ELIZABETH – Last week the Gateway Chamber of Commerce held its annual Mayors Dinner not only naming the 25th mayor of the year but also doling out a host of awards to the brightest stars in a nonpartisanship atmosphere attended by more than 350 local officials and business owners.
Roselle Park Mayor Joseph Accardi took the honor this year of mayor of the year, while Carl Riley, Police Director in Plainfield, was honored as public safety official of the year.
Eleanor McGovern of Fanwood took the business administrator of the year award. Kathleen Miller Prunty of Cranford won Economic Development Director of the Year and Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp was selected as the much coveted best speaker of the night.
Accardi was gracious in accepting the honor of mayor of the year, noting he was “humbled, grateful and honored” to receive this award.
He gave credit to borough employees and community members for all he was able to accomplish in this, his last year, as mayor.
The Gateway Regional Chamber of Commerce is the largest business association in the New York and Northern New Jersey region, comprising 12 regional and local chambers. With 1,200 members, Gateway has a 95 percent retention rate, the highest in the country.
On the silver anniversary of this annual event, elected and municipal officials alike, along with business and corporation representatives from each town, milled around the grand ballroom at the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel chatting and enjoying an evening that brings out just about every municipality.
Noticeably missing was Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, who has not attended in many years, but the city was not without representation. Elizabeth Board of Education members carried the torch for their city, while Carlos Trujillo, a board of education member, spoke about his fair city. Also not present was any representation from Springfield.
Mayors, business administrators, economic development leaders and public safety officials mingled prior to the dinner, renewing old friendships, trading barbs and generally commiserating with those who understand and sympathize with how difficult it can be to operate a municipality.
The celebratory nonpartisan atmosphere seemed to pervade every facet of the room, with elected officials on both sides of the political fence greeting one another warmly and with candor.
This year after a gourmet dinner of braised spareribs over creamy mashed potatoes and heirloom baby vegetables, each mayor, or those speaking on behalf of their municipality, took the microphone to give a brief overview of how things went in their community over the past year.
James Coyle, Gateway president, explained why the chamber puts on this annual event and more importantly why each mayor is given an opportunity to praise their municipality for a job well done.
“Each year the mayors or their designees share with the audience the accomplishments of their communities, including the challenges they have overcome,” said Coyle. “With the impact of the recession still being felt by many municipalities, which in many cases have been caught between reduced tax bases and less state aid, the creativity that these leaders have shown in budget management and economic development is deserving of this celebration. Municipal leadership always is demanding yet often thankless. Once a year we try to say thanks.”
But while some speakers preferred to modestly share the advancements their municipalities had made, others pushed the envelope, much to the delight of the large and often boisterous audience.
Although former Hillside mayor Joe Menza lost his bid for reelection, who year after year managed to surprise and often shock audience members with theatrical and much anticipated entrances prior to speaking about his municipality, he still attended the event. As did his cohorts.
Newly elected Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson, however, did not attend, leaving the door wide open for Councilman Pateesh Freedman to take hold of the microphone and take a few swipes at how things have changed since Garretson took over as mayor.
“Hillside is on the move,” Freedman began, but quickly brought laughter from the audience when he continued by explaining why.
“Three township clerks moved in, and three township clerks moved out. A new business administrator moved in, and two heads of the department of public works moved out,” said the councilman, adding that a new director of personnel moved in, but council “kicked her out.”
“The health department moved from upstairs to downstairs, the labor attorney was kicked out but we moved her back in. We had an old chief of police but now a new one moved in. They thought they moved Charlotte out, but she is still in,” said Freedman, referring to local municipal chairwoman Charlotte DeFilippo who has run the political scene in this municipality for many years.
Although every mayor had interesting tidbits of news to share about their town and most had plenty to say, each was very careful to avoid going over the time limit and risking getting “the gong.” Except for one – Garwood Mayor Patricia Quattrocchi, who after getting “the gong” continued to speak until the microphone was wrestled from the firm grip she had on it.
While other mayors managed to fill their time allotment with the usual banter, missing from the speeches this year was Menza, who in the past dressed as a king and was carried into the banquet hall on a platform by his “minions.”
“That was a quite an entrance, wasn’t it” Menza quipped, admitting he is still behind the scenes and working hard for the township of Hillside.