Four council members were sworn in to their previous seats during the Gloucester Township Council reorganization meeting Jan. 3 at the municipal building.
In the November election, Orlando Mercado (D), Tracey Trotto (D), Michael Mignone (D) and Andrea Stubbs (D) won reelection, with Mignone receiving 18.16 percent of the vote, Stubbs receiving 18.14 percent of the vote, Trotto earning 17.44 percent and Mercado winning 17.25 percent.
The council members will serve four-year terms. Mercado was nominated and unanimously selected to once again serve as council president, while Trotto was unanimously selected to serve as council vice president.
Mercado — who has been with council 15 years — thanked township officials, the mayor, his family and fellow council members for their trust and support, then recalled his own and his family’s past in an emotional moment.
“I am the son of immigrants,” he noted. “My parents came from Puerto Rico to this state seeking a better life. My father was a migrant worker with a third grade education, but became a small business owner in Swedesboro … until he passed away.”
That loss left Mercado’s mother a widow at 37, with three children to support despite her late husband having no health insurance, 401K or pension.
“What he did leave us with was a building and a business that he owned outright, and we used that to keep us afloat,” Mercado recalled.
It was his mother’s stubbornness, he added, that inspired him and his siblings to keep working for what they wanted in life, rather than focusing on the unfortunate loss of their father.
“My parents, particularly my mother, provided my sisters and I with a tremendous foundation of morals and values that we still use every day,” Mercado said. “We were encouraged to do well in school, be active in our church and to think of others.”
Mercado said despite growing up in poverty, he and his family had one another and others close to their family who rooted for them. A teacher saw promise in his older sister and helped her get into college. She then helped Mercado attain college, and he, in turn, mentored his younger sister.
“This and several other stories made me want to make other people’s lives better, make it easier for them,” Mercado emphasized. “How can I help? … That guides what I do here every day.
“It may sound corny, but it’s part of the American dream, and I think that’s what we all want up here.”
After his speech, Mercado gifted members of council and the mayor with lapel pins that say Gloucester Township Council Member.