MONTCLAIR — As teams of candidates canvassed the Township’s neighborhoods today, outgoing Mayor Ed Remsen went to work at his day job.
There’s a small chance that the Montclair government could turn over completely today, with 22 candidates competing for the mayor’s office and six council seats. And after eight years in local government – four as mayor – Remsen has a chance to sit back and watch members of the slate he formed four years ago fight it out today.
Remsen listed some of his accomplishments during his four years on the council and his four years leading the body as mayor – a position that essentially amounts to a slightly more powerful councilman. From the moment he was elected, Remsen said, he only intended to serve four years. And he’s accomplished 75-80% of what he set out to do.
Under his reign, the council began the redevelopment of a downtown department store, helped build three parking decks, reducing response time to residents’ complaints, renovated parks and playgrounds, among other things.
“We put together a very specific, strategic thing saying this is what we want to get done during this term,” he said.
Now two of the members of Remsen’s 2004 slate – Deputy Mayor Joyce Michaelson and Councilman Ted Mattox — are fighting to succeed him. So is political newcomer Jerry Fried, who took over the mayoral bid of Councilman Gerald Tobin after the two agreed that they could capitalize on an anti-incumbent feeling in a town that hasn’t reelected a mayor since residents began voting for the office 24 years ago.
Remsen endorsed Michaelson, but hasn’t campaigned for her today. The extent of his campaign day activities will be a visit to her poll watching party tonight. He is passionately opposed, however, to Mattox, who filed a lawsuit against the city charging ethics breaches and pay-to-play. Remsen called said he acted like a “wild man” and said putting him on his slate was his “biggest mistake.”
Remsen is neither nostalgic nor particularly relieved to end his term as mayor. But he has some advice for his successor.
“Have a very clear idea of what you want to get done and write it down, because the weeks and months of the years fly by,” he said. “It’s hard to be productive unless you’ve got a really clear idea. You want to balance coming in with a game plan with getting the input of a lot of people.”
Remsen also warned not to try to come up with positions to appease everyone. It’s just not possible in this six square mile town with a very heterogeneous population of about 40,000. Montclair is religiously, racially and economically diverse – and so are its residents’ opinions.
Moreover, he said, don’t let those with different opinions walk all over you.
“You’ve got to have an incredible sense of humor, and you’ve got to give respect and receive respect,” he said. “I never wanted to sit up there and be everyone’s Tuesday night punching bag.”