MONTVALE, N.J. — Michael Ghassali made history on Sunday as the first Christian-born Syrian to become a mayor in the Eastern United States at Montvale's reorganization meeting.
Ghassali's election, in light of negative rhetoric directed at Syrians on a national level, is a reflection of the strong character of the people of Montvale.
"For the people of Montvale to vote in someone like me, who they know is from Syria, has an accent, and looks Middle Eastern, speaks volumes," said Ghassali, a 12-year Montvale resident.
"I hope I can live up to their trust and carry on to their expectations."
Being elected mayor is a "dream come true," he added.
Ghassali is planning on fostering an open-door environment within the town government, specifically by literally removing the door from the mayor's office, he said.
"I will be in my office every Tuesday to meet and greet people and I encourage everybody to come by to talk about anything Montvale related," Ghassali said.
Ghassali also wants to form a civilian policy advisory committee to the mayor and council, noting the importance of engaging the public in policymaking.
A top priority will be to retain existing corporations and market Montvale to new corporations to help fill empty office space, the mayor said.
Ghassali, who works as Vice President of Corporate Partnerships for the nonprofit Feed The Children, said he will also be visiting local businesses on a rotating basis.
Asked if he will use his platform as mayor to contribute to the ongoing debate on Syrian refugees, Ghassali said his priority is the business of the board, and whatever else happens would be on a "personal" level.
"I'm looking forward to this," Ghassali said.
"It is really exciting for myself, my family, and the town of Montvale."
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