VINELAND — The curtain drew back on the stage of the Landis Intermediate School auditorium Saturday, revealing an American flag and a sign that read, “One Vision, One City, Moving Forward Together.”
More than 500 people in the auditorium stood, cheered and clapped.
On the stage, Ruben Bermudez, making history as the city’s first Hispanic mayor, smiled and pumped his fist.
About an hour later, the municipal government’s new administration was in place. Bermudez and City Council members Anthony Fanucci, John Procopio, Paul Spinelli, Angela Calakos and Maritza Gonzalez promised an open government that will be responsible to its citizens.
In his inaugural address, Bermudez promised that his administration will make quality of life issues its major goal. He said he will wage war on drugs, illegal firearms, noise, vandalism and other crime, and clean up vacant, rundown and dangerous public and private properties.
“When crime takes over, decent, law-abiding citizens find other places to live and do business,” Bermudez said.
And in a message designed to reassure local merchants, Bermudez said the city will do all it can to help local shopkeepers and attract new jobs and businesses to the city. That includes holding mayor-business visitation days, when local merchants can discuss problems and offer suggestions on how to improve the city’s economy, he said.
“We will be there for you,” said Bermudez, who has long run a downtown Landis Avenue formal wear shop.
Bermudez said he will also follow through on a campaign promise to create a citizens committee to help the city develop its budget.
“There’s a lot we can do together,” he said.
Bermudez, Fanucci, Procopio, Spinelli, Calakos and Gonzalez all won office during the Dec. 28 mayoral and City Council runoff elections. The six ran together during those elections.
Bermudez was actually sworn in Tuesday. The oath of office administered to him Saturday by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, was purely ceremonial. The five City Council members officially took office on Saturday.
Saturday’s event was anything but dull: There was a pep-rally feeling with upbeat singing by different choirs, Bible readings, and speeches about how all the city’s residents will work together during Bermudez’s administration. There was a performance by the Kingdom Covenant Christian Center’s Sound of Praise Choir, which event organizers said was the first African-American choir to ever perform at a swearing-in ceremony here.
The proceedings included some emotional moments: Bermudez’s lips trembled and he fought back tears when speakers mentioned his wife, Vicki, who died during Bermudez’s campaign for the city’s chief executive post.
As for the new City Council, it will have a significant educational flavor: Calakos, Procopio and Gonzales are teachers, and Spinelli is a retired teacher. Fanucci owns a real estate and construction company.
Calakos told those in the auditorium that she is “privileged to be the first Greek-American woman to hold a seat on Vineland City Council.” She promised to do her best to “move this city forward.”
Gonzalez said she brings three important values to city government: Education, patriotism and social and personal responsibility. She said she wants to make the city a better place for its children.
“We will have an open door policy, and we work as hard as possible for you,” Fanucci said. “We have been elected by all of you, and we are here to serve.”
Procopio asked residents to “keep us in check” so “we can make the best decisions for Vineland.”
“All of us, together, are going to work hard for you and do everything in our power,” he said. “It’s not just us five and Ruben, it’s all of us together.”
Spinelli said the theme of city government will be “together.” The goal is to create a “forward, progressive” city, he said, adding, “we will get you an answer and tell you the truth.”
After the swearing-in ceremony, the new City Council held a short meeting which it:
n Named Fanucci as City Council President.
n Ratified Bermudez’s selection of Richard Tonetta as the new city solicitor. Tonetta, who replaces Alfred Verderose, previously served in the position.
n Ratified Bermudez’s selection of Edwin Cintron as the city’s new public safety director. Cintron ran unsuccessfully for City County on Bermudez’s original slate.
Cintron replaces Robert Romano. Romano held that position while he served as mayor, a position he lost to Bermudez in the mayoral runoff election.
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