New Year’s Day Message from Mayor Robert H. Conley
January 2, 2017
Before I start my comments, let us take a few minutes to reflect and remember those who we have lost over the past year. Barbara Stevenson, founder of Madison’s Farmers Market; Sal DeBiasse, former Water Foreman, 38-year Borough employee; Ruth Hammann, active leader with the Senior Center and St. Vincent’s; Bud Holzman, veteran and long-time member of the Patriotic Celebrations Committee; Andrew Hurley, father, volunteer soccer coach; Tony Martell, whose promise to raise one million dollars gave birth to the TJ Martell Foundation and over $270 million to fight cancer, leukemia and AIDS. In the past few weeks, we have lost Leanna Brown, Freeholder, State Senator and with her husband Stan, a passionate supporter of the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts. We also lost 94-year old Nancy Sodano, who lived downtown for the past 67 years. Each of these people made their mark in our community. Please take a moment to reflect on their lives along with others who we lost over the past year.
Thank you to Javier Viera, Dean of the Drew University School of Theology for your invocation. Our town and gown relationship is so important so it was an honor to have you join us today. Thank you to Elizabeth Monkemeier for our National Anthem and to Captain Jeff Pettitt for leading our Pledge of Allegiance.
Pat Rowe, welcome to another term serving the residents of Madison. And welcome to Maureen Byrne as you take your record of volunteerism to another level. Welcome back to our other returning Council members, Carmela Vitale, Bob Landrigan, Astri Baillie and Ben Wolkowitz.
Before I give you a look at the new year, I would like to update you on a few goals I had outlined a year ago. In my message on New Year’s Day 2016, I had put forward the challenges we faced with our Downtown and with preserving historic homes and the character of Madison. I am happy to say we have made progress in those areas.
In the first quarter, we will have the results of the market study being conducted by Urbanomics, a consulting firm specializing in developing downtowns and businesses. This study will provide us with a roadmap to a stronger, even more vibrant town center. This is all occurring as the Green Village Road School Redevelopment project is moving towards a late summer completion which will give us 135 residential units in downtown along with a 3,000 sq.ft. community space for music, drama, art shows and other Madison events.
The challenge of preserving our historic homes and neighborhood character will not be an easy one, but we made progress in 2016. A symposium that was conducted was attended by over 60 Madison residents. Presentations from experts and group discussions have given us great ideas for preservation. Planning Board member Jeff Gertler has taken the lead in working with developers, realtors and others to find ways to save our special homes, while keeping a balance with property rights. Already we have seen progress as Alan Andreas, Madison developer and participant in the symposium, revised his project on Ridgedale Avenue. This project had been viewed as an example of the loss of an historic home. Now with the revision and approval by the Planning Board, the historic home will survive.
As I sat down to prepare my comments for today, I thought of a question that I am often asked; “What are you most proud of so far as Mayor?” My answer is that, when the time comes, my legacy should be based not on what I have done, but how we have worked together to make Madison a better place.
During my time up here, the Council has not always agreed on a path, but has worked together towards a solution. Yes, there may have been a bit of tension at times, but respect would always triumph. For those who only follow Madison, this is not necessarily the norm found in other communities. The “how” was demonstrated in November as this Council approved a new electric rate adjustment process despite strong opinions on how to achieve this goal.
On a broader scale, it is how Madison as a community continually goes above and beyond. We saw it in the days, weeks and months after Sandy. We see it every year on May Day. We saw it just over a year ago as Madisonians lined the streets to honor Captain Joe Cirella as his funeral procession passed through town. We saw the how with a Black Lives Matters March this fall. In the front of the march, walking with the student leaders were Police Chief Darren Dachison, Pastors Craig Dunn of First Baptist Church and Scott Foster, Madison Presbyterian Church along with MaryAnn Baenninger, President of Drew and me as Mayor of a town that works together for the greater good. This is how we work together in Madison.
This past Saturday, many of us welcomed 2017 by saying “good riddance” to 2016. We will not turn our backs on the challenges we have seen over the past year, but instead we will do what Madison does best, work together to make a better community and world.
As we start our new year, Madison’s Interfaith Council under the leadership of Reverend Craig Dunn and Reverend Scott Foster working with Drew University and the College of St. Elizabeth is taking on the challenge of building community. Events will start with the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday and will be followed in the coming months with what may include a peace march, musical celebration of diversity, cultural exchanges and ethic food festival. All with the goal of breaking down walls and barriers while building community. Just as Madison welcomed immigrants a century ago, this is the how behind what makes Madison so strong and hopefully in the coming years will make our world a better place. And if you don’t think that 16,000 residents can make a difference, remember Tony Martell’s promise to raise a million dollars, a challenge he accepted with no idea how he would do it. A promise that led to his legacy of raising a quarter of a billion dollars. Together in the spirit of Madison, we can make for a better world.
And now let’s all start with a Happy and Healthy New Year!