Mayor Jaffer Selected to Lead Monty’s First All-Democrat Governing Board
A capacity audience of 75 people welcomed Montgomery‘s first all-Democrat five-member township committee on Thursday, January 2, representing a swift turnaround from the 2017 township committee, which had five Republican members.
Montgomery Township's first all-Democrat Township Committee makes its first hire of the new year — a Montgomery Police Officer. From left: Kent Huang, Catherine Gural, Deputy Mayor Marvin Schuldiner, new police officer Akeel Babar, Mayor Sadaf Jaffer, and Devra Keenan. Photo by Barbara A. Preston.
Newly-elected Somerset County Freeholder Melonie Marano — who recently flipped control of the Freeholder board to the Democrats — joined the audience to lend her support.
Keenan then nominated Mayor Sadaf Jaffer for a second term as major. Her motion was seconded by Huang. The committee’s vote to confirm her as 2020 mayor was four to one, with 2019 Deputy Mayor Catherine Gural casting the lone “no” vote.
Gural said her “no” vote for Jaffer was symbolic. “The main point I want to drive home is that dissent is critical, dissent is democracy," she said. "Without it, we risk being a five-member rubber stamp and that’s what we all said we never want to be. Having single-party control means the bar is set pretty high to ensure that we reject group-think and we’d leave our echo chambers behind.”
“President Eisenhower said ‘in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels: men and women who dared to dissent from accepted doctrine.’ As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion. My ‘no’ vote is not subversive but instead a vote of honest dissent and of conscience — for me leadership does not always mean being in charge,” Gural said.
Montgomery voters elected Jaffer in November of 2017, and then elected two more Democrats (Gural and Marvin Schuldiner) in November 2018, which gave Democrats a three to two advantage.
The Democrats leveraged their new-found control, and elected Jaffer mayor for 2019 — and, in doing so, elected, the first South Asian woman to be elected mayor in New Jersey and maybe even the country.
Mayor Jaffer nominated Schuldiner for deputy mayor. Committee unanimously elected him to the position.
In his opening comments for 2020, Deputy Mayor Schuldiner said his "primary objectives are ensuring the new municipal building remains on-track and that we are getting the best value on the entire project; looking into ways of reducing our sewer system costs; expanding open and transparent government including updating the township website to be more user-friendly and accessible, last but not least redevelopment of the Route 206 and Route 518 intersection, which I dub ‘The Montgomery Gateway project’ to make sure the commercial center of town is beautified and we do not have eyesores (such as the old Texaco) amidst a lot of new development."
Mayor Jaffer spoke about planning for Montgomery’s future and how the positive initiatives and many accomplishments of local students and young people inspire her daily. She then lauded community-building conversations with participation from the Montgomery Police Department “on those who have special needs in our community” and community breakfasts she hosted in March and December in the wake of national shooting tragedies linked to or considered hate and bias crimes. With the mayor’s lead and volunteers from Montgomery Mosaic, the community brunches held at the municipal building on March 24 and on December 15, organized after murders at a Jersey City kosher grocery store on December 10, drew religious and civic organizations as well as residents for an opportunity to connect with neighbors. Last January Mayor Jaffer and Montgomery Mosaic also held the first township Interfaith Holiday Celebration at the Otto Kaufman Community Center, with traditions, cultures and holidays from around the world represented and celebrated.
“Through these efforts we have made clear that Montgomery is a welcoming place where we value those of all backgrounds and experiences," Mayor Jaffer said. "Our community breakfasts have marked some of the more challenging issues that we are all facing including the rise of anti-Semitic violence in our area….Though much of my time as mayor has been wonderful, there have certainly been challenges. The truth is that we have a long way to go in terms of representation of women and minorities in government. Out of 565 New Jersey municipalities, only 78 have women as mayors. I am thankful to all those who have paved the way for me to serve in this capacity — I feel privileged to live in a community that is welcoming of differences and has trusted me to serve as a leader."