersey, the best it can be.
“I’m trying to do things with the arts and culture and really get the Maplewood Arts Council working, and we have a couple more development projects planned for Springfield Avenue, including Wawa, that I want to see through,” DeLuca said. “We’re working closer with the schools so we can have greater cooperation between the two towns. We’re looking at the possibility of a shared fire department between Maplewood and South Orange.”
Maplewood is a township in motion, and DeLuca is very happy to be right in the thick of it.
“I know when I go to the supermarket I have to build in an extra 20 minutes because people are going to grab me for a few questions,” he said. “And I don’t mind one bit.”