For new interim Kearny Mayor Peter P. Santana, it’s all about building on the success of his predecessor, former Mayor Alberto G. Santos.
“It’s never easy to fill the shoes of a man who served for 23 ½ years,” Santana said of Santos. “He was a person who served passionately, who loved his town. In my seven years on the council, I worked alongside him as closely as we could. That passion just radiates and we were all able to shine under him as mayor. And I promise to do my best to continue all the hard work he started and completed.”
To achieve that, the former Second Ward Councilman, who served in that capacity from 2017, says he is learning about all that is going on in the town, especially beyond the borders of the Second Ward. He has already begun meeting with department heads and employees and has sought their opinions on what works well, what might not work as strongly and most importantly, where he can strive to make improvements to make life better in Kearny.
“I have my own beliefs but to do the work, I need to reach out to others,” Santana said.
One area where the mayor has already seen an improvement is in the hiring of a part-time public information officer for the town. That person will be responsible for disseminating information — accurate information — to social media outlets, local newspapers and elsewhere.
“He’s already created new Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages,” Santana said. “He will work diligently to promote all the good things going on in town and will be a great asset to the public.”
This is the first time Kearny has experimented with a PIO.
To the end of ensuring proper communication, Santana says one area he wants communication strongly beefed is in the announcement of street closures.
“I want the residents to know about street closures before they happen, not just when they’re caught in traffic because of street closures they didn’t know about,” he said. “We will work hard to ensure the information is sent out in a timely manner and most importantly, is accurate. It is what the residents deserve.”
Santana, who even before assuming his new office, closely followed this issue, says he will see the pump station/sewer pump on Sanford Avenue to fruition. In the past, he has lamented at the time it has taken — for various reasons — and hopes it is all completed soon once all NJ Department of Environmental Protection approvals are garnered.
Additionally, he will oversee, perhaps, one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken in Kearny — the replacement of lead-based water-service lines. That project must be completed in a 10-year time frame that is already a few underway.
“It’s a massive undertaking,” Santana said. “Think about having to assess the water lines for 40,000+ residents and having to complete it in 10 years. It’s daunting, yes, but we will make sure it’s done and done the right way and the right speed.”
The town is also preparing for more sewer line separation, which he says the Passaic Valley Sewage Commission is not keen on paying for. As such, he will work with Town Administrator Steve Marks to find funding via grants to get the project paid for at no expense to the taxpayers.
“These are all things that aren’t out fault — it happens over time — but they have to be paid for,” Santana said. “We will find the funding through federal grants and the work will be completed.
Why take on such a massive job?
Santana was born in Brazil and immigrated to America when he was younger. He has lived all of his life in the United States in Kearny, a place he says he loves and will always remain. He works for the Harrison Board of Education as an IT administrator, a time-consuming position. He lives on Davis Avenue with his wife, Renata, and his young son, Liam.
So why take on so many added responsibilities, both professionally and personally?
It’s simple, he says.
“I am here for the right reasons,” Santana said. “That is, to serve my people. Since I moved here, I have never lived anywhere but Kearny. When I bought a house, it was here. And I want to be sure to meet the people I have not yet met. I love this town so much — and will do all I can to be successful and build on all that we have already accomplished.
Parking, parking, parking
It doesn’t take a genius to know perhaps the single-greatest issue in Kearny is the parking “epidemic.” And we’re getting close to the beginning of the process of establishing a parking utility in town. On Monday, Aug. 7, Santana and the Town Council will host a 6 p.m. meeting at the Kearny High School auditorium for a special meeting — one Santana hopes residents will attend — to “introduce our municipal parking program ordinances and present how the municipal parking program will be implemented.”
The ordinance, once adopted, will create the framework and code for parking for commercial vehicles, establish a permit-parking program and create a parking utility. While this is a certain start, it is only the beginning.
“I hope people will come to offer input and to hear what we’ve planned,” Santana said. “But we will also hold similar, smaller meetings in each of the town’s four wards.”
It’s another major undertaking, but it is one Santana says he’s ready to face.
Now, Santana is currently serving on an interim basis, but he has already declared his candidacy to seek the office permanently this November. So far, he faces one opponent, fellow Democrat and Council President Carol Jean Doyle. It is possible others could also seek the office, as well, via nomination by petition. Those folks could come, it appears, from any political party.
Whoever wins that Nov. 7 election will serve as permanent mayor through Dec. 31, 2025, to finish out Santos’s unexpired term. The next mayoral election after this year is set for November 2025.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.