Middletown swears in Mayor Florsheim, council

It was a night of celebration and firsts as Mayor Ben Florsheim and members of the common council along with other board members and elected officials were sworn in Tuesday to begin their four-year terms.

Several hundred people gathered in the Middletown High School auditorium for the biennial meeting. Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz swore in Florsheim, the new face of the Middletown Democrats. The 27-year-old mayor said he wants a city to embody humanitarian love — a love that seeks to preserve and create community.

“If Middletown is the embodiment of the beloved community, then our work over the next four years and the next generation is the work of living up to that concept day by day, week by week, year by year,” he said.

He said that community will happen through health care, housing, clean streets, safe neighborhoods, classrooms, construction sites, board rooms and soup kitchens.

“It happens when we recognize that there is nothing wrong in our city that cannot be fixed by what is right,” he said. “It happens when we confront the great moral and political crisis of our generation. The crisis of climate change, the crisis of racism, the crisis of inequality. Not with despair and cynicism, nor with naive optimism that the solutions will come from elsewhere, but with courage, action and love.”

Democrats swept eight of the 12 council seats with only four incumbent council members. Here are some thoughts from some of the newly elected after being sworn in:

Jeanette (White) Blackwell

Blackwell became the first African American woman to be elected to the common council, and the significance wasn’t lost on her as she said she hopes to become a role model for future Jeanette Blackwells out there.

“As I reflect on what this entire journey has meant for me, I recognize I’m standing on the shoulders of so many amazing women of color who have come before me. They have literally paved the path for this moment to exist for me. I’m eternally grateful and humbled.”

Blackwell said she has “finally broken the barriers.”

“As someone said to me this evening, ‘You have finally broken that glass ceiling.’ So in Middletown, some little girl will look at the fact that I have prevailed and landed a seat on the common council and that I have demonstrated that they can prevail. … They can dream bigger dreams because of my election.”

Anthony Gennaro Sr.

A police officer in the city, Gennaro has been involved in politics for a few years and ran unsuccessfully for state representative last year. He has three children in the school system and is hoping to “keep things affordable” over the next four years.

“The seniors are having it tough financially,” he said. “The economy is huge for me as are keeping taxes low and public safety. We need to keep the city going in the right direction financially. I’m in the minority party, but I think we will work well together. … I would love to have all the things we wish for, but at the end of the day it comes down whether or not we can afford it.”

Darnell Ford

Ford said the election and the swearing in was historic, and he said they will continue what they started.

“We are bringing new energy and experience,” he said. “We may be a little slow to make progress, but this council will progress in a positive way. We will have great conversations and great collaborations. … We want to be inclusive and really showcase what Middletown is. People know what Middletown is now, but we really want to define it not just for now, but into the future.”

Meghan R. Carta

A lifelong resident who went to city schools and whose family still lives in Middletown, Carta said she loves the Forest City and is eager to serve.

“Middletown is very important to me,” she said. Carta, who lives in the South Farms section of the city, said the future of the riverfront is very important to her.

“I’m excited for new ideas the expansion of what’s been accomplished. I’m both excited and nervous. … We have some young, fresh faces. But Gene (Nocera) has been great. Phil (Pessina) has been great. They will be great mentors to make it a great transition.”