Just outside of New York City lies East Orange, New Jersey, a densely populated city of less than four square miles that is primed for investment and redevelopment. Fortunately, its newly-elected mayor, Lester Taylor, III, just might have the vision and energy to put the city on the fast-track to progress.
An attorney at the full-service firm, Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt, and Fader, Mayor Taylor was not favored to win in the primary election race against a 4-term incumbent in the Democratic primary in June 2013, but came from behind to earn an unexpected victory which propelled him to City Hall. He references rapper Drake when talking about his political success: "Started from the bottom now my whole team's here."
Times are changing, and Mayor Taylor may represent the new type of politician we can expect to enter public service over the next few decades, one that is motivated by a need to help their communities for however long they need to make substantial change, as opposed to running for office to be career politicians. "I'm looking to get in and make some changes and make progress and get out," says Taylor. "To quote Jay Z, 'Go farther, go further, go harder.' Is that not why we came? And if not, then why bother?"
"There's a perception that only the rich are qualified to run for office at the federal level and only the nuts run on the local level. I was willing to roll up my sleeves and step in…I represent a generational change," says Taylor.
Mayor Taylor is ready to take full advantage of this small city sitting on prime real estate. With not one but two New Jersey Transit stations with a midtown direct train traveling into New York City in just under 30 minutes, East Orange is an ideal location for redevelopment to attract young professionals and commuters.
"East Orange is a diamond in the rough. We are situated by major highways and we enjoy the luxury of an easy commute to and from New York Penn Station in 26 minutes. Some of the suburban cities and towns on the east coast have water, but East Orange has transportation." Mayor Taylor cites trendy cities like Jersey City and Hoboken that have been able to capitalize on their location as models for what's possible for East Orange.
"There is no reason why East Orange can't do [what Jersey City and Hoboken] have done."
"The one thing I'm seeing in East Orange is the diversity in our city of professionals and commuters looking for more affordable rent and university systems in Newark and in South Orange. We have a more urban feel next to our more suburban counterparts."
In order to attract a large commuter population, Mayor Taylor emphasizes public safety and quality public education. "Our job is to make this safe community safer. We are working to stabilize and reduce taxes, while at the same time we are working on strategic partnerships with organized labor and business to improve the city's unemployment rate which is 45-50 percent higher than the national average."
"We need to create livable wage jobs for our people and use organized labor programs so we can train people and expose them to these career options…I have 3 children who I want to be educated in the public school system. I'm the product of the public school system [in another New Jersey town, Long Branch]. We need more educational opportunities in a free public education setting in order to prepare our students for college and career. And that doesn't necessarily mean only college because college isn't for everyone," says Taylor.
Mayor Taylor also understands that he represents new possibilities for young Black children. "I've been spending a lot of time in our schools during my first month in office. I bought pizza two weeks later after one visit and the principal and teacher pulled me aside and said that one of the students who met you who was one of our poor performing students was inspired by me because I'm younger and he could relate to me. He saw me as a positive male role model. After my visit, the poor performing student won student of the week in the school's weekly essay competition and he told his teachers he was inspired by Mayor Taylor."
Mayor Taylor represents a generational shift, following a number of successful Black male politicians who were elected to office before their 40th birthdays. And although he doesn't yet appear to have national ambitions like newly-elected Senator Cory Booker, success as East Orange mayor may just set him up for the next level.