Interim mayor appointment expected soon

(Updates to original post in italics)
The City Council is expected to have a special meeting in the coming weeks, maybe even days, to appoint an interim mayor for the remaining 15 months of Rick Proctor’s term. As City Council president, Samson Steinman has assumed duties as acting mayor and is the odds-on favorite to become interim mayor, at least according to folks I’ve talked to.

Proctor resigned effective Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. without much elaboration beyond a 23-word letter filed with the City Clerk’s Office on Monday, setting in motion the process to fill his term within the next month:

* Sept. 25 — Within 15 days of the resignation, the Municipal Democratic Committee (since Proctor is a Democrat) must present to City Council as many as three nominees to serve the remaining 15 months of Proctor’s four-year term.
* Oct. 10 — Within 30 days, the City Council must appoint one of the three nominees. This is likely to come at a special meeting since the next regular meeting is not until Oct. 15.

Since Proctor’s resignation came after Sept. 1 in his next-to-last year of office, there will be no special election. Had he retired prior to Sept. 1, it would have triggered a special election, according to City Attorney Louis Rainone. A special meeting of City Council has not yet been scheduled, according to the City Clerk’s office.

Steinman actually worked on Proctor’s campaign in 2010 and succeeded him as Democratic municipal chairman two years ago. Steinman was among the first to call for Proctor’s resignation after troubles started brewing within the administration and between the mayor and council. He is one of the more outspoken council members, among the few who say anything of substance at City Council meetings, and he’s become a regular attendee of Redevelopment Agency meetings. Steinman wouldn’t speculate on who the three nominees for interim mayor could be, saying it ultimately will be up to the 48 members of the Democratic Committee.

It’s unclear whether Steinman would have to relinquish his position as executive director of the Union County Performing Arts Center, a post he has held for more than two years. The UCPAC is a nonprofit organization but receives some funding from Union County and historically some from the city as well. Steinman said the city has reduced its funding to UCPAC over the years and eliminated it altogether after he became director.

Should Steinman be appointed interim mayor, it would create a vacancy on the City Council. If that were to occur, the same process would take place to fill the 6th Ward seat to which Steinman was re-elected to just a year ago. Since that term does not expire until December 2016, however, the remaining two years of that term would be up in the next municipal election — November 2014, when the mayor and three at-large City Council seats also are up.

Proctor was the Democratic municipal chairman for many years during James Kennedy’s mayoral reign. He succeeded Kennedy in 2010, becoming just the third mayor of Rahway since 1971. Steinman is the fourth acting mayor in Rahway’s history and the first since Albert Westlake in 1906-07.

Despite party backing when he took office in January 2011, Proctor spent more of his term than not at odds with the City Council and City Administrator Peter Pelissier. Within six months, things took a turn for the worse, with Proctor being accused of trying to get his wife hired as health officer, a position he held previously. Later that year,  the City Council rejected requests for additional staff, voted down legislation he proposed, and eventually slashed the mayor’s salary by 60 percent. Last December, the City Council approved a $164,000 buyout and settlement with Pelissier, stemming from complaints and potential litigation with the mayor.

There were also election law fines which led to Proctor leaving as Democratic chairman, and apparently also why he sought campaign donations, which elected officials are not allowed to solicit according to city ordinance.