If you are Jason Karr, slipping for the first time into the mayoral seat that Frank Druetzler filled for so long he became known as “Uncle Frank” to generations in Morris Plains, what do you do?
For starters, you name Dreutzler as Grand Marshal of the Morris Plains Memorial Day Parade, an event he established at the beginning of his 32-year mayoral career.
“During my campaign, the most asked question was, ‘Will you be wearing the Uncle Sam suit?'” Karr said Thursday following his swearing-in ceremony, to roars of laughter from the packed council chamber. He referred to Druetzler’s trademark parade costume. “Much as I enjoy it, that will also retire with you!”
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/ hover on images for captions.
But now Dreutzler will don it at least one more time. The announcement, by Karr and parade Chairman Steve Welsh, took the former mayor by surprise. They had engineered an elaborate ruse to make Dreutzler think he had bestowed Grand Marshal honors on another resident as one of his last official acts.
“You can’t trust anybody!” Dreutzler cracked.
Karr, a Democrat, also appointed the Republican Dreutzler to a one-year term on the planning board, and presented him with a flag that had flown over the borough hall on his last day in office.
The accolades continued as Penny Jones, Morris County’s retired recycling coordinator, thanked Druetzler, a longtime member of the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority, for launching her recycling career–and for arranging a meeting with actress Meryl Streep.
Years ago, Streep was shooting a movie locally, and her trailer was on the former grounds of Greystone Park State Psychiatric Hospital in Morris Plains.
“I always had connections in Greystone,” Druetzler said, to more laughter.
Dreutzler, 77, decided last year it was time to step down as mayor. At a giant sendoff last month, the former Morris County freeholder was given a park bench that will bear his name in the “Community of Caring” — a borough nickname chosen in a contest he launched.
Amidst Thursday’s fanfare, Karr, a borough resident for nearly 50 years who works in construction, looked at ease performing his new duties. Already, he had performed a wedding.
At the meeting he presented badges to volunteer firefighters; extolled the virtues of local Scouts, the Community Band and other civic groups; and delivered a State of the Borough update.
Video: Jason Karr gives his first borough report as mayor:
He cited an expansion of parkland and other projects, and challenges including the buildout of hundreds of apartments to satisfy the borough’s affordable housing obligation, and a legal battle with the proposed developer of a rejected fragrance factory.
Karr, elected to the council in 2008, posed for pictures with newly sworn-in Republican Council Members Dennis Wagner and Cathie Kelly, who emerged from a recount with an 8-vote victory. He also posed with his beaming wife, Donna, and Morris Township Mayor Jeff Grayzel, whose swearing-in Karr attended on Wednesday.
During a public reception after Thursday’s meeting, Karr and Druetzler mingled with well-wishers.
The new mayor displayed deft diplomatic skills, politely resisting attempts to coax him into choosing his own signature costume for the parade. He even deflected an invitation to march with a ukulele band.
“I’m a percussionist,” Karr explained.