OUT In Politics
Andrew Nowick, the recently elected mayor of Lambertville, has done it all. As a teenager, Mayor Nowick labored on tobacco farms. He then worked for years as a gardener, became a waiter, and for eight years was a concierge at Four Seasons Hotels. While living in Manhattan, he landed a job at Ralph Lauren. He then said a temporary bon voyage to America, while working in France as a private secretary for an American family.
Shortly thereafter, he met his now-husband, and the two immediately settled down. They adopted three children and have been together for 24 years. Now 57, Mayor Nowick isn’t retiring anytime soon. He describes 12-hour days, fielding calls from residents and working to stop contentious national issues from feeding into local politics.
Mayor Nowick spoke to me about being a gay mayor — and so much more.
20 or 30 years ago, did you think that you would one day become a mayor?
Mayor Nowick: No, not at all. I didn’t think I’d become mayor 11 months ago. I had never really given it any thought. When I left home at 18, everything was an adventure, right? I was by myself. Being a gay man then meant you had to be resilient, you had to be independent because you weren’t sure what level of support you’d receive from individuals or your community. There was still very much a sense of that in the early and mid-’80s. It was important to have your people and support, but it wasn’t a given. Bearing that in mind, I always had a sense of fluidity about life and its challenges, about being open-minded to doing different things.
So why Lambertville?
AN: I’ve lived in New York and Boston, Cape Cod, and France. I’ve traveled the world, but Lambertville is the best place I’ve ever lived. It’s a remarkable river town. There’s a lot of mid-19th century architecture, we have a population of 4,000, and our town is very walkable. Lambertville is also a fairly progressive community that is largely Democratic.
There’s a vibrant LGBTQ population here. Families and same-sex couples are woven into the fabric of our community. My husband and I got married, and we were able to adopt children. In this community that is so, so open and welcoming for us, this position as mayor is a way to give back to the community, to the social contract.
I have three sons and when my eldest boy got on the bus the first day of kindergarten, I said, “Be a good citizen.” I stuck with that comment with all my kids every day all the way through school. It was tedious for them to hear day in and day out. They would often give me a hard time about it, but it was just a reminder that we’re part of our community. My father was a history teacher, and my mother was very engaged in local activities. Saying, “Be a good citizen” was a little daily reminder that we live in a community. When you go to school, your teachers are there for you, and you have to be there for your teachers. There’s always some kind of reciprocity and togetherness.
What are some of the projects that you’ve been working on as mayor?
AN: I’ve come into this position at one of the most difficult times in Lambertville’s history. We were severely impacted by Hurricane Ida. We had over 400 residences damaged. We have 60 dwelling units, whether apartments or houses, that are still vacant from damage. We have millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure damage here in the city. Our city is on the Delaware River. It’s surrounded by steep slopes and creeks that come down from higher up. So this was an event that caused enormous flash flooding. Ten inches of rain in three hours devastated the town in many, many ways. My first priority is working with our engineers, working with FEMA, working with our residents to make necessary repairs to the city infrastructure, working with our construction department to make sure those residents are going through the permitting process — and that we’re making it as straightforward and efficient as possible. That’s the primary focus of year one for me.
What do you see as the future of Lambertville? Climate change is a fact. Scientists — at least the competent ones — agree on that. As a river town, Lambertville is at risk. What can be done for future hurricanes, for future flooding?
AN: A lot has to be done. So far, we’ve never had a standing committee that deals just with flood mitigation, education, and resiliency. So we’re currently undertaking an analysis of what happened in Ida. We’d like to be able to draw maps, line things up, and have a clear understanding of how this event was different from others. We had some flash flooding before but not to this extent.
We will be looking to establish mechanisms for long-term resiliency planning and mitigation — and involve a lot of residents. We’re blessed here with our residents. We have a lot of people who work in the Trenton state government, who are educators and environmentalists, so we have a lot of resources to draw on in terms of our people. Within the next year, I would like to see a group of around 20 people working on education efforts, making sure that our responses to potential events are as good as they can be.
For mitigation efforts and resiliency planning, we have a fantastic environmental commission here. They’re working on drafting a climate action plan at the moment. One of my goals is to expand the question of what we’re doing currently and what we should be doing in the future.
We know that the Mid-Atlantic states have more humidity in the air than ever before. These are very measurable facts here. So, my goal is to be better prepared and better equipped.
Overall, I’m very optimistic about the future of Lambertville. You know, we’ve got cannabis coming into the city now, and that will benefit us on so many levels.
Oh really? That’s awesome!
AN: New Jersey passed recreational marijuana use by referendum last year. 80% of our residents voted in favor of that referendum. The city has worked hard with local resident groups to form an ordinance and allow retail cannabis in the city. Currently, we have three applications pending. Our ordinance allows us to have four businesses in town. If the city approves the three site applications, the applicants will go before the state on March 15 for possible licensure. That has the potential to really change Lambertville in ways that are both significantly reflective of the cultural values here and helpful for our economic base. It will likely bring in even more people. We border Pennsylvania, so we’ll probably get people from there. Cannabis will bring a 2% sales tax directly into the city, which will have a transformative value for us. It could bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars into our small city, which would allow us to do a lot of good things.
Including fighting flooding and hurricanes with mitigation efforts?
AN: Absolutely! We don’t really have a budget that includes a lot of infrastructure projects. It’s fairly bare bones. We haven’t even built-in any capital expenses for our historic municipal properties, most of which are 19th century. So, yeah, this has a lot of promise for us in many ways.
It sounds like you love your town — the people, the architecture, and the pro-LGBTQ atmosphere. Should LGBTQ New Jerseyans visit Lambertville, and what’s there to do?
AN: Lambertville has been routinely voted among the 10 prettiest towns in the country. We have a fantastic downtown with a wonderful historic district chock-full of antique stores, galleries, and restaurants worthy of Manhattan standards. A lot of people come to Lambertville. Right across the river, we have New Hope, which has been a destination for the LGBTQ community for more than 50 years.
On May 21, Lambertville and New Hope will be holding PrideFest 2022. People should come. There even will be a Pride 5K, and I’m going to be doing it in drag! This is only the third time in my whole life I’ll have ever done drag. Hopefully, a New Jersey mayor racing in drag will be reason enough to draw visitors in!
Now you’ve got me wanting to come — especially if weed will be legal by then!
AN: The 5K will be a lot of fun, and it’s a great fundraiser for local LGBTQ-related activities and events. It will be a big, noisy, colorful splash of happy running people.
And you’ll be doing this in full-on drag?
AN: Yes! I didn’t say I would do it in heels, though!
Heels or no heels, it sounds like the perfect moment to visit Lambertville.
This interview has been edited for clarity, coherence, and length.