A decades-long conflict among residents of a small New Jersey community over what their town should be called has been resolved _ for now, at least.
The borough of Woodland Park _ formerly known as West Paterson _ sealed its new name in a referendum on Nov. 3. A final count of provisional ballots Thursday found voters chose to keep the name by a 32-vote margin.
Residents have long questioned what the place should be called and have voted on name changes five times in the past 20 years. Some see it as an endless argument over whether the association with Paterson _ its gritty, inner-city neighbor _ is good or bad. Others say it's just a quest for a unique identity.
Voters narrowly passed a referendum a year ago to rename it Woodland Park, a name critics argued seemed more appropriate for a cemetery than their town. They said it discounts the proud working-class roots of many longtime residents who grew up in Paterson at the height of its industrial glory.
Proponents of the name change think it more accurately describes the bucolic suburban feel of the community, which has a population of around 12,000 and is just 15 miles west of Manhattan. Its many parks are home to deer, wild turkeys and other animals and are popular among bird watchers.
A group of residents who prefer the old name gathered enough signatures to force yet another ballot question this month that asked voters to change it back.
Kevin Galland, the borough administrator, said officials have proceeded cautiously during the wrangling over the name and postponed spending money for new signs or other changes to reflect the change. He added that Mayor Pat Lepore is pursuing legislation that would limit the frequency of future name-change attempts.
"Quite frankly, we have more pressing issues to address _ specifically, the budget," Galland said.
Residents on both sides of the name-change debate said they hope the new name will stick.
"I really feel that a direction is not a name," said Judy Karp, a 22-year-resident and co-chairman of the Keep Woodland Park Committee, which campaigned against the ballot measure. "I just want to have our own identity, our own name. I think it's a new beginning for our community."
Supporters of the former name say despite the crime and poverty that has marked the city of Paterson in the wake of its now-departed industries, they're proud of their association with its history.
"It's been a fight that spanned three decades and now it's come to a conclusion," said Robert De Block of the Committee to Save West Paterson, which campaigned for the ballot measure. "I hope we can move forward and start to heal the wounds."
The name change debate has scandalized morning coffee klatches, caused rifts between lifelong friends and turned many council meetings into Jerry Springer-like spectacles.
Maureen Mulroony-Mingione, a fourth-generation resident and head of the borough's historical society, said it was founded by a similar vote in 1914, when all but five residents agreed to make the West Park neighborhood of Little Falls its own borough.
They chose the name West Paterson _ although it was never part of Paterson and is not exactly west of it _ like several surrounding towns at the time which were clamoring for any association with Paterson.
Known as "Silk City," Paterson's dramatic waterfall in the center of a vibrant downtown powered factories that made textiles, locomotives and Colt revolvers. Many residents eventually worked their way out of the city, buying farm plots in West Paterson and distancing themselves with each new generation from Paterson's fading glory.
Wary of what it may cost to change all the signs in town before a final decision was made, Woodland Park has been using $10 removable decals to cover logos on police cars and other government vehicles. New stationery won't be ordered until West Paterson letterhead runs out, Galland said.
Vandals have helped with the sign problem _ stealing three of the town's five wooden signs that greeted visitors to West Paterson during the night of the name-change referendum vote last year. Plans are under way to repaint the West Paterson water tower.
Until then, Galland thinks he's found a way to diffuse tensions over the name change. He's taken to referring to the place as "the borough of WP."