The Passing of Former Mayor Richard Goldberg

Hawthorne’s second-longest serving mayor, Richard S. Goldberg, 69, passed away Saturday evening.  Goldberg was a Republican who began his foray into Hawthorne’s political sphere in 1997, becoming a councilman and rising to become council president.  A jeweler by profession, Goldberg was “semi-retired” but had been in declining health over the years.  Nevertheless, he was frequently seen at functions around the borough right until his last days.  His political career spanned 24 years, 13 as mayor.  Goldberg won a special election following the resignation of Patrick Botbyl in 2008, being successfully reelected each time thereafter.  In 2021, he announced he would not seek re-election, ultimately being succeeded by the current mayor and fellow Republican, John V. Lane. 

Goldberg had said he wanted to “calm” politics when he first took over after Botbyl, and under his leadership, Hawthorne underwent a period of governmental stability, also marked by external change.  Many residents credited his genial personality as being key to his ability in bringing together different parts of the community.  

“Richard was a beloved figure in our town and an integral part of the fabric of this community,” Mayor John Lane said in a letter to the borough. “From his roots in Jefferson Elementary School, to Little League coach, to Council President, to Hawthorne’s second longest serving Mayor, his impact will never be forgotten. The Borough family mourns this terrible loss of our colleague, and more than that, our friend.” 

Since assuming office, the borough of Hawthorne has grown to be more ethnically diverse, and under Goldberg’s administration, the municipality of 19,000 saw the establishment of a Pride Alliance.  Goldberg weathered controversy over the placement of the rainbow flag.  Striking a compromise between those who wanted it flown at the Municipal Building, and those who did not want it flown on government property at all, the borough officially raised it for the first time on a special pole built by the Volunteer Ambulance Building.  Hawthorne built the Boro Bandshell under Goldberg’s watch, providing free entertainment for residents, and the community’s own holiday—Hawthorne Day—has grown and thrived.  Mayor Goldberg worked with local Marine veteran and author Paul Chepurko to initiate a street-naming program, recognizing all the fallen servicemen from Hawthorne with a sign near where they lived. 

The borough of Hawthorne had been described by Motovo Real Estate magazine in 2014 as the “fourth most boring” town in New Jersey, a title which the mayor absorbed with some degree of amused pride.  The reality, however, is that Hawthorne is not a one-horse town, and was not immune to periods of high tension.   

The summer of 2020 was broiling not only from the heat and coronavirus, but also from nationwide unrest and demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  In early June, a large Black Lives Matter march was held in Hawthorne, culminating in speeches and, at times, fiery rhetoric at the Municipal Building.  Mayor Goldberg, along with Police Chief McAuliffe, addressed the crowd.  “Peaceful protestors know that they, too, can participate without fear.  I’m proud to be the mayor of such a diverse community,” he told local news at the time.  “The Hawthorne of 2020 is not the Hawthorne of 1950.  The Police Department of 2020 is not the Police Department of 1950.  They are better educated and better trained.” 

Politically, Goldberg proved himself more than up to the task of campaigning and winning.  Only Mayor Louis Bay II, whose uninterrupted municipal reign lasted from 1948-1988, served in that office longer—and Bay never faced a popular vote, as the borough had been a commission-style form of government until his departure.  On the local level, Goldberg never lost an election.  In 2011 he launched a bid for the State Assembly to represent LD-38, but came up short against Democratic rivals Tim Eustace and Concetta Wagner.  He did not attempt another bid for higher office. 

Like all mayors, Goldberg also led Hawthorne through the COVID pandemic, sending out twice-a-week, and then weekly, letters to the residents to appraise them of the ever-evolving situation, encouraging residents to maintain safety precautions and to get vaccinated.  A pragmatist and a moderate, Goldberg did not embrace the widespread anti-mask and anti-vaccination sentiment held by large segments of the Trump-aligned Republican Party. 

In the 2021 and 2023 elections, Goldberg continued to serve as Republican Municipal Chairman.  Hawthorne Republican incumbents were able to defend their seats against increasingly robust challenges from Democratic opponents. 

Neighboring officials offered their sympathies to the Goldberg family and the borough of Hawthorne as a whole. 

Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed Khairullah described Goldberg as “…a true gentleman.”  The Muslim Democrat said of his Jewish Republican counterpart, “I had the pleasure of working with him on issues of mutual interest in our towns, such as the repaving of Prescott Ave, which was ignored for decades, and the establishment of a library agreement between Prospect Park and Hawthorne.  We worked together during the COVID pandemic where all mayors from the county came together to work as a unified front to deal with the effects of the pandemic on our communities. We send our condolences to his family and the Hawthorne community.” 

In Dubai attending the COP28 conference, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh released a statement, saying, “I will miss Mayor Goldberg’s wit and wisdom. During the pandemic, we partnered to help get our residents vaccinated. He was a noble public servant and a cherished friend.” 

“Mayor Goldberg was a good friend for years,” Congressman Bill Pascrell said of the late mayor. “We always worked well together even coming from different parties. He only cared about our community. His sense of humor was the best there is. I just saw the mayor two weeks ago and he looked terrific so this is terribly unexpected. This is a blow for our community, and I send my warmest condolences to the mayor’s beautiful family.” 

Former State Senator John Girgenti, a Hawthorne resident, said that he was sorry to learn of Goldberg’s passing, and that while the two were from opposite parties, they respected each other and worked well together.  “He always worked for the betterment of Hawthorne.”  Girgenti said that, outside of the public sector, he and Goldberg were both members of the Lions Club, an organization the late mayor felt passionately about.   

Goldberg’s name also is found on the Hawthorne Boys and Girls Club: at the time, a tribute to their patron, and now it serves as a lasting memorial. 

Neighboring Republican Mayor Randy George of North Haledon hailed Goldberg’s demeanor and ability to build close ties between the boroughs. “Rich Goldberg was the kind of mayor every town wants: accessible, agreeable, worked for the people, while keeping in mind any kind of financial impact. I was proud to say he was my friend and a mayor I could work with. Hawthorne and North Haledon did a lot together and he made it very easy. He will be missed. I thought the world of Rich.” George credited Goldberg for delivering water from Hawthorne to a North Haledon development, working together closely with their police, building department, water department, and with tax collection.  “All this inter-relationship started with Mayor Goldberg. He was very in tune to agreements beneficial to both towns. He was that kind of leader–someone who worked to find solutions. You could learn a lot from Rich, he was a good man.”

During Goldberg’s time as mayor, Hawthorne was part of LD-38, represented by State Senator Joseph Lagana, and Assemblymembers Lisa Swain and Chris Tully.  Following redistricting, Hawthorne now finds itself in more-Republican-leaning LD-40.  Goldberg told Insider NJ at the time that the new district would be “a great thing for Hawthorne.” 

“My deepest condolences go out to the Goldberg family,” LD-40 Assemblyman Chris DePhillips said. “Mayor Goldberg served Hawthorne with distinction for many years.  He continued to give back to the Hawthorne community until the very end of his life.” 

“I knew Rich when we served many years ago on the executive board of our Temple,” LD-38 Assemblywoman Lisa Swain said. “He had been mayor for so long, and when I got on the Fair Lawn council we kept in touch. When I was in the assembly for LD-38 we would see each other often.  I always respected Rich, even though we were on opposite political sides.  We always got along, and we had mutual respect.  I felt very welcome in Hawthorne and will miss having Hawthorne in LD-38. I always felt a special connection to Hawthorne with Rich.”  

Longevity is a factor for political success in the borough.  Those who win, tend to continue to win, barring any major upsets such as Botbyl’s resignation.  The Republican Party under Richard Goldberg proved itself unbeatable, unquestionably deriving strength from Goldberg’s connections, personality, and institutional leadership.  Now, with his passing, the borough’s Republican political landscape will have to adapt and find itself anew in the post-Goldberg era.   

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One response to “The Passing of Former Mayor Richard Goldberg”

  1. I just happened to think of a few people that I went to school with. I put in Richard’s name and came across this account of his death. I did not realize that he had been the Mayor of Hawthorne. I wish that I had stayed in contact with any of my old classmates. We had 3 Richard’s and 6 Debbie’s in our class at Jefferson Elementary school. I send my condolences to his family.

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