CHESTER – Mayor Janet Hoven said Phil Murphy made her cry today.
But for the Republican mayor of this quaint Morris County community, these were tears of happiness.
Murphy announced today that non-essential businesses, which were ordered closed when the pandemic began two months ago, will be allowed to reopen Monday morning for curbside pick-up.
Not only that, the governor gave a complimentary “shout out” to Hoven, saying she gave him “articulate and responsible” input about the need to help “mom and pop” businesses.
“Truly, it brought tears to my eyes,” Hoven said about a plan that would reopen Chester businesses. And as soon as the governor spoke, the mayor said her phone blew up with calls and texts.
Hoven said she had the governor’s contact information from a visit he made to Chester two years ago, so with things getting dire in the borough she reached out to him.
Chester is a town where the economic punch of COVID-19 has been pretty nasty. Main Street is filled with an assortment of antique and gift shops, a number of small eateries and not a whole lot more. As Hoven observed without sarcasm, if you take away what’s non-essential from downtown Chester, you don’t have much left.
Hoven, who spoke in a phone interview soon after Murphy made the announcement, said she feared that if Main Street businesses continued to remain closed, they would not open again.
That threat is now over.
The governor also announced that non-essential construction can resume as well Monday morning and that “drive-in” and “drive-through” parties and gatherings can begin immediately. There’s one caveat – people must stay in their cars.
The governor has been under growing pressure to take steps to reopen the state. He insists he has a tough skin and that the criticism doesn’t bother him.
At the same time, he said today that April tax revenues were off the budgeted amount by $3.5 billion or 60 percent. Federal help may be coming, but it also would behoove the state to ramp up business
activity where it could.
Nonetheless, the governor insisted the steps he took today were predicated not on economic necessity, but on health data.
Hospitalizations and the number of individuals contracting the virus continue to decrease. Still, Murphy said there were 1,028 new cases and 197 additional deaths since Tuesday’s briefing.
Regarding more reopenings, he said, “We can’t go full bore. We’re not going full bore.”
To understand one problem that may lie ahead, it’s helpful to look behind.
Tuesday was municipal election day in dozens of municipalities with non-partisan forms of government. All elections were vote-by-mail.
And all didn’t go smoothly. There were allegations of fraud in some places and also apparent problems with mailed ballots taking a long time to reach their destination.
Murphy didn’t dispute the reports, adding that he’d have something to say about elections in the next few days.
With the re-scheduled July 7 primary about eight weeks away, this is not an idle concern.
Even in a pandemic, the public expects fair and honest elections.