Jersey City Councilwoman-at-Large Joyce Watterman made history today when she was appointed council president, becoming the first African American woman to hold the position.
During the council’s re-organization meeting on Thursday morning, Watterman was appointed by a unanimous vote (7-0). Two Councilmen Rich Boggiano and Michael Yun, were absent.
She was appointed to cheers and applause as she became the first African American woman to head the governing body, the second female city council president, and the fourth black official to lead the council in the city’s history.
Prior to voting for herself, Watterman thanked her colleagues, friends and family, specifically her mother, Evelyn, for their continued support.
“My middle name is Evelyn and every time I get an opportunity … I always say to include that name, because my mother was a sharecropper, and I’m first generation from a sharecropper. I want her to know everywhere I go I will take Evelyn with me,” she said.
Watterman, who was elected to the council in 2013, enters the position as the city recovers from a deadly mass shooting that left four innocent people dead, including a police detective, and has torn at the fabric at the city’s Greenville community.
“We have challenges ahead, like affordable housing and rent control, to school budgeting, to infrastructure, and the conflict of culture that is in our community. That’s our challenge right now,” she said.
“To this administration: we are willing to work together, we know the challenges that are ahead. And so I would ask you: let’s have an open dialogue and put everything on the table. It’s when we put everything on the table that we can come up with great solutions to move this city forward,” she added.
Watterman succeeds the former president Rolando Lavarro, who has held the leadership role since July 2013 and was reappointed in both 2016 and 2018.
Lavarro, before voting for her appointment, said he believes Watterman is “the right person at the right time to assume this position,” citing issues of gentrification and affordable housing as “incredible challenges the city is facing over the next two years.”
“It’s an honor to be able to vote for the first African American woman to hold the position of city council president,” he said. “I proudly vote aye.”
Other council members shared their respect for Watterman as well.
Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey said that Watterman “has always proven [herself] very fair … you carry yourself with grace.”
Additionally, Ward E Councilman James Solomon said that she “earned my respect as someone who is honest and forthright and is always trying to do the right thing.”
Watterman, who is a co-chair of the council’s special committee for new rent control legislation, previously told HCV that introducing a new rent control ordinance is one of her top priorities for the new year.
Additionally, Councilman-at-large Danny Rivera was unanimously appointed as council president pro tempore.
“I promise to work with you guys and work behind councilwoman Watterman [and] align myself with her vision … the vision of the city council and the vision of the city administration. I thank you all for allowing me to be in this position,” he said.
Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_