New Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee: ‘Let’s Use 2020 to Establish a Culture of Care’ in Policing & Beyond

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On January 1, 2020, Frank McGehee was sworn in as Mayor of Maplewood, NJ. Following are McGehee’s personal remarks upon entering his mayoralty (McGehee’s State of the Township address will be published separately):

Township Committee Members, Township Executive Team, Directors and Staff, Municipal and State dignitaries, family and friends, fellow Maplewood residents and business owners.

Good Afternoon and Happy New Year. It is an honor to stand here in front of all of you today.

FIRST, I would like to acknowledge my family.

My wife Marie, my daughter Madison, my parents, brother and sister-in-law, and cousins who are present. And shout out to everyone back home in Chicago and in Haiti who I know are watching our live broadcast.

Marie, thank you first and foremost. You have made so many sacrifices so that I can stand here today. You are so strong, so accomplished and so extraordinary in everything you do. As you’ve said to me many times, leadership is lonely. Your leadership is truly exceptional and inspiring. Thank you. I love you more than words can express.

To Madison, thank you for your understanding and patience. For allowing me to share my time, dedication, energy and passion with 25,000 other people when at times you just wanted me to be your dad. The numerous days when I would leave for work in the morning and then right after work go straight to a town meeting or event and never see you until the next day. I know that being a teenager is hard and much more difficult than any generation before with the emergence of social media and other factors like code reds and code yellow drills, standardized test taking, and the constant pressure to compete and excel. I also know that you are likely cringing at this but I want you to know I will always be there for you, that you are smart, beautiful, super-talented and I love you.

McGehee and family

I want to personally thank Tom Carlson, Village President Sheena Collum, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Mary Theroux, Assemblyman John McKeon and Alex Keiser, Mayor Vic DeLuca, Janey DeLuca, Dean Dafis, Greg Lembrich, Erin Scherzer, Irving Cham, Harold Babrow, Felix Sockwell, Jillian and Stuart Ash, Amy and Rob Striem, Susan and John Sheridan, Jen and Dan Hahn, Kelly and Charlie Marks, Mary and Mike Grafing each of whom went the extra mile and made significant contributions during my campaigns.

To The Maplewood Democratic Committee, Chairman Ian Grodman, Vice Chair Garnet Hall, Nancy Adams, Fred & Sue Profeta, Maryanne Rubio, Bill Steinbrunn, David Humer, Nada Alzoubi, Leonard Robbins, Bennet Zhzshky, Shannon Cuttle, Tammy Haynie, Bruno Lee, Craig Goldstein, Kathy Leventhal, Sheila Kenny thank you for knocking on the doors throughout our town with me or getting up very early to meet commuters at the train station in the warmth of June and the chill of November.

To those who took time out of their busy schedules, Kathleen Bailie, Mayor DeLuca, Colleen Pierce Breslin, Trenesa Stanford-Danuser, Coobee Darcelin, Deborah Engel, to write letters of support for my campaign, I can’t say enough. I appreciate you and thank you.

To everyone who donated their time, money or who expressed your support with a lawn sign, thank you, your contribution was invaluable.

Finally, I want to thank my Carleton Court Family. If you are as lucky as my family has been, you don’t just move to a town or block, you become part of a tight-knit community. A community where you spend almost every weekend together whether it’s here in Maplewood, down on the shore or in the city. Our block on Carleton Court is where your kids walk to and from school together. Where your dogs, like your children, can go from house to house knowing they are welcomed wherever they go. Where you celebrate major holidays together.

Three years ago today Mayor DeLuca congratulated me on my first election and let me know for the record, that day one was in the books and that I had 1,094 days to go. Well today is day 1,096 and again I have 1,094 days to go. But what a Journey it has been.

My brother Michael serves as a police officer in the Chicago Police Department. He is in one of the most dangerous precincts in the city, working the first shift, the overnight, when there is no shortage of violence and crime. While serving his community, he always polices with respect for whoever he is interacting with and goes out of his way to talk with everyone and see their humanity. We both learned these principals from our mother, a public servant in education who passed away of breast cancer. Her legacy was to instill in us to respect and treat others as you or your loved ones would want to be treated.

In that spirit, here in Maplewood over the last three years, we have worked diligently to move forward from the events of July 5, 2016, when our youth were racially profiled and marched out of town. Since then, we have rebuilt our police department from the ground up and top down. Just last month, we promoted and celebrated Ms. Malloy to the rank of Captain. She is the highest ranking woman of color in the history of the Maplewood Police Department. Her professionalism, work and dedication to our community speaks volumes. Recently, we have hired several police officers who grew up in our community. Officers who attended Columbia High School and have a vested interest in enhancing ties between the community and the department.

We also established the Community Board on Police. Seven Maplewood residents now play an active role in the relationship and communication between our police department and community. But we are not done. We will continue to emphasize training. The Force Report, a 16 month investigation conducted by NJ Advance Media, highlighted that Black people in our community were four times more likely to face force than white people. Our training coupled with the type of officers we are selecting to hire will assist to mitigate this.

I also want to recognize our Auxiliary officers. Maplewood residents, who volunteer hours of their time on top of their personal and professional responsibilities to enhance our police operations. From directing traffic at intersections, to managing routes for numerous 5K road races, or having a presence at many of our town events such as MayFest. Our Auxiliary officers understand the importance of community policing.

Several of our officers and Auxiliary officers have gone above and beyond to enhance the open gym and mentor program I started years ago in partnership with retired Sergeant Mike Morrison. Officers have also created a junior police academy for our youth. They have also facilitated coat, backpack and food drives. These are examples of programs where the relationship between the community and the police is getting stronger. Our department culture is changing under new leadership at every rank and it is embracing community policing. Regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation of our officers, the township will work side by side with the officers and auxiliary officers dedicated to community policing to establish Maplewood as the premiere Police department in Essex county and the State of New Jersey.

Please join me by recognizing our police officers present this afternoon including Chief Deval and Deputy Chief Sally.

I want to recognize Mayor Vic DeLuca not only for over two decades of leadership and service to Maplewood, but also to the ironbound district of Newark and the greater State of New Jersey. He has led with integrity, passion, commitment and continues to be an inspiration to many. When I decided to run for office in 2016, Mayor DeLuca and I did not know each other well — so we sat down for a couple of meetings at each of our respective homes. We learned more about each other and shared our vision and passion for public service and the town of Maplewood. From those moments on, Marie and I have had the honor to get to know Vic and his wife Janey, and hold them in high regard. Vic and Janey, thank you not only for your incredible leadership but also your friendship. Please join me and give Mayor DeLuca and Janey a well-deserved round of applause.

Mayor DeLuca has forged an incredible path for the next generation of leaders. Today is about lifting up that next generation, and no I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about our youth. Many of whom are here in this room and actively participating in today’s program, which is by design.

The current climate in our country is not what it should be. And we’ve seen how hate has reared its ugly head here in our MAPSO community. Over the last three years, since I took office, we’ve marched together here in Maplewood, in South Orange, in Morristown, Newark and Washington DC. We’ve marched for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives. We’ve marched for climate change and common sense gun laws. We’ve marched and held vigils against anti-Semitism and our youth have led or played an active role in many of these efforts….Our youth have shown us that action….not SOMA lounging … the key to making meaningful change and having a positive impact. I am inspired by their leadership. So I’d like to say to our youth…Thank you….keep marching, keep fighting, keep persevering, keep challenging us and keep pushing us to action so that we can achieve even greater heights here in Maplewood, in Trenton, around the country and globally.

As Congressman John Lewis once said, “Never ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

But we can’t just put this all on the shoulders of our youth. It’s up to all of us. In September, I had the honor of speaking at the annual convocation ceremony at Columbia High School to welcome back our school district faculty, administration and staff at the start of the 2019-2020 school year. At the event, I challenged everyone in our school district to embody a culture of care when it comes to our students and especially our students of color.

Well, I’m here to ask our broader Maplewood community to do the same. And by that, I’m asking all of us to become actively engaged in our community not by tearing each other apart on social media, but volunteering your time with township committees, with organizations like the Community Coalition on Race, SOMA Action, the YMCA, the Achieve Foundation, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, MOMS Demand Action, the Urban League, RENT Party, the local NAACP chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Thee Maplewood Civic Association, the Maplewood Green Team, Friends of the Library, The Maplewood Chamber of Commerce, or your respective PTAs and HSAs. Whatever path you take, do something and make it positive.

Mayor McGehee with Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey

And we have already seen the positive results when we actively come together for a shared purpose. In 2016, I ran on enhancing pedestrian safety. In the last three years, we have accomplished many things. From the installation of stop signs where warranted, improved street lighting, the installation of signage and fencing, new drop off and pick up traffic patterns at our schools, the hiring of more crossing guards, traffic calming measures on key roads, the purchasing of traffic safety equipment, in school training on pedestrian safety and a new traffic bureau to address speeding and other vehicle related issues. We continue to push at the county level for our promised stop light at Pierson and Valley, and implement more findings from the state funded NV5 study including key areas in the Hilton neighborhood, DeHart Park, and Prospect Street. In addition, we are making intersection enhancements with a municipal aid grant to address the Burnet Ave corridor.

Barack Obama once said, “Cynics may be the loudest voices, but I promise you, they will accomplish the least.”

Let’s use 2020 as our launching pad to spend more time together in community and establish a culture of care. Let’s break down racial barriers and push back on discrimination and stereotypes wherever they exist. Let’s not just stand up for ourselves, but also for others. Our children are watching.

And before I close, I would be remiss if I didn’t pay homage to my dad who is here in the audience today. He’s been my rock and mentor my entire life, a lifelong public servant and municipal employee of Chicago. I’m honored to be his namesake and that he and his wife Yvette (also a lifelong public servant and retired Chicago Public School teacher) flew in to be here today. Please join me in wishing my dad a Happy 76th Birthday!

I am extremely humbled to be once again entrusted with this awesome responsibility to serve you on the Township Committee. I come from a family where public service is in our blood which has prepared me for this moment.

Thank you for putting your trust in me and together we will rise Onward and Upward.

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