The fact that Mohammed Hameedudin, 39, is the first religious Muslim mayor in a town greatly populated by Orthodox Jews is an "old story," according to the man himself. ABC News and New York Times were among the media outlets to profile this, focusing on Hameedudin's close friendship since childhood with his colleague, Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen, who is an Orthodox Jew. But Hameedudin represents more than bringing unity to Teaneck, New Jersey, and erasing any sorts of "lines" conventionally drawn between religions. He is appreciated across the board and irrespective of faith, in large part due to the fact that he has made "communication" integral to his tenure.
Many residents of Teaneck are still marveling over how he helped them in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when many lost power as temperatures dropped. Impressively, it was also right after his wife Faiza Pashni gave birth to a baby boy on October 30th at the outset of the storm, and amidst losing power in his own home. The mayor worked and communicated exclusively via Blackberry, figuring out places to charge his PDA as he checked each street for damages and power loss, and continually updated residents via Facebook. He responded to as many emails and posts as he possibly could, maintained regular contact with local utilities company PSE&G, checked for downed wires and other hazards, and promptly addressed concerns as constituents without power turned to Facebook Mobile.
Hameedudin says that he is blessed to have a "powerful, great family" and extremely lucky to have a sister and parents who live in the same town. They were his "support system" at home with the new baby, lending his home a generator to keep his newborn healthy as he worked 18 hour days for the community. Raised in Teaneck, the mayor's passion for his hometown is extremely palpable in the way he speaks and it was especially salient in Sandy's wake.
"Communication is the biggest issue in politics," he explains, proceeding to praise Newark mayor Cory Booker for laying the groundwork and showing leaders how to effectively use social media to connect with people. "We learned from last year (when many Teaneck residents lost power during a late October blizzard) of its necessity during a storm."
When he was campaigning in 2010, Hameedudin and his staff sent "friend" requests to all the town residents he could find on Facebook. On Twitter, he and other members of the town council regularly update folks under the handle "Township of Teaneck."
Local resident Kathleen Hall Wicklund was particularly impressed with how Hameeduddun "fully utilized Facebook to keep residents informed in real time," providing constant updates on his communications with PSE&G and letting people know of places offering warm shelter, food and areas to charge phones and laptops.
"If you were fortunate enough to have some kind of Internet connection, he was there to respond to concerns and was able to expedite the work being done," Wicklund says. "I applaud his quick responses and his ability to perform while he and his family were still without power. He was fully engaged and at the top of his game."
Nancy Edelman and Asif Mustafa - who are neighbors - agree that Hameedudin's prolific Facebook presence led to mass sharing of important information.
"I found out details through other people who shared his updates," says Mustafa, "It was impressive that people used (social) media to communicate when other forms of communication weren't possible due to power loss."
Edelman agrees: "The mayor seemed genuinely concerned. I was impressed."
However, those living in Teaneck were not the only ones appreciative of Hameedudin's interactions. One resident of a neighboring town, who asked not to be identified, said "I've been reading his status updates and I've turned into a fan. I have no idea who the mayor of my own town is! There has been no word from this person whatsoever."
Ilya Welfeld, a mother of four who resides in neighboring Bergenfield, said that she was blown away by how Hameedudin "didn't miss a beat" after welcoming a new baby.
"He posted thanks to the ambulance crew and then got right back on the phone, online and literally in his car to take pictures of downed wires. He stayed in touch with residents requesting constant information, and served as a true advocate for them to government and utilities. The simple fact that he 'friended' Teaneck people on Facebook and responded to their queries illustrates that he clearly welcomes input, feedback, requests and even critiques, which says so much about him. It was beautiful to see the many congratulations on the birth of his son, coming from the diverse community he is clearly intent on uniting, supporting and fostering. 'Mazal Tov's and 'Masha'Allah's were easily interspersed with 'Congratulations' upon the announcement of his baby's birth."
Welfeld, however, was most impressed with the mayor's humorous post between Sandy and winter storm Athena: "Honestly, I fell in political love when he posted 'What if Gangham Style is some sort of rain dance and we brought these storms on ourselves?' He cares, he's savvy and he's funny. He's got my vote... Oh, but I am in Bergenfield."
While many are still praising Hameedudin for how he utilized social media to keep the town informed, he concedes that prayer combined with reflection ("What did we do right and what did we do wrong?") helped him through a trying time as did the support from town council members and state officials. Humble and matter of fact, Hameedudin admits that some people thought he could have done more and he is always striving to improve.
"There are limitations of government," he explains, adding that he is planning to release information so constituents have a clearer grasp of what town officials can and cannot control (i.e. how PSE&G prioritizes power restoration).
Like so many of us, Hameedudin is a hard worker who admits he needs to "learn to delegate more." While serving as mayor he is also working a "day job," managing his own insurance company, the H&W Title Agency.
"At the end of the day," he says in as pragmatic a manner as an average businessman, "It was all about 'How can we do better' and 'What is the takeaway?' That way, we are more prepared for next time."