Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Tenafly Mayor Sees Need for More Healing

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Tenafly Mayor Sees Need for More Healing

Article excerpt

TENAFLY -- In 2014, tensions swelled and erupted over the ultimately failed referendum question to relocate and expand the Tenafly Nature Center.

And on Saturday, at the Borough Council's annual reorganization meeting, the issue again took center stage as Mayor Peter Rustin repeatedly referenced the controversy in his state of the borough speech.

"Our town became extremely divided. Rhetoric was both hateful and hurtful," Rustin said. "The election process was marred by acts of vandalism and uncivil speech and actions."

Voters rejected the proposal, 2,107 to 1,536, in November, and local officials have said the issue has been laid to rest. Rustin said at the time he was disappointed in the result.

In his speech a year ago, Rustin said, he spoke of a desire to see the referendum process "go smoothly and in a non-divisive manner."

"All the parties agreed to abide by the results of the referendum," he said. "Everything was in place for a true exercise in democracy."

But for Rustin, what followed -- each side heatedly accused the other of misinformation, while signs supporting the referendum went missing or were defaced in the dead of night with black spray paint - - was difficult, particularly on a personal level.

Last week, Rustin said, he was reading The Record when he saw a review of each municipality's news article of the year. He turned the page, and saw that the referendum and the controversy surrounding it was Tenafly's top news. "I realized I guessed correctly about what would be written," he said.

The referendum process had gone so poorly, said Rustin, that it reminded him of other issues that had divided the town over the years.

Moves toward school regionalization in the '90s were a very emotional issue, he said, one that "brought out the worst in many people."

"The proposed light-rail project even brought along a referendum," he said. …

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