Township Council Reorganizes; Onyejiaka Named Deputy Mayor

Township Councilman Charles Onyejiaka, right, is given the Oath of Office for Deputy Mayor by state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen at the Jan. 6 Council reorganization meeting.

Township Councilman Charles Onyejiaka made history January 6 when he became the first West African to be voted in as Deputy Mayor.

Onyejiaka (D-Ward 3), has been a member of the Council since 2016, when he was selected to fill the one-year unexpired term of Mayor Phil Kramer, after Kramer’s ascension to the mayor’s seat.

The reorganization also saw the swearing-in of Kramer and At-Large Council members Kimberly Francois, Crystal Pruitt and Sivaraman Anbarasan.

Francois and Pruitt retained their seats in the November election, while Anbarasan was newly elected, filling the seat once held by Rajiv Prasad.

Attending the reorganization was a bevy of political heavyweights, including state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-12), Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-16, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, state Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman, Board of Public Utilities member Upendra Chivukula, and Peg Schaffer, chairwoman of the Somerset County Democrats.

Also attending were a number of local officials from towns in the region.

In his comments after his swearing-in as deputy mayor, Onyejiaka said that he was “up to the task” of the added responsibilities he’d have.

“This shoe is my size,” he said.

In his comments, Kramer emphasized the importance of township residents filling out their 2020 Census forms, and also touched on the recent gun violence in the township.

Kramer said that township officials cannot release information about ongoing police investigations.

“It is the elected officials’ responsibility in the long run to ensure there is support for law enforcement and the community,” he said. “As the administration of our force returns to local control, we will be endeavoring to fill our ranks with highly qualified officers that reflect the diversity of Franklin so that our police can be as involved with our people as much as possible.”

“We hear you, we care, and we are there for you,” Kramer said. “Now let’s get to work.”

Francois said that it has been her “privilege” to serve as a Councilwoman for the past 16 years.

“My passion and mission in serving as an elected official, has always been to improve the quality of life here in the township,” she said.

“I appreciate the voters’ support and confidence in me, and I look forward to four more years,” Francois said.

Being a Council member, Pruitt said, “has always been, and will continue to be, a mission of service for me. Being able to serve the community I was raised in is a tremendous honor and one I will not take for granted.”

“2020 is a year that our values will be tested,” Pruitt said. “But I will perform my duties as your Councilwoman At Large with a steadfast commitment to each and every person in this community, and I will use my voice to speak up and dismantle the systematic power structures that keep people oppressed.”

“Pruitt said that she “will dedicate myself to issues of public safety … not just with my words, but with my actions. I will be a bridge. I will continue to build relations between our community and our police department. I will stand with you, men and women in uniform, and I will invest in our first responders.”

Anbarasan said he would help the Council hold the line on taxes through strategies such as economic development initiatives, business development expansion, job training programs and other efficiencies.

“Our town is one of the most diverse towns in the state,” he said. “I plan to start a scholarship to promote and support the underrepresented in public service, especially public safety. This is a lofty goal, but with your help” it can be achieved, he said.

“I promise to put the people first and build on the successes that this council has built for us,” he said. “I will govern with transparency and integrity with our strategies to forge this township forward.”

Danielsen gave a full-throated endorsement of the Council.

“I can say from the bottom of my heart the nine members of our Township Council are great people,” he said. “They’re hard-working. I can personally attest that they will always be listening, always be responsive to you, always be diverse, always work hard and always deliver the best results they can for the people of Franklin Township.”

Coughlin said he was honored to have taken part in the reorganization by swearing in some of the members.

“Franklin is a large, important community, but I think I think more importantly is, it’s a model of what a municipal government ought to be,” he said.

“The work that this mayor and this council has done in stabilizing taxes, in being diverse, in finding new and better ways to serve their citizens year after year after year is really something we ought to try to emulate throughout the entire state of New Jersey,” Coughlin said.

Chivukula noted that he was first elected 22 years ago, and was the first Asian to serve on the Township Council.

“Franklin Township has grown and is very diverse,” he said. “Along with that comes additional responsibilities, in terms of security, managing finances and providing services. Just want to take my hat off to you as public servants. And don’t forget the public in public service.”

Here are some scenes from the evening:

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