BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A significant number of New Jersey public officials attended the reorganization meeting of the Bloomfield council in Town Hall on Friday, Jan. 3. So many, in fact, that Township Administrator Matt Watkins at several times intermittently needed to add names to his introduction.
The reason for the interest: Gov. Phil Murphy was present to swear in Mayor Michael Venezia. Other notables included New Jersey Senator Ronald L. Rice; Assemblywoman Cleopatra G. Tucker and Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo, both D-28th District; LeRoy Jones, chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee; Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr.; Essex County Freeholder President Brendan Gill; and Freeholder Carlos Pomares, D-5th District, the former Bloomfield councilman.
Joining Venezia for another three years at the swearing-in were council members Wartyna Davis, Ted Gamble and Rich Rockwell. All four were incumbents who ran unopposed.
“This is a community like a rocket ship,” Murphy said to a capacity audience in the newly refurbished council chamber. “As Essex County goes, so goes New Jersey.”
Murphy called Essex County the quintessentially New Jersey county, saying the first thing people notice about Bloomfield is the development taking place here.The state was slowly getting back on its feet, he said, and that could not be done without Bloomfield.
“You have Joe and LeRoy,” Murphy said, referring to DiVincenzo and Jones, “and we hope to deliver the bacon.”
The governor then departed.
Davis was given her oath of office by Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake, D-34th District, who commended Davis on her work improving community communications and on being the first openly LGBTQ member of the Bloomfield council.
“Your future is bright,” she told Davis.
Pomares gave the oath of office to Gamble and Rockwell and said Venezia was a team builder who “allowed Town Hall to be Town Hall.” DiVincenzo added that Venezia has been around politics for a long time and knows how to get things done.
“He has been able to get along with his council,” DiVincenzo said, “and that doesn’t happen in many places.”
Gill recalled his time with Venezia as up-and-coming public servants in the office of Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
“Sen Lautenberg said you can run only two ways: scared or unopposed,” Gill said. “Mike, congratulations, you ran unopposed.”
Gill quickly added that the lack of opposition was indicative of the support Venezia had in the community.
Caputo called Bloomfield a model for the county, stating that it doesn’t have the image it once did and that people were now willing to come here knowing they would be served by an honest government. Tucker said there was an effort to make New Jersey a better state and “We feel we have this in Bloomfield.”
Then the council members spoke.
Davis said it was never her plan to go into politics, but the time came when she thought she should “take a seat at the table.” Another reason was the opportunity to work with a great council. She called working with Venezia “a master class in public good.” Davis said representing the citizens of Bloomfield was an honor.
Gamble said he had no political aspirations at first but to know Bloomfield council members at other events.
“What stands out about these people is that if they weren’t public officials, they would be serving the community in other ways,” he said.
He said he was grateful to his parents for teaching him about community service and for the times he spent in soup kitchens.
Rockwell said he moved to Bloomfield 18 years ago with his partner. They did not know what to expect as a gay couple and were warmly welcomed. He said he also did not know what to expect as a gay councilman but was again warmly welcomed.
“I consider myself an introvert, but as a councilman my favorite time is working with people,” he said.
Venezia, who graduated from Bloomfield High School in 2000, said that since he became mayor six years ago $11 million has been invested in the repair of township roads. There has also been a 50 percent reduction in Type I crime, for which he thanked Public Safety Director Samuel DeMaio. Type I crime comprises murder, rape, robbery, burglary, theft, aggravated assault and automobile theft.
He said the township bond rating has improved over the last six years and that there has been an increase in certificate-of-occupancy inspections by the Bloomfield Fire Department. He also noted 2,324 first-responder calls for the department during that time. He asked BFD personnel in the audience to rise, and he thanked residents for their feedback and “keeping the council on its toes.”
In 2020, Venezia said he anticipated the construction of a water pumping station; the completion of a park and open space facility on Lion Gate Drive; an electric vehicle fleet; and, with the school district, a solar power partnership. The proposed pumping station will be located on West Passaic Avenue. Venezia concluded by thanking the community for its unwavering support of the council.
“It truly means a lot to me,” he said.
Watkins ended the event by commending the mayor and council as the finest with which he had ever worked.