HILLSIDE – An academic who learned practical politics on the streets, Angela Garretson tonight officially became the new mayor of this scrappy Union County town.
In a nod to her background as a student and teacher of public policy, Garretson assumed the oath of office at Kean University’s Hillside campus.
Her sister swore her into office while her mother held the Bible.
“I am a transformative leader,” said the new mayor, granddaughter of a domestic worker. “I challenge everyone of you also to be a transformative leader.”
Garretson defeated incumbent Joe Menza to become the new mayor. A Democrat, she relied in part on the political alliance of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-10), who backed her from the start, and tonight could happily claim victory.
After his late father lost several key local contests, the younger Payne has re-established political dominance in the 10th District.
He was Garretson’s earliest powerful ally in a hard contest.
“I told her one day you’re going to be mayor of Hillside,” Payne said of his longtime friend, referring to a conversation they had years ago.
Many Union County Democratic politicians attended Garretson’s event in a ceremony heavy on unity symbolism.
She’ll need that, sources groaned.
The mayor does not have control of the local council, and her local independent streak put her on a collision course with Hillside Democratic Chair Charlotte DeFilippo.
Union Dems appear to have embraced Garretson despite the local boss’s resistance to the new mayor.
The crowd of well-wishers and supporters tonight included Assemblyman Joe Cryan (D-20), Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-20), Assemblyman (and Union County Democratic Chairman) Jerry Green (D-22), Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp, Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, Freeholder Chris Hudak and Roselle Mayor Jamel Holley.
Newark Council Preisdent Mildred Crump also attended and spoke.
Paul Brubaker, statewide director of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), was in the room.
Elizabeth Councilwoman Patricia Perkins-Auguste acted as master of ceremonies.
She welcomed some of the more bashful politicians onstage to sit in front of the overflow crowd with a very satisfied Payne.
“She can be very complex,” Perkins-Auguste said of her friend, Garretson, “and she can just be sweet. That’s who you elected.”
State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) did not attend the swearing-in ceremony but delivered a video message of support.
Cryan was the first to welcome the entire room to join in resounding applause for the new mayor.
“That smile can light up Hillside for the next four years,” the assemblyman said.