NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—For the first time in four years, New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill intends to give a speech detailing the “State of the City,” an act that was once an annual tradition but faded away during his sixth term in office.
The speech will follow Cahill’s “swearing in” ceremony, currently scheduled for 11:30am on the top floor of City Hall at 78 Bayard Street. The ceremony is open to the public.
“Mayor Cahill will also give a State-of-the-City Address discussing progress and accomplishments in the City of New Brunswick over the past year,” reads the official statement from City Hall.
Along with his running mates, City Council members Rebecca Escobar and Kevin Egan, Cahill will take the oath of office for his four-year term. Both Escobar and Egan are beginning their second terms on the Council.
If the ceremony is anything like the 2011 swearing-in ceremony, Escobar and Egan will also make short speeches.
All three faced no opposition in the 2014 elections, a first for Cahill, who usually faces at least one challenger in the Democratic primary or general election.
When Cahill was sworn in to his sixth term on January 2, 2011, the Mayor gave a 27-minute “State of the City” address in the auditorium of New Brunswick High School, continuing a tradition he participated in for several years.
The 2011 speech was the first in recent memory that was not be documented by any news outlets. New Brunswick Today had not yet come into existence.
“While 2010 was a challenging year for municipal government in New Jersey… New Brunswick has been able to forge ahead,” Cahill said.
“The next four years may hold some of our greatest challenges, but it will also provide some of our greatest opportunities,” he said.
He was right the four-year span would be challenging. Among the scandals his administration faced during his sixth term were:
- voter fraud and theft charges against a police lieutenant, who was later demoted
- the indictment of the former head of the police department’s internal affairs unit
- a theivery scandal at the parking authority that was questionably prosecuted
- a vice principal who was sent to prison for stealing fees paid by students
- the police killing of an unarmed city resident in 2011, and numerous other police controversies
- the city’s chief housing inspector, who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in his city vehicle
- an admitted cover-up and failure to notify the public of problems with its water
- a car crash where a city SUV driven by the Fire Director injured three children
Cahill also predicted correctly that the 2010 US Census would reveal that the city’s population would exceed 50,000 for the first time.
But some of the Mayor’s statements just don’t hold up four years later.
Calling it “the next phase of the overall transit village initative,” Cahill touted his plan for a downtown supermarket.
“With all approvals and financing in place, we will now begin the tranformation of an underutilized area of downtown New Brunswick into a state of the art mixed-use building comprised of a 58,000-square-foot, a 45,000 a supermarket, and a 1,200-car parking garage.”
TheFreshGrocer opened in November 2011, but closed in May 2013 after racking up $1 million in debt to its landlord, the New Brunswick Parking Authority.
Cahill did not mention the supermarket operator by name in the January 2011 speech, but New Brunswick Parking Authority head Mitch Karon confirmed later that same month that it would be the Pennsylvania-based FreshGrocer company.
“This project will create hundreds of temporary construction jobs and more than 370 permanent jobs,” Cahill said in the 2011 remarks.
The grocer’s closure also calls into question those figures. When the store closed, it claimed to have less than 100 employees.
Cahill also said the project would include “a direct connection to the eastbound NJTransit traing platform” and “an enclosed pedestrian bridge,” a plan that is still in the works.
The Mayor also indicated the large parking deck component of the “Wellness Center” would effectively replace the Ferren parking garage, which the Mayor described as “primed for redevelopment” in 2011.
That garage closed for good this year, sparking several different visions for redevelopment of the large site in downtown.
Cahill spoke of “future redevelopment as a major commercial/office/retail and residential mixed-use project.” Currently, officials are still working to find financing and prepare the abandoned parking garage for development.
The Mayor also said he would “remain steadfast” with his efforts to demolish two of the city’s historic theatres, the Crossroads Theatre and the George Street Playhouse and replace them with a mixed-use skyscraper “standing tall in the city’s skyline” and two new theatres.
Those plans have largely been stalled since they were first announced in 2007.
“There is no better location in New Jersey today than the Ferren Mall and Cultural Center sites,” said Cahill, who mentioned some 500 units of housing were “in the pipeline” including 120 units that would be “affordable.”
Among the plans in the works Cahill discussed, many did become realities including a new community center in a city-owned firehouse. After months of delays, the community center opened this past summer.
Cahill also pointed to allegedly successful construction projects, both recently completed and those underway at the time, including buildings that would later become known as the Vue, the George, The Easton, Providence Square II, and 10 Plum Street.
Other plans, however, such as the rehabilation of Recreation Park, have not yet been realized, though the city has devoted time and money to that effort.
Cahill also discussed his vision for “a new Remsen Avenue streetscape,” one of the campaign promises that was partly fulfilled.
First elected in 1991, Cahill continues to serve as while also practicing law through a private firm and reaping income from investment properties. Among Cahill’s clients is the Milltown Ford Avenue Redevelopment Agency.
Prior to 2013, the Mayor was also in charge of appointing the members of the city’s struggling Board of Education, which controls many more jobs. But voters decided to take that power away and annual elections are now held every April.
Cahill earns just $40,000 in the part-time Mayor position, where he commands a city government with ten departments, over 400 employees, and an $80 million annual budget.
No Mayor has served for a longer period of time in the city’s history.
“See New Brunswick has always been my home,” said Cahill, before listing the places he grew up: Schwarz Homes, Handy Street, Juliet Street, Raritan Gardens.
Cahill said he eventually settled down in the Rutgers Village neighborhood, where he raised a family with his wife Laura.
“I’ve learned one thing for sure: New Brunswick is truly unique and special,” said Cahill, choking up.
“That I should have a chance to contribute something of value, somethign of substance to the hometown I love, the only place I’ve ever called home, is a magnicent opportunity that I will continue to heed with all my energy.”
Cahill briefly outlined some of the aspects of his political platform during the remarks:
- to build and improve our housing and our neighborhoods until every resident has a clean, safe, and affordable home
- to put more of New Brunswick’s residents to work than ever before
- to improve the quality of, and access to healthcare and a healthier lifestyle for all our residents
- to build the best new schools to give our children the opportunity to excel
- to provide the absolute best in services at the absolute the best cost
- to make the city… a better place to live for all of us
“As always, we will give it our all,” Cahill said.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.