May 27, 2020, East Orange, NJ: On Friday, May 29, 2020, the City of East Orange will honor former Mayor Thomas Cooke, Jr. by renaming the corner of Hawthorne and Central Avenues, a place he called home for over 40 years. The virtual ceremony will be broadcast via the City of East Orange’s Facebook Page@EOCityHall at 11am.
Mayor Cooke was beloved throughout the city and was recently honored with a 2019 Lifetime Citizens Award by the City of East Orange.
“His contributions and legacy in our community will not be forgotten, especially his tenacious fight to keep East Orange clean and healthy,” said Mayor Ted R. Green. “Mayor Thomas Cooke, Jr. was a man of dignity, service and pride. He served our country and our city with such great honor and he set the tone in our city as a pioneering, no-nonsense leader who pulled no punches and set high expectations for everyone around him. From fighting for the rights of tenants and homeowners to stabilizing the tax base and recruiting businesses to invest in East Orange, Mayor Cooke was first and foremost a community advocate who put the people’s needs first.”
As a two-term mayor who held office between 1978-1986, Mayor Cooke’s focus on restoring the city’s tax base garnered national attention from The New York Times and every television station across the region highlighting his campaign against slumlords. His administration also presided over the construction of housing for seniors and the public auction of foreclosed properties.
"Mayor Cooke was a trailblazing community servant, whose body of work changed the lives of so many," said East Orange Council Chairman Christopher D. James. "Few elected or appointed leaders share of a legacy of service like his - from serving as a school teacher to helping veterans, to his role as an Essex County Freeholder to East Orange’s first Black Councilman and finally as Mayor of our great city. In addition, Mayor Cooke served nationally as a leader in the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Mayor Cooke’s ultimate expression of sacrifice is marked by his service in the Korean War. His life has left an indelible mark on our city. He represents the pinnacle of service locally, regionally, nationally and globally. On behalf of the East Orange Municipal Council, thank you to the family of Mayor Cooke. We are honored to follow in his footsteps on the Municipal Council."
Mayor Cooke’s professional career began as an educator in Newark Public Schools and included elected terms and leadership positions on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and East Orange City Council. He was also a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, and National Council of Black Mayors. He was the second African-American elected to lead East Orange as mayor.
Mayor Cooke passed away on May 18, 2020, at the age of 90, due to COVID-19 complications after battling a lengthy illness.