EAST ORANGE - Lester Taylor III did not wait long to start taking action after being inaugurated as the city's newest mayor here Jan. 1.
Taylor had been barely sworn in by former Gov. James Florio in the Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts main auditorium when he unveiled his lineup of department heads and municipal judges.
Taylor, in his first regular workday in City Hall Jan. 2, directed that building and all city offices closed in advance of Winter Storm Hercules. He was reportedly seen sharing rides in Department of Public Works trucks and other staff vehicles to personally oversee the Jan. 2-3 overnight snowplowing and clearing.
The city's latest mayor since East Orange in 1863 was sworn in along with his slate of five returning or incoming council members before a capacity auditorium audience of 800 Jan. 1. He, all 10 council members and distinguished guests talked about how East Orange was having "a brand new day."
City residents and other interested stakeholders, however, may have to wait until the next City Council meeting - an extra session set for 5:30 and 7 p.m. Jan. 13 - for how Taylor and the council will bring that new era into reality.
Taylor, who had been a partner in Florio's law firm, personally asked the former governor to swear him in. State Senate Speaker Steve Sweeney, Cong. Donald Payne, Jr., State Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver, Assembly Members Thomas Giblin and Ralph Caputo, State Sen. Nia Gill, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, County Surrogate Theodore Stephens II and Orange Councilman Elroy Corbitt were among those at least present if not speaking.
They were either participating or witnessing what Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin called, "an event taking place in thousands of municipalities across the country - the peaceful changeover of local leadership."
Audience members, indeed, had to choose which municipal inauguration and reorganization to attend first. Maplewood and Bloomfield, for example, had their meetings set for noon and 1:30 p.m. New Year's Day.
Durkin and Fontoura, for example, excused themselves after getting or witnessing new First Ward Councilman Christopher D. James inauguration. Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren and his chief of staff, Willis Edwards III, arrived around 1 p.m. Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and Gov. Christopher Christie were declined to avail themselves of Taylor's invitation.
"That we have officials from across the state and all levels who chose to be here show their appreciation for East Orange," said city native Oliver. "All 34th (State Legislative) District representatives are here for East Orange's the core of our district. New Jersey's 10th largest city has given us so many notable people, which's why I talked about the late Judge Carter."
James' swearing-in preceded those of fellow new colleagues Romal Bullock of the Second Ward and Tyshammie Cooper of the Fourth Ward. Re-elected Third Ward Councilman Theodore "Ted" Green and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holmes were also re-inaugurated in turn.
All five councilmembers ran on Taylor's Essex County Democratic Committee-supported slate for the June 4 primary and Nov. 5 general elections. They and several guest public officials thanked city and now-county Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones for his help. They also praised the late ECDC Chairman Phil Thigpen, Sr., who died shortly after the Nov. 5 election.
Majorities of city voters chose L. Taylor's slate over four others - including that of then-incumbents Mayor Robert Bowser and Second Ward Councilwoman Virginia Cross. The fourth term Bowser, who arrived with First Lady Marilyn at 11:57 a.m., received several rounds of praise and applause.
Outgoing First Ward and Fourth Ward councilmen Jamal Barnes and William C. Holt decided not to pursue re-election. Holt, who ended two council stints spanning 20 years, received praises from the remaining incumbent council members and is set to be feted by friends at West Orange's Mayfair Farms Jan. 9.
The newly constituted council re-elected Third Ward Councilwoman Quilla Talmadge as their chairwoman for a fifth straight year. The council, during their part of the reorganization, also named "Local Talk" again as an official paper.
Taylor's turn for reorganization came by announcing, through City Clerk Cynthia Brown, the 45-day appointments of the following: Dr. Stephanie Bush-Baskette as City Administrator, Khalifah Shabazz, Esq. as Corporation Counsel, Michell Ralph-Rawls as Human Resources Director, Kim Fisher as Information Technology Director, Dwight Saunders as Property Maintenance Director, Rochelle Evans as Health and Human Services Director, Matthew Stevens as Recreation Director, Valerie Jackson as Planning and Policy Director, Michael Johnson as Public Works Director, Susan B. Taglieri as Mayor's Secretary, Victoria Walker as Chief Financial Officer, Sybonae Oliphant as Municipal Court Director, Dale Forde as Deputy City Clerk, Rita Delores Butts as Senior Services Manager and Ladonna Jones as Manager of Employment and Training.
Dr. Bush-Baskette, who headed Taylor's transition team, succeeds Jillian Barrick, who left for Perth Amboy. Shabazz succeeds Jason Holt and Oliphant succeeds Carol Hart. Saunders was a councilman.
Stevens succeeds Renee Muhammad, who was interim director since Larry Schumacher's death. Forde fills a vacancy left by Gerry Branch's death.
More staff changes may be in works, however, if Taylor's call for council confirmation of the following people for "coterminous" tenure with Mayor Taylor is to be interpreted: Bush-Baskette, Shabazz, Ralph-Rawls, Fisher, Saunders, Evans, Stevens, Jackson, Taglieri, Forde, Butts and Jones. Johnson, Walker and Oliphant's names were not submitted for coterminous tenure.
Taylor also made a wholesale change in the Municipal Court lineup some two blocks south of City Hall. Former State Superior Judge Harold Fullilove, Jr. becomes Chief Municipal Judge.
Marvin T. Braker - who has been municipal attorney for Irvington and Orange, Wilfredo Benetiz, Sherwin Campbell and Cassandra Savoy also get three-year municipal judge terms. They succeed Sybil Elias, Karimu F. Hill-Harvey, Alfred Slocum and a vacant bench seat.
In other Local Talk area Jan. 1 reorganizations:
MAPLEWOOD: The Township Committee re-selected Victor DeLuca as Mayor for a fifth straight year. Committeeman Marlon K. Brownlee was sworn into his second term.