Martin Luther King's birthday was a celebration Monday night of the great man's life and times. But for Woodbridge residents, the holiday turned into something much more when Mayor John McCormac announced his appointment of the township's first councilman of color.
The mayor stormed the event honoring Dr. King's birthday with a full political entourage of Democats that included the town council, the district's two state assemblymen, and his personal council pick, Kyle Anderson.
"Well, tonight, someone is living the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King set out many, many years ago. I'm very pleased to announce the very first minority to ever serve on the Woodbridge Township Council," said a beaming McCormac to a crowd of well-wishers at the Woodbridge Community Center, who thought they were merely gathered to honor Dr. King.
Anderson, a commissioner on the Woodbridge Housing Authority, stood, smiling, to the side as McCormac introduced him and the 20 or so other Democrat officials he brought with him to the crowd, who had gathered to commemorate Dr. King's life.
"It's time the Woodbridge Township government started looking like Woodbridge Township," McCormac said. "I'm not sure that if Dr. King looked at our township, he'd be very happy."
"Before tonight," the mayor added, "the town council looked all like me."
As he rose to speak, Anderson smiled and appeared touched by the honor.
"This is truly a dream come true," Anderson said to the applauding crowd.
He recalled the impact his neighbor, Woodbridge Police Officer Alvin P. Williams, had on him as a child. Williams, who was black, died in 1979 in an overflowing creek as he dove in to try to rescue two drowning children.
"I didn't really realize the makeup of the town and the police force, and how special it was to have a black man on the police force, until I got a little bit older and really, truly appreciated it," Anderson said.
"Williams gave the ultimate sacrifice," he said. "He was a very special person to me, my brother, and my family."
If Anderson - who will be filling the seat vacated by retired Councilwoman-at-Large Patricia Osborne - is confirmed by the council, he will be the first black member to serve in such a position in Woodbridge.
Since Osborne's retirement in December, McCormac has been mum about who he had on his list of possible replacements. But last night, the mayor made it clear there was very little doubt of Anderson not receiving the council's approval.
"It'll have to be voted on Jan. 25, but since the other two names that were picked already said they were endorsing this person, it's a pretty good bet that on Jan. 25 Kyle Anderson will be the first African American councilman in Woodbridge," said McCormac as he spoke at a podium emblazoned with the seal of the township. He had been slated to deliver remarks at the end of the program.
All the machinations of picking a nominee for the council slot had been done the same evening as the Dr. King celebration; it was at a Democrat committee meeting, from which McCormac and his phalanx of Democrats had just come, that the decision was made to pick Anderson for Osborne's vacant council seat.
Among the party who followed McCormac into the building were Assemblymen Craig Coughlin and John Wisniewski, who spoke at the event. The mayor also introduced four new black Democrat committee representatives, who received a round of applause.
With lavish praise, McCormac introduced each member of the council to the audience, after mentioning, "The council which are all here tonight except for one person," an apparent reference to Bob Luban, the body's sole Republican member.