Mayor: Even in a year of COVID, Montclair’s spirit unbroken
Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller delivered his State of the Township address Tuesday night at that evening's township council meeting.
In his address, he touched on the recent riot at the national Capitol building, the impact of President Donald Trump's ending presidency, the 62 Montclair lives lost so far to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, a rent control ordinance a Superior Court judge recently ruled can go into effect, and a several other issues.
His prepared remarks, as provided by the township, are below.
My fellow Montclair residents. It is my great honor to address you this evening on the state of our township.
While I would like nothing more than to be spending tonight speaking about the roads we have paved, the miles of water and sewer lines we have replaced or our AAA bond rating, which saves residents millions in tax dollars and provides dollars we invest in in our township. This year is a year like no other.
So, we need to discuss the impact of COVID and I need to take a moment to address the events of the past several weeks.
On January 6th, we witnessed something that many of us never thought we would experience on American soil.
In an act of abject cowardice, and in betrayal to his oath of office, Donald Trump and his allies orchestrated a failed, but deadly insurrection in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election.
While our democracy is often imperfect, it is sacred. We must protect and nurture it. We cannot not let those who wish to tear it down in the pursuit of power and oppression succeed. We must hold them accountable.
I thank our representatives in the House, Mikie Sherrill and Donald Payne and our Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker for remaining steadfast.
While dealing with the events of the past two weeks, we are still facing an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, the likes of which we have never seen before.
The Coronavirus pandemic has upended virtually every aspect of our lives, and our society.
Restaurants and small businesses which form the heart of our downtown have been ravaged.
Many have been forced to close their doors. Some will never reopen.
Our world-class public schools have moved to remote learning since March. Our children have had to adapt to a new normal socially and emotionally.
Healthcare professionals and frontline essential workers have answered the call, working tirelessly day and night, putting their own safety at risk to serve and protect us all.
Our residents have endured economic hardship, from reduced income to complete unemployment.
The social connections we depend on have also been affected. Our seniors are vulnerable, and in the name of safety, isolated.
Our family connections have been strained, with elderly parents unable to visit with their children.
We know that often families have been unable to visit loved ones in hospitals and long-term care facilities.
Friends, neighbors, and children are now meeting over Aoom instead of in person.
Most of all, the pandemic has been measured in lives lost.
Tragically, 62 of our fellow Montclair residents have succumbed to COVID-19.
Their loss is deeply felt.
In the face of this unimaginable challenge, Montclair has responded with the strength, caring and resilience for which our community is known.
It is from our community’s response that I draw a deep optimism that together, we will manage and get through this crisis. We are relying on each other like never before and we can and we will emerge stronger.
Montclair has revealed itself to be the very best of what we aspire to be.
I am encouraged by our local nonprofits, like Toni’s Kitchen, headed by the incomparable Anne Mernin, who expanded their mission and helped more people than ever before.
I am encouraged by our educators, parents and students, who adapted to remote learning and continued to support a first-class public education for our students.
I’m encouraged by our institutions of faith, who stepped into the spaces of need to help with social supports for those most vulnerable.
Of course, our local government, in coordination with our partners at the county and state level, including Governor Phil Murphy, worked to address the pandemic head on. We instituted virus testing and tracing and coordinated with local health providers. Thankfully, leading to the recovery of 1,320 Montclair residents and the limiting of the virus spreading to countless others. We increased funding for critical services and local organizations, and we provided more than one hundred fifty thousand dollars in direct grants to hard hit businesses throughout Montclair.
Coming together, looking out for one another, putting the needs of the community before our own, that’s what the Montclair ideal is all about.
I could not be more proud of our township, or more honored to be entrusted to serve as your Mayor.
After more than ten months of enduring the single greatest public health and economic crisis of our lifetimes, after experiencing challenge after challenge, our spirit remains unbroken.
Our values remain intact.
The state of our township is strong.
However, the crisis is far from over, but now thanks to the amazing efforts of scientists and healthcare professionals, a safe and effective vaccine is here.
Ensuring the urgent and expedited distribution of the vaccine is job number one for all levels of government.
And, thankfully, with a new administration headed by President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris taking office tomorrow, I have every expectation that will happen.
Essex County has already commenced a robust vaccination program, starting with healthcare workers and vulnerable populations.
Our county executive, Joe DiVincenzo, and Commissioner Brendan Gill have been instrumental in making Essex County among the most prepared in the state.
By all accounts the vaccination process is smooth and painless and an example of solid planning.
To date, almost 800 Montclair residents have been vaccinated with the county goal being to provide 30,000 vaccinations per week through all the county sites. Of course, we will need additional vaccination supplies from the federal government and we will continue to support and press for that to happen as soon as possible.
As Mayor, I am committed to working with our partners at the county, state and federal levels to ensure we do everything we can to defeat this pandemic once and for all.
One of the key steps we’ve taken at the township level is the formation of the Mayor’s COVID-19 Recovery Taskforce.
The taskforce has been given the charge of identifying needs within our community, liaising with local businesses and non-profit organizations, as well as reviewing the whole-of-government response to this public health crisis.
I’ve appointed Montclair residents David Pascrell and Shante Palmer to co-chair the taskforce. I thank them for their dedication to Montclair.
They, along with nearly two dozen other talented and dedicated volunteers have hit the ground running.
They have successfully pushed the Department of Community Affairs to modify guidance around winter tents for our restaurants, they have created information sharing networks to provide information on available grants, they have surveyed our nonprofits and small businesses to understand needs, and much more. I look forward to their continued efforts
The last year has shown that our township is not an island unto itself but instead we are tied to a shared destiny with our neighbors across the state and country.
The actions of the state and federal government impact our lives, and in turn the actions we take locally have an impact far beyond our borders.
In fact, communities throughout New Jersey look to Montclair as an example of what progressive, forward-thinking local government is capable of.
Now, over the last four years, the administration in the White House has been nothing short of a failure.
A failure of leadership, a failure of collaboration, and worst of all a failure of conscience.
Beyond the divisive rhetoric, there have been federal policies and executive actions that have actively and senselessly caused harm. But we have pushed back.
When Donald Trump used the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, commonly known as ICE, to intimidate communities like Montclair, we responded.
By passing a resolution to make Montclair a welcoming community we sent a clear message to D.C. that no person is illegal, and that Montclair will not be bullied.
Similarly, when the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court indicated that a woman's right to choose was in question, Montclair pushed back.
I was proud to join Governor Murphy, legislative leaders, and reproductive rights advocates to support the Reproductive Freedom Act, which declared in no uncertain terms that a woman’s right to choose is hers and hers alone.
I am grateful to so many in our community who joined in that effort, in particular my council colleague Lori Price Abrams and Montclair residents Marcia Marley of BlueWave NJ and Erin Chung of Women for Progress. Additionally, Councilwoman Price Abrams has developed a resolution in support of that effort. Thank you for standing up.
Another initiative I’m particularly proud of is the enactment of the first ever common sense rent control ordinance in the history of Montclair.
Diversity is a part of what makes Montclair such a special place to live, work and raise a family.
And it’s no secret that our community is a desirable place to live for just that reason.
While we have worked hard over the last eight years, with great focus from Deputy Mayor Hurlock on reducing our debt by over $60 million dollars, thereby limiting tax increases for residents and maintaining affordability, left unfettered, rising rents threaten to diminish the very diversity that we cherish.
If Montclair becomes an enclave only for the wealthy, we will lose a part of what makes our community special.
That’s why I stood together with local advocates, the Tennant’s Organization of Montclair and my council colleagues, to pass this first-of-its-kind ordinance.
Reasonable, common sense rent control regulations are long overdue. I’m proud to have helped lead the effort to finally make sure tenants are protected.
I want to thank Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock and also a long-time advocate around this issue, Councilman At-Large Bob Russo for their steadfast commitment to this critical item.
At the core of our diversity is the recognition that we are all one, but we each have different needs.
The Coronavirus has impacted every community, but we know minority and lower income communities have been particularly affected.
Recognizing this need, the township partnered with the Neighborhood Development Corporation and the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence to establish the Montclair Community Enrichment Center which has helped students and families better manage the challenges posed by remote learning.
Neighborhood Development Corporation Executive Director Al Pelham and my council colleague David Cummings were the driving forces behind this effort. Thank you Al and David.
This past year also saw the realization of some projects that have been in the works for some time.
We were able to open a new skate park by repurposing part of the Rand Tennis Courts.
Our high school students and other youth were able to push for a skate park that provides young people a dedicated area to meet, play, and try out some new tricks.
Especially in this year when indoor activities have been all but impossible, the outdoor skate park has offered a much needed respite and opportunity for exercise.
Councilwoman Robin Schlager was a tireless advocate for the skate park, as she is for so many important issues. Her advocacy along with the MHS Skating club and Skate Essex helped bring this project to fruition. Thank you.
Also, I must acknowledge one of our newest council members, Peter Yacobellis. Although relatively new to Montclair, Peter has jumped right in, offering thoughtful input and robust engagement with constituents. He helped lead a Shop Local campaign that the Council put forward to assist local businesses during this difficult time. Thank you.
In the coming weeks and months, I will continue to provide updates on local government and in particular the progress of vaccination efforts and availability. If you are interested in more of the exact figures and statistics of our town in regard to Covid-19, these videos will provide you such.
These video updates will be available on the town website and social media channels as well as on Sean M. Spiller on Facebook and YouTube.
The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed many longstanding weaknesses in our society.
Persistent economic inequality, disparate access to healthcare, and deficient infrastructure support are systemic challenges we can no longer afford to ignore.
As we begin to recover from the pandemic, we must seek to replace band-aids and short-term fixes with long-lasting sustainable solutions.
Local government will have a pivotal role not only in recovery, but in building back better.
We need smarter and more efficient investment in infrastructure by the federal government here in Montclair to supplement the work we have done.
We need more creative public policy around equal access to economic opportunity.
We need a more compassionate, human-centered government overall.
And we need to do all of this while continuing to make Montclair even more financially sustainable.
Generational change and progress start with the seeds that are planted at the local level.
We, in Montclair, are up for the challenge. We are committed to creating a better tomorrow.
As you have heard me say many times before, Montclair is more than just a place.
It’s an ideal.
Preserving that ideal, in our hearts, in our actions, and in our local government is our collective mission, and it is my promise to you as your Mayor.
Thank you. And may God bless Montclair and the United States of America.