MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Township Committee held its first meeting of the new year on Jan. 1, to swear in Committeemen Dean Dafis and Vic DeLuca for new terms and to make annual appointments. Mayor Frank McGehee was unanimously reelected by the committee members to remain in the position in 2021; Dafis was unanimously reelected to remain deputy mayor.
“What you can expect from me in the next three years is what you’ve grown accustomed to already from me,” Dafis, who is beginning his second term on the committee, said at the meeting. “Dedication, a hard work ethic, empathy, loyalty, accessibility, enthusiasm and creativity. I will remain your advocate. This is, after all, about you, about us together, and not about me.”
Dafis thanked the other members of the committee and reflected on the last year.
“I’m proud of our work together, especially this past most challenging year,” he said, “when we together proved yet again that local government can and should be the most direct and impactful source of good in people’s everyday lives, more so than any other level of government. We can and have made a difference.”
DeLuca also spoke about local government’s role in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, contrasting it to the lack of a response at the federal level.
“For most people, government doesn’t matter until it does, and it sure did in 2020,” he said at the meeting. “It showed how it mattered with COVID-19 in two very different ways. The abject failure of the federal government to take charge, convey consistent messaging and set an emphatic tone mattered to hundreds of thousands of people who ended up getting sick and dying. On the other hand, the stewardship by governors and county and local officials was true leadership and helped to save thousands of people and families from the horrors of this disease.”
DeLuca highlighted the work that Maplewood officials did to maintain municipal services, help small businesses in town remain in business and listen to public health officials to lessen the pandemic’s impact on the town. With vaccines now beginning to be given to health care workers and older adults, hopes of returning to some sense of normalcy are growing.
Looking ahead to the rest of the year, DeLuca said he is concerned about rising property taxes in town and how they affect residents, in particular senior citizens who are sometimes forced to move because they can no longer afford to remain in town. He also wants to make sure all residents have a seat at the table as Maplewood continues to address diversity.
“Our actions need to back up our words about valuing diversity and inclusivity and about being a welcoming community. We will be tested this year as we discuss the impact of skyrocketing real estate values, income inequality, resource allocations and school redistricting,” DeLuca said. “I intend to be a positive force in these discussions, making sure all of our residents are at the table.”
In his state of the township address, McGehee spoke in more detail about COVID-19 vaccinations.
“As we start 2021, we are moving in the right direction, and there is truly a light ahead of us regarding this pandemic. To date, over 1,400 health care workers, first responders and volunteers have already been vaccinated. More will come in the weeks ahead, which will include our seniors,” he said. “The infrastructure Essex County built can hold 250 persons per site per day and will ramp up to nearly 2,000 per day as we move toward the phase that includes the majority of the population in our community.”
In his lengthy speech, McGehee spoke about the businesses in Maplewood that closed in 2020, the upcoming library renovations and the Black Lives Matter protests that began in late May after George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis, Minn.
“Maplewood is well positioned for a strong 2021 and beyond,” McGehee said. “It is a safe community to live, work, play and grow in. We are a community that is thriving. We are a community that has strong leadership backed by a strong infrastructure. We are forward thinking. We will continue to be the most desired township in the tristate area and the state of New Jersey.”