New members take their seats on Metuchen council

Dyas tapped as council president; Cammarano to fill Vahalla’s council term


METUCHEN – After 12 years, the borough has a new mayor in addition to three new faces.

In a private ceremony on New Year’s Day and a second ceremony during the Jan. 6 reorganization meeting, Thomas Vahalla, 58, took the reins as mayor of Metuchen.

Vahalla, who served on the council for 14 years, replaced longtime Mayor Edmund O’Brien, who announced in February that he would not seek a fourth term as mayor.

O’Brien’s last day as mayor was Dec. 31, 2007.

Counc i lwoman Cathy Totin, who has been on the council since 1996, also announced she would not seek another term.

Republican newcomers Christopher Morrison, 42, and WilliamWaldron, 39, took their respective places on the dais, which had been filled by Democrats since 2001.

In a close race in November, the newcomers beat Democratic Incumbent Alan Grossman and former Councilwoman Beatrice Moskowitz to fill the three-year council seats on the council.

Peter F. Cammarano, former chief of staff to former Gov. Richard Codey, was nominated and chosen over nominees Suzanne Andrews and Theodore Grabowski to fill Vahalla’s unexpired council term, which ends Dec. 31, 2008.

Although council members said they felt all three nominees were qualified and would each bring a wealth of knowledge to the council, they unanimously voted in favor of Cammarano.

“We are at a rough time as a small community, with consolidation concerns that could hurt us; I believe Peter is the best candidate since he knows what’s happening in the state at a financial standpoint,” said Councilman Richard Dyas, who was chosen as council president.

Vahalla began the ceremony by explaining to the audience of approximately 100 borough employees, former mayors, former councilmen and councilwomen, police officers, fire officials, Board of Education members, residents, and family and friends, why he held the private ceremony on New Year’s Day.

“After the fire [that destroyed] La Rosa Pizzeria [on Middlesex Avenue, Dec. 23], I didn’t want people to be confused about who was in charge…the buck stops here; I was on duty if there happened to be an emergency,” said Vahalla.

The pizzeria had been a staple in the borough for 30 years.

The audience included O’Brien; former Mayor DonWernik; former Councilwomen Beatrice Moskowitz, Marion Price and Ann Sardone; former Councilman Leonard Roseman; Superintendent Theresa Sinatra; Metuchen High School Principal John Novak; Board of Education President George Trapp and board member Ron Grayzel; Police Chief James Keane and Police Capt. Robin Rentenberg; Fire Chief Robert Donnan, and Deputy Fire Chief Timothy Getty.

Getty was sworn in as the new fire chief for the Metuchen Fire Department, and Donnan was sworn in as deputy fire chief at the reorganization meeting.

Vahalla thanked O’Brien directly for his service.

“I appreciate your 21 years of service,” Vahalla told O’Brien. “You have led the borough in a great direction and have set a great foundation.”

In his address, Vahalla said the borough was at a crossroads.

“We need to balance the budget and keep our services,” he said.

Vahalla called downtown Main Street the borough’s biggest asset.

“We need more events to highlight our downtown to bring more people into our businesses,” said Vahalla, who suggested hiring an event planner for the borough. “With the Renaissance development [at the intersection of Middlesex and Central avenues and Middlesex and Lake avenues], we need to plan for a connection – a town center green.”

Developer Renaissance Properties’ plans to spend $70 million to develop the 5.85-acre site with residential units, and approximately 20 retail tenants including a grocery store, Boro Ace Hardware, and a bank located within the D-1 (Downtown Development District) zone.

Vahalla said the borough needs to address parking issues for the short and long terms that would enhance the businesses, and said he approached the fire department to conduct a study to provide permanent improvement of older residences and buildings.

“This is not an attempt to intrude on homeowners,” said the new mayor. “This is a way for the borough to designate and help preserve the homes and buildings.”

Vahalla said the borough is moving forward with greater discussion.

“We will provide a ‘Mayor’s Minute’ on Metv-22 to keep everyone updated on what is going on in the borough, and we have started to provide Borough Council meetings on the Web site [],” he said.

Vahalla concluded that he doesn’t have all the answers to the problems in the borough, which is known as “the Brainy Boro” (acquired after a competition against Glen Ridge for the title) and sometimes known as the hole in the donut (Edison Township).

“We will hold discussions that will lead to solutions to the problems,” he said.