DeLuca retakes helm as mayor

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Township Committee reorganization on New Year’s Day was a joyous affair, with various musical performances, as committee members Nancy Adams and Greg Lembrich were sworn in for their second terms. Additionally, Vic DeLuca was again selected to be mayor, with a unanimous vote, though he did say that this will be his final year as mayor. Another unanimous vote also reappointed Frank McGehee as deputy mayor.

“I want to thank my colleagues for electing me as mayor for one more year,” DeLuca, who is now entering his 14th year as mayor, said at the meeting. “We’ve worked well together and accomplished a great deal. I know we will continue do so over the next 12 months by always putting the interests of our community first and foremost. Today I start my 20th year in office and my last year as mayor.”

DeLuca then continued delivering his 2019 State of the Township Address, a condensed version of which ran in last week’s News-Record.

After taking the oath of office, Adams and Lembrich each spoke, thanking constituents for re-electing them in November’s election and reminding residents that there is still much work to do in Maplewood and the United States.

“Most importantly to the voters of Maplewood, thank you for voting me into a second term as a member of the Township Committee,” Adams said at the meeting. “I shall continue the work we’ve begun and to tackle that not yet addressed.”

She highlighted the high voter turnout seen in Maplewood in the November election.

“Your enthusiasm and turnout in the midterm election resulted in the highest number of votes garnered by a Township Committee member in more than a decade, those for me and Mr. Lembrich,” she said. “That energy propelled Democrats to victory all the way up the ticket. I am grateful to and humbled by everyone who turned out to vote. We know that voting is the most important right we have as citizens in our republic and the most important responsibility we have to assure our democracy remains strong. We know what can happen when voters don’t turn out. We know what can happen when voters are disenfranchised, when voters are removed from the rolls and ballots are not counted. We require an active and engaged electorate to ensure these irregularities will not continue.”

Lembrich also thanked residents for the high voter turnout and their confidence in him.

“Thank you to the residents of Maplewood, for not only coming out in November to re-elect Nancy and me but turning out to vote in such overwhelming numbers for a midterm election,” he said at the meeting. “Much as Nancy and I would like to think the record-shattering turnout was due to enthusiasm for our re-election, we know that the message our residents wanted to send extends far beyond our town.”

In her address, Adams detailed her rise to elected office and encouraged other women to become more active in the community and in politics.

“Prior to moving to Maplewood in 1989, I had not thought of myself as a civic volunteer or a local activist. I had opinions about policies and politics on local and national issues; I wrote lots of letters to the editor. I voted but I had not been actively involved on a local level. As most women my age, I was busy having babies, caring for my children and my family, and making ends meet,” she said, before discussing all the ways she was able to volunteer and engage with Maplewood. “I share this for all the women and mothers out there who think they can’t get involved or make a difference in their community: You can and the sacrifices are worth it in the accomplishments for the community and then setting an important example for your children.”

Adams also spoke of her first three years on the Township Committee, which she described as an “open, welcoming and affirming community.”

“I have learned that leadership comes at a cost and you can’t please everyone all the time, as we know, but that leaders will lose some friendships in their efforts to serve fairly. But leaders will gain new friendships by having the opportunity to meet many new people through their service,” she said. “I’ve shown that I’m not afraid to advocate the topics and issues that are important to our residents, even when they are not the most politically expedient choice. I admit that I am a passionate public servant, not a strategic politician, and I’m proud of that designation.”

In his address, Lembrich focused heavily on state and national politics, praising Maplewood residents for their involvement and issuing a rallying call for even more action.

“In the 12 years I have lived here in Maplewood, we have always been an engaged and active community, but it has truly been inspiring to see the rise of activism and civic participation in the last two years. In addition to voting in record numbers these past two years, our residents worked all over New Jersey and beyond to help campaigns and played a significant role in districts outside our own,” he said. “We took it to the next level and achieved incredible results; 2017 and 2018 were memorable years, including many things we may wish to forget, but we have also seen strong reminders of hope and humanity particularly right here in Maplewood.

“This is an important moment for local government and an exciting time to be a part of it,” he continued. “Our federal government in Washington is not only figuratively broken but quite literally shut down. Even worse America is suffering through a failure of education and community morals. On a near-daily basis, we face assaults on our values, the principles we thought we all shared as Americans: civil discourse, equality, decency. We see humanitarian crises turned into national security issues, public health emergencies treated as crimes, climate change dismissed as fake news and racism treated as just another opinion. Many of us have the privilege to bemoan that America has changed, but some among us know all too well that it has not. The darker parts of our nation’s soul merely have been given permission to come out of the shadows. It is up to us to punch holes in that darkness and to ensure that sunlight, which Justice Brandeis called our best disinfectant in fact, still shines. We are in the midst of a tempest but there is no one I would rather struggle through the storm with than my neighbors here in Maplewood and my colleagues on this Township Committee.”

Reminding residents that Maplewood is not immune to the issues being seen nationwide, Lembrich stressed that the township will continue to work to reform its police department and restore trust in law enforcement, and work with the school district and Board of Education to address segregation and support capital improvement projects.

“Over the past three years that I have been a member of this committee, we have faced difficulties that have caused us to clearly realize that Maplewood is not immune to many of the problems impacting our larger society,” he said. “I hope that we have emerged scarred but smarter, reminded that we cannot rest our laurels or reputation and that we must live our principles and not just proclaim them.”

Lembrich hopes that in the coming year, Maplewood will continue to speak out on national social issues and serve as an example to other communities.

“We must also continue to take positions of moral leadership on guns, health care, immigration; we must collectively resist the Trump agenda,” he said. “We need to be vocal and when warranted defiant in defense of progressive principles. We shall remain a welcoming community. We will stand up for our Haitian neighbors, our Latino neighbors, our African-American neighbors, our LGBTQ neighbors. We will stand in solidarity with our fellow cities and towns in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty to announce that we still lift our lamps beside the ‘golden door.’”

In addition to taking care of business for the new year, the Township Committee also recognized Maplewood youth who have stood up and spoken out on social issues and who have worked to make Maplewood, New Jersey and the United States a better place.

“It is a Maplewood tradition that we bestow a theme to our annual reorganization meeting and that we’ll dedicate it to a group or organization that really carries out and embodies that theme,” Committeeman Dean Dafis said at the meeting. “As some of you may recall, when I was elected last year, when I was sworn in, the theme was equity and justice and unity and community and we dedicated that to SOMA Action and SOMA Justice for their efforts in building community. This year, we decided to honor and acknowledge and celebrate the great youth in our community, our young activists, those who are emerging as our next leaders as great, remarkable agents of change in our community. We decided accordingly to dedicate this meeting to our very own Youth Advisory Committee and to SOMA Action’s Student Leadership Committee.”