MORRISTOWN – A green sign was stuck in the ground outside the Doyle Funeral Home Tuesday afternoon urging voters to support Jay DeLaney Jr. for mayor.
The sign from a past election was fitting indeed.
Delaney, who was elected mayor in 1997 and served two terms, died on Nov. 21 from esophageal cancer; he was 68.
There have been many tributes to DeLaney over the last 10 days and that continued during his wake on Tuesday.
The tributes and remembrances were different, but there was a common thread.
DeLaney was elected twice as a Republican mayor in a Democratic-town. That’s not easy. Consider that more recently, Republicans have not even run a candidate for mayor in Morristown.
DeLaney’s secret was simple – put party politics aside and concentrate on improving the town he served.
He didn’t dislike people because they were Democrats. nor did Democrats dislike him because he was a Republican.
All that seems like a “no-brainer” approach, but in these polarizing times, it isn’t.
Partisan politics, of course, is more bitter today than it was during DeLaney’s time 20 years ago, but you have to hope his accommodating manner would work these days as well.
Those arriving shortly after DeLaney’s wake began at 3 p.m. discovered a line of people waiting outside as day turned to dusk and then night. Hundreds snaked their way in and through the funeral home to pay their respects.
Mayor Tim Dougherty and his wife, Mary, were there, as were many others from both sides of the aisle.
People who visit Morristown these days are prone to say the town has changed. Indeed.
There is much new residential and commercial construction and even some changed traffic patterns.
Back in DeLaney’s time, a big issue was Epstein’s Department store. It anchored downtown and was revered by many older residents, who recalled a time when most shopping was done in a family-run store on Main Street, or in this case, just off the Green.
But times change. Epstein’s closed and with DeLaney’s eventual support, was transformed into a luxury housing complex that helped revitalize the business district.
DeLaney left office more than 15 years ago, but he certainly didn’t leave town. He was a regular at both Republican and civic events up until the illness that cost him his life. He enjoyed talking about political gossip and sports, most notably the New York Jets.
As people filed in and out of the funeral home, Stephen Shaw, a Morris County Commissioner, related a Jay DeLaney story.
Shaw said that his family and DeLaney’s met for dinner not too long ago at a BYOB Italian restaurant in town. Shaw said he was surprised when DeLaney arrived with a large satchel filled with multiple bottles of wine.
Just how much was he planning to drink?
Turns out DeLaney brought extra wine to give away to other diners, some of whom may have arrived unprepared. Shaw said he did just that, handing out wine bottles all around.
Some of the recipients were visiting New Jersey. Like many outsiders, they said they assumed New Jersey people were rude, Shaw said.
But Jay DeLaney changed their minds.
And if a public servant can do that, there’s not much more to do.
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