2022 Mayor's Annual Message

File Jan 09, 10 20 49 AM

2022 BOROUGH OF MADISON ANNUAL MESSAGE
FROM MAYOR ROBERT H. CONLEY

Thank you to the Reverend Susan Ironside, the Rector of Grace Episcopal Church for the invocation, the honor guard of the Madison Police Department. Thank you also to Boy Scout Troop 7 for leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance and a big thank you to fourth grader Madeline Snider for singing the National Anthem. 

Welcome to those who are in the Council Chambers with us and to all who are joining us virtually. For those who are here in person, I appreciate you wearing masks and checking your temperatures before entering the Chambers. I want to thank Russ Brown, our Building Code Official and handyman par excellence for working this past week to build new Council tables to allow us to social distance. The reorganization is a special meeting and we so much wanted to be in-person to thank Astri and witness the oath of office for Deb Coen and Eric Range. 

I want to thank Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill and former Council Member Carmela Vitale for sending their virtual well wishes and our legislative team, Governor Dick Codey and Assemblyman John McKeon for joining us today, and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, who is with her newest grandchild, but here in spirit. Thanks also to our County Commissioners who are attending virtually.

So here we are in the dawn of a new year, having gathered with our respective families on New Year’s Eve to curse 2021 and to say good riddance to a difficult year, the same routine we followed last year and the year before that and the year before that and so on. It seems that my annual message, starting with New Year’s 2012 (two months after SuperStorm Sandy) often followed that theme, saying goodbye to a rough year and having high hopes for the new year. I guess that is not a bad way to approach life, using the lessons of the past year to drive your hopes and dreams for the coming year.

Speaking of lessons, we just thanked Astri Baillie for service to Madison, 18 years over two 9-year stints and last year Carmela Vitale stepped down after a similar run. Our two longest-serving elected officials in Madison’s history and my honorary big sisters in Hartley Dodge, always ready with advice and counsel or to talk me off a ledge. For the first time in over 20 years we will be without either Astri or Carmela’s wisdom and experience at the Council table. We know where to find them, so as we face the new challenges we won’t forget our friends who guided us through the previous challenges. 

Over the past few years I have taken the time to recognize the passing of long-time residents. This past September, we lost Carmine Toto, Jr., called irreplaceable by the Madison Eagle - a media headline that no one disagreed with. If a man is judged not only by the lives he touches while living  but also by the legacy he leaves behind, then Carmine was the best. His family and friends made sure that this year’s Christmas parade would be the greatest and the tree lighting would be incredible. We all know that Carmine was smiling down on that tree, the family Christmas tree that he planted many years ago and he is smiling down on Madison. As we face the challenges of 2022, let us think of Carmine, who would often greet us with, “I have an idea.”

Talking about how special Madison is, I have to mention our last Council meeting of 2021. In a time when yelling at town and school meetings has become too commonplace in other towns, Madison again has demonstrated how we are different. We don’t yell at our meetings, we approach things differently here. In fact we had a song during our last comment period of the year, The Twelve Days of the Drew Forest. We are different in such a good way!

Speaking of the Twelve Days of the which Forest, last year in my comments, I mentioned the challenges that small liberal arts colleges such as Drew were facing, this has certainly come to light in the past year. Drew was established in 1867, 22 years before Madison was incorporated. Over the years Drew has had a major role in the evolution of Madison, part of what makes us the best place to live in New Jersey. Known as the University in the Forest, we will work with them to ensure that they continue to provide quality college education, serve as an economic engine not just for Madison, but for Morris County all while remaining the University in the Forest, the forest that helps recharge our aquifer, clean our air, and provides a refuge not only for wildlife but also for us as we look to escape the crazy world around us.

Also last year I discussed the strength of our Downtown. This year we had CBS in town for small business Saturday, showing off our great shops. This became a great springboard to the holiday shopping season. As large malls fade in popularity, Main Streets are coming back with a vengeance. We are already known for our walkable and welcoming downtown, and as we reconstruct the Cook Plaza parking lot and start the discussions on how to reimagine Waverly Place, we have an opportunity to make our downtown even more vibrant, a regional magnet for visitors and shoppers. Please be ready for the opportunities to be part of this process.

I closed out last year’s message by stating that the rollout of the vaccine was offering a light at the end of the tunnel. The Omicron variant has now reminded us just how long this damn tunnel is, not to mention how life has changed forever.

Borough revenues continue to be down especially in areas such as parking income and the office world has shifted to a hybrid model forcing us to rethink Giralda Farms. These will continue to be challenges for 2022 and beyond. 

Yesterday we were enjoying 60 degree weather and right now Atlantic City is cleaning up from a foot of snow, reminding us climate change must be addressed. Over the coming months, you will hear of Madison’s commitment to once again lead the way with climate change just as our regional plastic bag ban became part of the momentum that led to the statewide ban. 

Thank you all who are here today and those joining us online, and thank you to all our virtual guests who shared their wishes for the new year and a special thank you to all our elected officials and volunteers who have stepped forward to serve Madison, the best place to live in New Jersey.

If you haven’t received your vaccine yet, it is time for an easy New Year’s resolution; get a vaccine and if you haven’t been boosted, make that your resolution. By working together we can make it a Happy and Healthy New Year for all.