You need spend only a few brief minutes with John Cosgrove to understand why he's affectionately called "Mr. Fair Lawn."
The tireless borough volunteer and community advocate whose family has called Fair Lawn home for over a century seems to know everyone and have a pulse on everything going on in town.
When Cosgrove is sworn in as mayor next week, he'll become the official face of the community that always has been the center of his universe.
"I cant say I aspired to it," said Cosgrove, who currently serves as deputy mayor, "but even when I was in high school people would always joke to me, 'You should be the mayor.' It’s finally coming to fruition."
Jeanne Baratta, who back in January became Fair Lawn's first Republican mayor in over a decade, said she's looking forward to nominating her council colleague to assume her role.
"Having known John for over 40 years I can think of no one better to represent Fair Lawn," said Baratta, who graduated from Fair Lawn High School a few years after Cosgrove.
With the blessing of Baratta and Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski, who also said he'll support "Mr. Fair Lawn" for mayor, Cosgrove is assured the title, bestowed each January by the council majority.
As mayor, Cosgrove said he'd like to maintain Fair Lawn as is, while also planning for future growth.
"I don’t want to close the library, I don’t want to close the pool, I don’t want to close the senior center or community center. I want to keep our amenities going," he said. "I think one of my major jobs as mayor next year is to continue to let people know and remind them of all the wonderful things here in Fair Lawn."
As a businessman first who entered politics last year after decades spent resisting recruitment attempts from both parties, Cosgrove feels his lack of political entrenchment affords him the ability to act as a behind-the-scenes go-between for Republicans and Democrats on council.
"I think everyone on the council knows that I grew up here, I love Fair Lawn and I’m going to try to do my best for Fair Lawn," he said. "And if that means working with everyone on the council, that’s what I’m going to do."
Cosgrove's 30-plus years of volunteer service in Fair Lawn, during which he's worked in some capacity with every borough department and held leadership positions in myriad borough organizations, make him not only a familiar face for town employees and volunteers, but also someone with first-hand knowledge of their needs.
During Superstorm Sandy, he spent nearly 24 hours straight answering calls in the emergency operations center and running errands for residents in need, but refrained from attempting to micromanage the town's emergency response.
"My experience as an emergency responder helped me to know where I should be involved and where I shouldn’t be involved," Cosgrove, an ex-fire chief, said. "I spent a lot of time in the command center [during Superstorm Sandy], but I realized having been fire chief that elected officials are more or less supposed to be seen and not heard."
As a result, Cosgrove said he just tried to be of help in any way possible, including bringing ice to residents who had lost power and needed to refrigerate medication.
"I wanted to be of help and let people know that government officials were watching over, and it worked," he said. "Our emergency management coordinator Ira Marks, [Deputy Coordinator] Wendy Demeraski and our volunteers, police officers and borough employees did a tremendous job."
The only real surprise Cosgrove said he's experienced in transitioning from the private to the public sector is the pace at which government operates.
"It’s a lot harder to get things done," he said. "You get things done but there is a lot of bureaucracy, there are things that would be great solutions but they can’t be done because of government rules and regulations."
While his private sector experience has made the plodding process of a being public official frustrating at times, he also believes his business experience has proved valuable as Fair Lawn endures tough economic times.
"Many things we have to do now in government we had to do in business five to 10 years ago," he said. "We had to make these changes in our health insurance and walk that slippery slope of trying to maintain benefits for our employees but also being able to afford it."
In spite of the tepid fiscal forecast, Cosgrove believes Fair Lawn, under the direction of respected friend and borough manager Tom Metzler, can survive by continuining to tighten its belt and increase revenue-generating opportunities.
"I think that Fair Lawn has a bright future," he said. "We just have to get to the other side of the river like every other municipality, not only in New Jersey, but in the country right now."