Livingston Mayoral speech 2021
Before I give my remarks, I have a few people to thank as well. In addition to all those Rudy mentioned, I’d like to thank my family. My wife, Cindy, who lets me do this, and my boys Jack and Leo who get to have Dad home a little less often. I love you all. I’d also thank my parents Barbara and Warren who live in town, as well as the rest of this Council, Ed, Michael, Al and Rudy for all their hard work and support. Ed, I always appreciate our discussions and know that those talks help us arrive at smart choices. Michael, you know how much I enjoy working with you and I really appreciate the different perspectives that you bring to the table. It makes us all better. Al, we will keep laughing. If there’s a dry joke out there, your box will always be the first one I look at on the Zoom. Rudy, your many years on this council have given you wisdom and institutional memory, which are invaluable in helping us to lead Livingston. It was a tough year to be mayor, but it would have been tougher without you. And thanks to Commissioner Pat Sebold who has always looked out for me and helped guide me along the way.
To the residents of Livingston who have elected me twice – and the many of you who have already sent warm congratulations on my second mayoral term – I thank you as well. As I have said many times before, I love this town. As an ophthalmologist, I count many of you as patients and I care for your vision; as your mayor, my goal is to have a vision for this town.
These have been dark and difficult times in Livingston, New Jersey and the world. In the short term, we face a world-wide pandemic and broad economic difficulties. Over a longer time frame, we must address the crisis of climate change. This Council is here to serve this town, but big issues cannot help but come to the fore when you care about your family, your neighbors and this country. With all of these challenges, what are we to do?
Livingston, Job #1 is to get vaccinated. For nearly everyone, getting the vaccine is a medical no-brainer. If you do not get the vaccine, you will get the virus. So you have to ask: would you rather deal with the side-effects of the virus or the side-effects of the vaccine. The vaccine may give you a sore arm and the second shot may make you feel flu-ish for a day, but then you should be set. The virus could kill you and even if it does not, 10% of infected people become long-haulers with cardiac, pulmonary and even psychiatric problems due to brain inflammation. And also, you could transmit the virus to other people which could kill or sicken them, and, of course, our depressed economy will not fully recover until we have herd immunity. So go get vaccinated. Further information can be found at Essexcovid.org.
Additionally, on this January 14th, the Township will host on-line Covid and vaccine forum with medical experts and county officials to help answer all of your questions so please keep an eye out for that.
Clearly, this is a year of public health emphasis, but the town’s other work still needs to get done as well. This Council will continue to listen to, and work hard for our residents. Budget is always a top priority. And we will keep our budget under control as we have since I have been on the Council. These past years, town government has actually gotten smaller as taxes have increased at a rate below inflation – a major accomplishment given that we have many fixed costs. And in 2020, we were particularly mindful of the economic pressures facing our residents, so, with the help of our fantastic Town Manager, Barry Lewis, we had a 0% increase in our municipal tax rate. And, of course, we provide the basic services that Livingston residents expect: The water runs from your tap, garbage gets picked up and there is excellent public safety.
But there is so much more to do: We have to fight for smart development in town. When surveys are done, one of the common comments about Livingston is that we have no downtown. Well, with smart design, we can. Building mixed use development along S. Liv will create the vibrancy we would all like to see. Smart design means having people live near where they shop and eat.
I see a Livingston with lots of trees, people walking to restaurants and eating outside, safe streets for bicycles. We are not a doing a good job when developers build hundreds of units outside of walking distances. That just creates more traffic, dirtier air and keeps people secluded to their homes and their cars.
In addition, we also have our part to play in dealing with larger issues. Fighting climate change cannot be aspirational for us. It needs to be done at a bare minimum and everything else we do should be in consideration of that. We have fought hard to make sure that Livingston is a leader in NJ on climate. I spear-headed the charge – and was supported by this entire Council – to make Livingston one of the very first municipalities in the country to use the collective bargaining power of our households to purchase energy on the open market. In doing so, we were able to provide the majority of our residents with 100% renewable energy. And this was done at a nearly 10% discount for our rate payers, saving almost $1m collectively. That program ended in the fall but here’s more good news: We recently accepted bids for a new 18-month energy aggregation program which will start up in March for our PSEG residents. There will be a public meeting providing further details on this on Jan 19th – but remember there’s nothing you need to do to participate. It will happen automatically.
This past year we purchased 20 acres of open space to preserve from development. One of those spaces is the Licari horse farm off of Northfield. We think the lower levels could be a wonderful place for summer camp activities and we are considering efforts to re-wild the upper part of the property. If we succeed in re-wilding these grounds, Livingston would provide an outstanding example to the rest of the state and the country in providing park space for our residents as well as habitat for our wildlife.
Also, we should take steps to encourage green building construction. By most accounts, the carbon footprint of our buildings is second only to transportation. Working with our new Township Attorney, Jarrid Kantor, we can create ways to incentivize the development of buildings with tighter envelopes, solar readiness and diminished gas usage. Livingston can lead on this.
So we can protect our environment but we also have to make sure it is welcoming one to all those who live here. 2020 was a year which cast a brilliant and, at times, glaring light on our diversity and the issue of equality. This Council is dedicated to ensuring a safe and just community. I am particularly proud of our Police Chief, Gary Marschuetz, who has been a model for the state in this regard. We will continue our flag raisings, we will continue our diversity festivals, and we will support social justice.
Just before lockdowns began, my wife, Cindy and I went to a Broadway show – those were the days. We saw To Kill A Mockingbird which was terrific. There was a character in the play who said that he had been wrong because he used to think an optimist was a kind of eye doctor – but I think maybe he was right: An eye doctor can be an optimist. 2021 is going to be a great year. It will start tough, but, we can start to be excited about opening back up, renewing old friendships, going out to a restaurant or bar and enjoying good times.
After a long winter, I always get Spring Fever. Can you imagine, if we all get vaccinated, that our Spring Fever could be from the warm weather and not the virus? That would be something! Thank you, Livingston! Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!
Senator Cory Booker Intro
I cant think of anyone more exciting to have here today to administer my Oath of Office. Senator Cory Booker is someone I have huge admiration and affection for and if 2021 gives us many reasons to be optimistic; he is the living embodiment of that sentiment. He always believes in the best of us, he always leads with love. And he showed that to the nation and the world as he ran for president in this last election. On top of all that, as a Star Wars geek – I have to mention – that his girlfriend Rosario has just been named as the star of a new Mandalorian spin-off. Busy times in the Booker household!
So it is wonderful to have Senator Booker here with us (at least virtually – that’s still the best we can do for now) to swear me in as Livingston’s new mayor.