MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Giving thanks this holiday season is bittersweet for some as they thank Maplewood residents Jerry Ryan and Kathy Leventhal for their many years of service on the Maplewood Township Committee and prepare to say farewell.
In November, newcomers Greg Lembrich and Nancy Adams, both Democrats, were elected to fill Leventhal’s and Ryan’s seats. Leventhal had opted not to run for re-election, while Ryan was defeated in the primary.
Ryan and Leventhal participated in their last Township Committee meeting on Dec. 15, which Ryan presided over in a throwback to his time as mayor.
Ryan has served on the committee for nearly 20 years, with his first run lasting from 1992 through 2003 and his second from 2009 through 2015. He served as deputy mayor from 1994 through 1997 and as mayor from 1998 through 2000. After all his years on the committee, what Ryan said he will miss most is his connection with the township.
Ryan told the News-Record in an email interview that he will miss “working closely with, and helping out, the people that volunteer and serve throughout the township.”
Deputy Mayor Leventhal has served for 12 years straight through from 2004 through 2015; she has served as deputy mayor for the past seven years. Leventhal also said she will miss the human connection, telling the News-Record via email that she will miss “the interactions with so many different people in Maplewood; the challenge of learning from those who opposed me; the amazing staff of our town; (and) the work with my colleagues.”
Just as being connected with residents is what Ryan and Leventhal will most miss, it was fostering that connection and becoming more in tune with their neighbors that inspired them to run in the first place.
Leventhal said she was inspired to run by “all the volunteer leadership work I did in the town, especially the League of Women Voters presidency and development of the Domestic Violence Response Team. I wanted to do more. When I ran in 2002 and lost, I was in awe of the freedom of being able to seek office, and decided to try again in 2003 to campaign to win the trust of my fellow Maplewoodians.”
In her time on the Township Committee Leventhal told the News-Record that she is most proud of her environmental and quality-of-life work, especially with the Open Space Trust Fund to preserve and support Maplewood’s natural areas and with the Maplewood Green Team. The retired nurse worked with the Green Team to help achieve the Silver Sustainable Jersey certification for the township create the Maplewood Loves Wellness Program.
Leventhal feels that she accomplished the goals she set for herself when first running for office.
“My primary goal was to lead the residents and businesses in town in an open and objective way,” Leventhal said. “I feel I accomplished my goal by seeking and listening to the opinions of others. After this and digging into learning about an idea or a concern, I feel my vote on issues was the best outcome for most of Maplewood.”
Like Leventhal, Ryan’s inspiration to run for public office stemmed from a desire to be more a part of the township’s inner workings, but unlike with her, his forward momentum began with a negative experience.
“There was a member of the Township Committee that criticized an opinion of mine because he said I was a ‘newcomer’ who didn’t appreciate the town,” Ryan said. “The idea that a six-year resident who was an active volunteer in the community was a ‘newcomer’ whose opinions didn’t matter offended me, so I got involved in helping people run for office, then eventually running myself.”
In his nearly two decades on the Township Committee, Ryan told the News-Record that he is most proud of increasing transparency; working to rezone, revitalize and rejuvenate the business district on Springfield Avenue; and especially fostering partnerships between local government neighborhood and business groups, as well as helping to launch the Maplewood Village Alliance, the Springfield Avenue Partnership and the Community Coalition on Race.
Ryan also feels that he accomplished everything he set out to do. “I wanted to make local government more open and transparent and more connected to the community, and I think I helped to accomplish that,” Ryan said.
And their fellow committee members certainly applaud the work accomplished by Ryan and Leventhal as well.
“It’s been an honor to serve with these two exemplary Township Committee members. I was Jerry’s running mate for the first time in 1997 and Kathy’s campaign manager during her first election in 2002,” Mayor Vic DeLuca told the News-Record in an email. “Maplewood is a better place due to Jerry and Kathy’s contributions. I hope both will stay involved in our community.”
Committeewoman India Larrier told the News-Record it has been “a real honor and privilege to serve with these two people for four years. I am better for it.”
Committeeman Marlon K. Brownlee is thankful for the years he has served alongside them as it allowed him to learn from them and witness their passion for the township.
“I believe that the greatest accomplishment for both Kathy and Jerry has been their unflagging determination to do what is best for Maplewood as a whole, and doing so for so long while upholding the best of standards in their conduct of township affairs,” Brownlee told the News-Record via email.
“I know that I have been fortunate to have served with both of them, and that I have been the beneficiary of their deep knowledge and love for Maplewood as I have considered my decisions on the many issues that have arisen during the time that we have served together.”
Larrier agreed wholeheartedly with Brownlee’s assessment.
“Kathleen’s legacy on the TC will be her total care for this township, as was shown in practically everything she did,” Larrier said. “Her determination to promote the town’s environmental competence is second to none. What’s more, she made this more than just talk and routinely walked the walk.”
Larrier commended Leventhal for her environmental work and bringing Maplewood Loves Wellness to life. She also praised Leventhal for her endless integrity, always choosing to do what was right over what was easy or advantageous to herself.
“I will never forget her call to me when I first ran to TC,” Larrier said. “She said how excited she was that we would be working together. She made me feel at home and at ease, though I hadn’t even won the election yet! After that, she was instrumental in helping me complete my public health degree. Maplewood is better for her being in government, and will benefit from her for years to come.”
Larrier also voiced her belief that the township will benefit from Ryan’s service for many years.
“His ability to synthesize information and spit it out in an understandable way — immediately — will always astound me,” Larrier said. “Despite his knowledge and general smarts, I never felt like I could ask him a stupid question. And I generally came away with a better understanding for having asked him questions.”
Like with Leventhal, Larrier also commended Ryan’s integrity, saying he “would do what he felt would positively impact Maplewood — even to the detriment of his own self-interest.”
“While it’s likely he felt angry and disappointed when people derided and sometimes slandered him, his ability to largely shrug that off publicly without returning the ugliness was a lesson for me,” Larrier continued. “His neverending sense of humor is legend and sincere and will be missed on Tuesdays.”
DeLuca will miss his colleagues as well, citing their many accomplishments and positive attributes.
“Kathy is one of the most ethical and dedicated elected officials you will find,” DeLuca said. “She cares about the entire community and works as hard as anyone who has ever served. Kathy was a leader in the effort to make Maplewood more sustainable. She also led the way on many different healthy living initiatives and pushed us hard to enter into shared service agreements.
“Jerry is someone on whom you can count,” DeLuca continued to the News-Record. “When he gives you his word, it is as good as gold. Jerry has consistently supported that arts and he understood municipal budgeting and financial issues better than most. Jerry was a proponent of a ‘One Maplewood’ approach to governing, making sure all corners of the community were provided with the same high quality of public services.”
As for the committee’s newcomers, Adams and Lembrich, the two retiring committee members wish them all the best.
“Give it your all,” Leventhal advised them, saying she hopes they find their service fun.
“I was going to joke that the universal law of politics is probably ‘friends come and go, but enemies accumulate,’ but I suppose they already know that,” Ryan said. “I think that I would advise them to enjoy the journey.”
As the township gets to know its new committee members, it will continue to benefit from the years of service given by Jerry Ryan and Kathy Leventhal.