The mayor of Verona leads Town Council meetings, but has to work at governing Verona just like any other Town Council member: There are no special legislative powers that come with the role and only a minor extra stipend. The mayor also performs a lot of ceremonial tasks, like reading proclamations and officiating at events and weddings. The Town Council, not the general voting public, chooses the mayor and the task is usually civil. Not so this year, because of a loud citizens campaign, online and in the Council chamber, to name Christine McGrath as mayor.
McGrath could capably perform the duties of mayor in Verona. Since she was first elected to the Council in 2019, she has become a visible presence at community, school and sports events. She has educated herself in how municipalities like Verona are governed, and gotten to know the county, state and federal officials who can be key partners for our town. But the pressure campaign to put her at the center of the Town Council dais is at odds with the rules that govern the Town Council and past customs.
Verona’s code says that the mayor “shall be chosen by ballot by majority vote of all members of the Council.” Candidates are nominated and voted on at the reorganization meeting, which will be this Saturday, July 1, at noon. If, after five ballot rounds, Council members can’t come to a majority decision, the Council member who got the most votes in the last election becomes mayor. McGrath’s supporters, however, want to jump right to the top vote-getter part of the rules and have alleged that a “boy’s club” or, worse, gender bias, is keeping her from getting the job. There are three men on the Council now–Alex Roman, Jack McEvoy and Chris Tamburro–and two women: McGrath and Cynthia Holland.
McGrath was the highest vote getter in the May 2023 election, with 1,703 votes. Roman finished second with 1,657. Both substantially improved their showing from the 2019 election when they were also on the ballot. Then, McGrath had 1,344 to Roman’s 843; but when Roman was first elected in 2015 he got 1,448 votes, good enough for second place.
Kevin Ryan, a former Council member, noted on Facebook this week that the top vote-getter hasn’t always become mayor. Ryan finished first in the 2013 municipal election, but Bob Manley, the third-place finisher, was voted to be mayor 3 to 2. Ryan did ultimately get two turns as mayor, 2015 to 2017 and 2017 to 2019, even though he finished second in the 2017 municipal election.
Commenters at Monday’s Town Council meeting were focused on McGrath’s first-place finish in May. Some also cited a June 22 article by the political news website New Jersey Globe that alleged that the Council was divided on gender lines and would pass over McGrath at the July 1 reorganization. “It would be an embarrassment if this male-dominated Council decides against this woman as mayor,” Larry Iannuzzi said of McGrath. “Gentlemen, Councilmen, stop playing gender games,” said Rob Gottstein. “The ideology of our next mayor should fit the current and growing diverse population of Verona.”
In response, Roman cautioned against a rush to judgment. “For those who are jumping to gender bias as a potential issue, I would say simply correlation does not imply causation,” he said. “There are differing ideologies and belief systems on the Council. But I would very much deny that there’s anything caused by differences in gender between Council members; certainly I would not like that to be the way we work together as a group. I have the utmost respect for everybody that I work with up here.” Roman is the outgoing mayor.
Noting that he had not been contacted for the Globe story, Councilman McEvoy was more blunt. “If you’re going to talk about a gender thing, I’m going to go back to several years ago, when we had a Councilperson who was Jewish. He was the deputy mayor for two terms, [but he] wasn’t mayor. He didn’t come out and say everybody else on the Council was antisemitic. That’s exactly the same situation that we’re being put in here.”
In her summary of Monday’s meeting on a non-government website she created, McGrath posted a link to the Globe article. But, when asked by email for this story whether she believed gender bias was at work, McGrath deflected.
“In terms of allegations of gender bias in the mayor selection process, I cannot comment on the motivations of my colleagues, and the process to select the mayor has not concluded,” she wrote. “My colleagues can speak unambiguously for themselves. As for concerns that residents have raised, I can only say that they deserve to have a clear view of the criteria their elected representatives are using to select our next mayor. When this process concludes, they will draw their own conclusions based on the process and the outcome, as will I.”
The Council’s reorganization meeting, and the vote for mayor, will take place this Saturday, July 1, at noon, in front of Town Hall. The meeting will be live-streamed on Verona’s municipal Facebook page.