Fort Lee is not just home to many residents here in New Jersey, it is also home to Hello! Bergen Magazine! With all the beautiful abundance of cultural establishments surrounding us, Fort Lee has grown to be the cousin of New York City offering a plethora of wondrous businesses that make it a New Jersey hot spot! But who can we thank for some of the amazing new improvements such as ‘The Modern’ and local parks? Why, it could only be the community and the mayor of Fort Lee– Mark Sokolich.
Hello! Bergen met with the mayor of Fort Lee to talk about his personal life, future goals and just why he loves Fort Lee and what makes it stand out among all of Bergen County. Born and raised in Fort Lee, our outgoing Italian Mayor kindly greets us and happily dives right into our interview!
A Mayor Who Knows Humility
How long have you been serving the Fort Lee Community as mayor?
“I was appointed mayor of Fort Lee in 2008. We have been successfully running and managing Fort Lee for 8 years and hopefully even longer.”
What is your proudest achievement/involvement made in our community so far?
“My proudest achievement would be that we changed the culture here. The parks that we are opening up are great too! We are getting folks excited about living in Fort Lee– and bragging, too! We brought up the enthusiasm levels of our residents by about 20 notches! I want the community to be more open, artsy and engaging. I moved in and replaced the developers that were here, I started new projects, got funding from the state and before you know it we had things getting done.”
Fort Lee – A Progressive Community
If you could describe Fort Lee in one word, what would it be?
“Progressive. We are implementing a lot of progressive things and always moving forward, whether it be the committee members or the community. We are always looking for the next big thing to do and bring to Fort Lee. The committee is always fighting to be a part of this growth!”
Fort Lee is home to various cultures and ethnicities; how do you provide and cater to their needs?
“It is hard to cater to every person’s needs, especially among all the different ethnic groups. You wouldn’t even believe how many different Korean American associations there are that fight for or desire the same thing and I try to provide it for them.”
If you could make an instantaneous change, one not restricted by law, what would it be?
“I would love Fort Lee to be taken over by more art galleries! Since we are dreaming a bit here with this question, I would love to put some sort of body of water in the parks of Fort Lee as well. Something similar to the Bergen Line Park. I think it would really add to the beauty we are adding. Dog Parks, Cafes, things like that add to the creative nature of Fort Lee.”
Is there something unique many overlook or don’t know about Fort Lee?
“Many folks do not realize how superior our public school system is. Fort Lee is in the midst of rebuilding several existing schools and is building a new school for our entire fifth and sixth grades. In recognition of the importance of public school education, our taxpayers recently approved a $40 million bond referendum to be exclusively devoted to the rebuilding of our existing schools and the construction of the new school.”
Mark Sokolich: Our Biggest Cheerleader!
What do you often do to get involved with the people and places here?
“Believe it or not, even during this interview my phone has rang over 40+ times. Whether it is a parent who wants to get their kid involved in summer camp, a establishment having an issue, or even matters that lead into crime and investigation, We are there to discuss and solve the problem. That is one of the hardest but many ways we get involved in the community.”
What legacy do you wish to leave behind for the people to remember you by?
“As mayor, I am the loudmouth cheerleader people look up to! (Laughs) My parents taught me it is better to give than to receive. It is my nature. If I were to have a legacy, I want people to think ‘he was a man who was always looking to help, accessible and cared for the community, the go-to-guy’– even for the most minute issues.”
Tell us a little about your family life.
“My family and I love to travel. We visit Croatia and Italy often, just like how I used to when I was a kid. As for my wife, she is reserved but quite defensive of me. I love her and she’s loyal to me. She supports me, lets me do my job and is a progressive woman, too.” Just like the Hello! Bergen style, right?
Overall Mark Sokolich was a comforting and approachable person to meet with. His obvious dedication and his concern for the welfare of people and places is something Fort Lee cannot thrive without. Mark’s final words to the community were powerful yet simple.
“Not only are we proud of our diversity, progressive policies and commitment to preserving our rich history, but I am grateful to publications like Hello! Bergen that continue to pursue and provide to our growing community.”
With that we ended our interview at the mayor’s office and felt refreshed as we continued to walk through Fort Lee with a different insight and mindset of the beautiful community.