Fred Profeta has been a Maplewood resident for all of his 70-plus years, but it's the last nine years that were the focus of comments at the Dec. 6 Maplewood Township Committee meeting. More laudatory comments are expected at tonight's Township Committee as Profeta's peers on the Committee take their turn at toasting — or roasting — their colleague.
Profeta, currently Deputy Mayor for the Environment, also served four years as mayor from January 1, 2004 through January 1, 2008.
Ian Grodman served as Vice Mayor during part of Profeta's mayoralty and is now Chair of the Maplewood Democratic Committee. "Fred, you have served the ideals of the Democratic Party in ways that make us proud — locally and statewide," said Grodman on Dec. 6. Grodman sought to refute those who claim that Profeta had become a Democrat solely for reasons of electability (Profeta started as a Republican, then became an Independent, before running successfully for office as a Democrat): "Thank you for registering literally hundreds [as Democrats]." Grodman's comments were also personal: "Fred brought me in, encouraged me to run. You will be missed."
South Orange Village Trustee Michael Goldberg crossed town lines to come and pay tribute to Profeta. Goldberg spoke of his respect for Profeta despite the fact that they were "on the same side on many issues, the opposite on others." Goldberg was impressed with Profeta's passion and his ability to "respect others' points of view" and "disagree and communicate."
"Your loss will be felt in South Orange as well," said Goldberg.
Dr. Brian Osborne, Superintendent of Schools for South Orange-Maplewood, thanked Profeta for his role in forging "partnerships in the two towns that had given children the great gift of growing up in a town that embraces diversity." He also thanked Profeta for his strong support of public education for "all of our kids." On a personal note, Osborne said that Profeta had "grabbed" him when he was new in town: "You educated me, oriented me."
Another testimonials came in from Chip Madsen, currently the Chair of the Community Coalition on Race, of which Profeta is a founder. Madsen credited Profeta with helping to stem the tide of segregation and help save the two towns from "plummeting" property values.
Bob McCoy of the Maplewood Green Team and Environmental Advisory Committee noted Profeta's leadership on green issues — "His influence goes well past Maplewood," said McCoy, alluding to Profeta's role as a founder of "You have a future ahead of you. I'm excited to see what that will be," said McCoy, referring to Profeta's new role as President of ecomatters, a consulting venture to help municipalities adopt environmentally friendly initiatives.
Risa Olinsky, who will be working with Profeta at ecomatters, referred to Profeta's sometimes outspoken style. "Many people don't agree with Fred a lot. Being a leader doesn't mean being the most popular person on the block," said Olinsky, who lives across the street from Profeta.
Olinsky also talked about the private, neighborly Profeta and his wife Susan. The Profetas had generously made their yard and basketball hoop available to Olinsky's young sons when she moved in on Hickory Drive in Maplewood.
But it was Tom Carlson, Chair of the Planning Board, who got the biggest response from the crowd when he opened his jacket to reveal a 10-year-old Profeta campaign t-shirt.
For his part, Profeta said he was "almost speechless" — but not quite.
"I and my opinions aren't going away. You'll have plenting of opportunity to say, 'Fred, that's a bad idea!'"