by Amy Wagner, originally published in Montclair Magazine, Fall 2015
Lester Taylor ’97 welcomes a challenge. On the road to becoming the 13th mayor of East Orange, New Jersey, he defeated a four-term incumbent in the primary, for a job that presents plenty of challenges of its own.
A densely populated city within four square miles wedged between Newark, Bloomfield, Orange and South Orange, East Orange has long struggled with high crime rates, low-performing schools and blight.
So Taylor has focused on cleaning up the city, making education a priority and capitalizing on its urban-suburban location and easy access to New York City.
He is doing this, in part, through a number of initiatives spearheaded by the new multi-departmental collaborative Quality of Life Taskforce he established within a few months of becoming mayor. One such measure incentivizes owners to clean up more than 700 of the city’s abandoned or neglected properties. “A clean city is a safe city,” he insists. “And a safe city is a profitable city.”
Taylor’s administration is dedicated to transformational change. “I want to bring everyone together,” he says.
It appears to be working. According to nj.com, shootings in East Orange decreased by 25 percent and violent crime decreased by five percent in 2014. Education is improving with programs such as the East Orange College and Career Readiness Network, which prepares teens for college and careers. And East Orange is among the first in the nation to enact a paid sick-leave ordinance.
Taylor is passionate about the city where he and his wife are raising three children. “I’ve assembled a dynamic team who share my vision of setting a standard of excellence for East Orange and turning it into a destination city,” he says. “East Orange is ideal for commuters and families who want the best of both worlds in terms of urban living with a suburban feel.”
His interest in politics and education was nurtured at Montclair State, where he majored in political science, played football and was an undergraduate Admissions Ambassador. He went on to law school at Howard University.
Taylor is a partner at Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader, where he built a thriving educational law practice. “I’m not an educator, yet my advice has impacted people’s lives on a day-to-day basis,” he notes.
As a mayor, Taylor also overhauled the city’s dysfunctional and scandal-ridden water commission and restored the city’s 18-hole golf course in Short Hills. Although he hopes to create a meaningful legacy with projects like these, he says he would most like to be remembered for his honor, integrity and respect for his office. “I want my kids to be proud of me.”
While Taylor intends to run for reelection, his name has lately been floated as a prospective candidate for lieutenant governor or even governor. “I’m open to opportunities as they present themselves,” says Taylor, adding that he’s honored and flattered by the idea.
In the meantime, his focus is clear: “I want to be the best mayor I can be.”