UNION, NJ — Michele Delisfort took the oath of office as the township’s first black woman mayor on New Year’s Day, replacing Suzette Cavadas after her two-year reign and becoming the first female Haitian mayor in the state.
“It is a given that none of us ascends to elected office without the sacrifices and support of others,” Delisfort said as she accepted the post. “So, I’d like to dedicate this moment to those whose sacrifices and support made it possible for me to appear before you today as the first black female and first Haitian-American mayor of the great township of Union.”
Delisfort, who won her second three-year term to the Union Township Committee in November, said her parents, Guy and Suzette Delisfort, immigrated from Haiti and established their medical practice in Newark before deciding to raise their family in Union.
“It is certainly an immense honor for a number of reasons, but more importantly I think it’s a reflection of the diversity and growth within the township of Union,” Delisfort said in an email on Jan. 7. “It’s also a passion of mine to advocate for women and, moreover, minority women, and although as a society we have made major gains in the ranks of elected public office-holders at all levels of government, the progress has been incomplete and uneven.”
Union operates under a township form of government which consist of five members of the Township Committee elected at-large for staggered three-year terms. The committee then elects the mayor from its members for a one-year term.
In laying out the township’s goals for the upcoming year, Delisfort emphasized eliminating vacant properties and eyesores throughout the municipality as well as increasing public engagement.
She said the township will continue to fill long-term commercial vacancies like the old ShopRite and Money Store properties.
“We will no longer tolerate establishments, like the Union Theater, who are clearly not invested in growing with this township or addressing the needs and concerns of its residents,” Delisfort said at the meeting.
She said the committee is prepared to take “aggressive actions to ensure outcomes” that are similar to those of the Garden State Motel and Clinton Manor properties, if the township doesn’t see positive movement with sites such as Union Theater.
The Garden State Motel and Chuck E. Cheese sites are projected to be transformed into a Fairfield Suites hotel, a self-storage facility and a Wawa convenience store with a gas pumps; the Clinton Manor Hotel is to be demolished and replaced by a Courtyard Marriott hotel, the mayor said.
Delisfort also said construction will begin this year at the old CC Muggs and Rimmele Florist sites on Stuyvesant Avenue. They will be developed into a variety of uses including a house of worship, housing and additional retail space.
And in an effort to connect with younger residents, the committee will create a teen advisory council in the new year.
“We want to start focusing on issues facing that segment of our population,” Delisfort said. “This will range from input on redevelopment, governance and the library renovations.”
She added that the township will be working on a professionally produced and directed promotional video via Comcast to highlight “all of (Union’s) historic charm, beauty and marketable assets.”
Union, along with other towns along the Raritan Valley Line, will finally enjoy “one-seat ride” service to New York City during off-peak hours in 2019, according to Delisfort.
NJ Transit suspended its limited one-seat program — in which passengers remain on the same train to and from Manhattan without changing in Newark — in August to complete its installation of positive train control safety equipment throughout its rail fleet. The transportation agency announced in December it had completed the PTC installation, but gave no specific timetable for resumption of the one-seat service, although it projected this would be in 2019.
Delisfort also announced a review of the township’s Master Plan, the implementation of a parks, recreation and open space plan that will include improvements to Weber and Friberger parks this year. The Master Plan establishes a long-range vision for the township, according to Delisfort.
“The township of Union is fiscally, socially and economically healthy. And it is poised to do even better in 2019,” she assured the crowd in attendance on New Year’s Day.
Joseph Florio was selected for another term as deputy mayor of the committee, and Cavadas still has another year on her term on the committee.
“It gives me a great sense of pride to pass the baton to Michele,” Cavadas said in an email on Jan. 4. “Her experience and breadth of knowledge, paired with her unique ability to innovate, collaborate and problem solve are sure to help Union grow and succeed in a way that supports quality of life for all of our residents and become a preferred destination for people to live, work and play.”
In her speech, Delisfort praised her predecessor for her two years as mayor.
“Women must stick together and I pledge to continue Suzette’s good work,” she said.
The mayor focused on the development of Union Center, noting what she considered the township’s accomplishments in 2018, including the partnership with the Special Improvement District, and the Chamber of Commerce’s contribution to the success of the shopping center, with new stores such as Jammed up Bakery, OT’s Lounge, El Chingon and Dava Latin Fusion.
“The past year was very productive for the township and our plans for 2019 are even more ambitious,” Delisfort said.