Efforts to redevelop Harrison's blighted industrial waterfront go back some 15 years, and local officials and more than a half-dozen builders have grappled with a recession, environmental challenges and other stumbling blocks along the way.
But the one constant throughout that time was Mayor Raymond McDonough, the town's well-respected, incessantly positive leader who never lost sight of its future.
So members of the state's development community were among those who mourned him Thursday as word spread of his death at age 65. The elected official of nearly four decades died Wednesday afternoon of a massive heart attack.
Carl Goldberg, co-president of Mack-Cali Realty Corp.'s Roseland subsidiary, said McDonough was "uniquely passionate about the future of Harrison" and had no agenda aside from revitalizing the 1.3-square-mile Hudson County town.
"There was no ambiguity in my mind that he was genuinely and tirelessly all about Harrison," Goldberg said. "He was a man who loved his job, loved his community and always believed that what he was doing was right for the future of his community."
McDonough, a lifelong resident, was in his 20th year as Harrison's mayor. Goldberg said that type of stability and "the strength of his administration" attracted some of the state's top developers to its 250-acre redevelopment district.
It also gave those builders a credible partner in town hall, said Peter Cocoziello, president and CEO of Advance Realty.
"He knew every nook and cranny, he knew every person well, he knew how to make things happen," said Cocoziello. "He knew when to arrive at consensus and resolution, and he was just a very strong character and personality to make things happen."
Cocoziello added that "if you had a conversation with him, he'd do everything in his power to make sure that what he said in that conversation was going to happen."
"There are very few times when you meet someone who is as good as he was and as honorable as he was," said Cocoziello, who said he saw McDonough about once a week and spoke to him regularly as his firm has developed its 80-acre Riverbend District.
In a prepared statement, Ed Russo of Russo Development said, "Mayor McDonough was a tireless advocate for redevelopment in Harrison. He cared passionately for his town and was always a pleasure to talk to and work with. He will be sadly missed."
McDonough also was a staunch advocate for replacing the town’s deteriorating 78-year-old PATH station, Cocoziello said. He knew the project was “a key component that would help to attract development,” and it finally became reality last summer when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey broke ground on the new facility.
His energy often impressed Goldberg, who recalled that before he retired, McDonough would wake up at 4:30 a.m. to put in a full day as a plumber, then arrive at the municipal building for a full day of town business.
And he was long known and respected for organizing a redevelopers’ association in Harrison, an unusual coalition of the firms who had projects there. Goldberg said those companies “met regularly under his guidance to talk about common needs like shared infrastructure responsibilities, the support of community events and charitable endeavors.”
“He always felt that in order for the development community to be successful, they had to be seen as part of the community, and that their interests went beyond what was specific to the economics of their particular transaction,” Goldberg said. McDonough was the only mayor he knew of to assemble a group of developers, “who theoretically were competitors in business and got them to sit around the table regularly and focus on common needs.”
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