West Orange Township Council bids fond farewell to Mayor Parisi

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — At the Dec. 20 West Orange Township Council meeting, the township took time to honor longtime Mayor Robert D. Parisi, who will be leaving office at the end of the year. 

Parisi has served as mayor for the past 12 years — and as a township councilman for 12 years before that. 

In the new year, council President Susan McCartney will step down from the council, on which she has served for 20 years, and become West Orange’s first female mayor. Additionally, on Jan. 2, Asmeret Ghebremicael and Susan Scarpa will be sworn in as the newest council members, taking the seats vacated by McCartney and Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown.

At the meeting, McCartney presented a proclamation to Parisi that detailed his many accomplishments for West Orange — “The font is so small because there are 24 years of public service built into this,” McCartney said — and named Dec. 31, 2022, as Mayor Robert D. Parisi Day.

“Mayor Parisi, we are standing here in your shadow. I believe that because you have cast such a light on our path to help us to see our way and to follow into the future. We thank you for clearing this path for us to make it easy. I think your decisions were bold and strong, and you gave us principles, integrity,” McCartney said. “I just always respected your decisions and your honesty.”

Matute-Brown thanked Parisi for all he taught her during her four years in office.

“You have inspired me as an elected official. I know you see everything that’s out there, how hard it is when they come after us personally, after our families, after we’ve sacrificed so much time. And, as my council colleague (Michelle Casalino) said, no one really realizes the amount of work and dedication, the commitment that is required, to sacrifice time away from your family, away from your personal life, to do this. You’ve done this for so long. I am really appreciative of learning from you,” Matute-Brown said, adding that, during conversations related to social justice, Parisi leads by example. “You have opened yourself up to learning and listening.”

In addition to his work in office, Parisi, a lifelong West Orange resident, was a founder and president of the Eagle Rock Civic Association, founder of the West Orange Community Pride Project, co-founder of the West Orange Alumni Foundation and a Unico member. 

“I just want to thank everyone for having the opportunity to serve. When Sheila and I walked in this evening, I said, ‘Geez, I wonder how many times I’ve been in these chambers over 24 years.’ I mean, probably a lot, but it’s been a wonderful experience. And I can’t say everything ever went perfect — life just isn’t that way, and certainly we’ve stumbled a couple of times over the years — but always with the best intentions to do what we thought was right,” Parisi said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done, I’m proud of what the next mayor and council will have the opportunity to finish. I leave with a good spirit, and I’m ready for the next time of my life.”

Business administrator and CFO John Gross presented a plaque to Parisi to commemorate his 24 years of elected service; Gross also presented plaques to McCartney and Matute-Brown.

Throughout his more than a decade as mayor, Parisi discussed the importance of working with efficient, caring people — such as those who work in West Orange — and he especially told McCartney to lean on Shari Quirk, the administrative clerk/assistant in the mayor’s office. According to Parisi, Quirk is the one who kept track of everything and kept things running.

Along with his advice, Parisi also shared his belief in McCartney’s ability to effect change for the township. 

“I just want to wish you well. We had the pleasure of working on council together for eight years and then obviously these last 12 working together in local government. And I’ve said this before, but I always remember the first time you were sworn in. I said that Sue honestly has a genuine belief that she can change the world, and I think that optimism is so important, especially as our world around us seems to become more cynical and polarizing,” Parisi said. “I think that optimism and that brightness that you’re going to bring comes at a perfect time.”

As for McCartney, she is ready to take the reins, despite some understandable butterflies.

“I am excited to start next week,” McCartney said. “I’m excited, apprehensive, nervous but anxious and ready to get started.”

In addition to bidding Parisi farewell, the township also praised Matute-Brown for her four years of public service. Matute-Brown did not run for reelection in November, as she instead ran unsuccessfully for mayor.

“You have served honorably as well these last four years and it has been such a privilege and pleasure to work with you,” Casalino told Matute-Brown. “Although a lot of times our politics don’t align, we always had great conversations and always worked well together.”

According to Gross, he will most remember Matute-Brown’s passion and collaboration.

“The last four years of getting to know you, working with you and seeing the things that you are passionate about, and your ability to understand and rethink things others are passionate about, is an inspiration,” Gross said.

Though Dec. 20 was her final council meeting on the dais, Matute-Brown assured those gathered that she is not going anywhere.

“While this is my last council meeting, I’ve committed to staying around and helping because this work is insurmountable. As my council colleagues can tell you, there is so much work and for all the reasons that people may criticize and say, ‘They don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t have experience,’ you’re absolutely right. Once we get up here, we don’t. But it is up to us, because we’re like you, wanting to make change, looking to make that change, but then when we ask for your trust and that vote, it is our responsibility to make sure that we learn to do what we do — not an easy feat,” Matute-Brown said, directing her final remarks to McCartney as she added, “Your success is all of our successes, so I certainly want to ask the community to rally behind you, as I will, to ensure your success and our town’s continued successes.”

Photos Courtesy of Joseph Fagan