By Ron Leir
Only four months after the Lyndhurst First ticket swept into office, at least two of its members and a key supporter are embroiled in a vitriolic feud that got a public airing at the Sept. 10 Township Commission meeting.
Mayor Robert Giangeruso and former Mayor and current Township Attorney Richard DiLascio, once tight allies, are now bitter rivals.
And, as proof of the pudding, the township has posted on its website a solicitation for Request For Proposal for “special legal services” to “provide research, advice and counsel on the appropriateness of statutory and other appointments under the Commission form of government (Walsh Act).”
The successful applicant, the notice says, “shall demonstrate sufficient knowledge in New Jersey municipal law, public employment law, Shared Services Act, New Jersey Ethics law and statutory appointment law under NJSA 40 and NJSA 40A.”
All RFPs must be received by 2 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 26, at the Township Clerk’s office, “at which time they will be opened and read aloud.”
A brief historical reminder: Ironically, while still serving with Giangeruso as a member of the Board of Commissioners, DiLascio had stepped down as mayor with a year to go in his term in favor of Giangeruso. DiLascio didn’t seek re-election in May but ended up being hired as the attorney for the township and Board of Education at a combined pay of $150,000 a year.
Now Giangeruso alleges that DiLascio is, essentially, breaking with his former political backers making a power grab to advance his own interests.
Things got ugly early at the Sept. 10 meeting when Parks & Recreation Commissioner Tom DiMaggio denounced an anonymous flier circulated among residents who live near the Passaic River blasting the township for earmarking proceeds from the Sept. 28 Lyndhurst Music & Food Festival in Town Hall Park for a charity linked to a contractor working on the new Rt. 3 bridge whose work has been faulted by some members of the Lyndhurst community. The flier alleges Giangeruso is angling for a county job through the contractor’s political connections. “Police, Parks Dept. & DPW overtime [for the street fair] courtesy of your tax dollars,” it says.
DiMaggio said that in researching “what charity would be well-served” by dedicating proceeds from the street fair, he was referred to the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack which treats children with cancer. A voluntary $5 admission goes to that charity, DiMaggio added. “Not one cent is coming from taxpayer money.”
“I was appalled that people could stoop so low to politicize this – it ticks me off,” the commissioner said.
Interjecting, Giangeruso called the flier “distorted,” adding that, “I don’t need an outside association to tell me what to do.”
The next target of Giangeruso’s wrath was Township CFO Robert Benecke – hired under the DiLascio administration – who was being quizzed by several crossing guards about the terms of a new labor contract and about a new payment protocol.
“Who are you to set policy, Mr. Benecke?” the mayor asked. “I don’t need you to come in and tell me what to do. … I’m tired of being bullied around. Enough is enough.”
Benecke said that he’d “presented a report” to the mayor on Aug. 30 but Giangeruso, who is the public safety commissioner, cut him off, saying, “I’ll negotiate [the crossing guards’] contract – not you.”
A bit later, after learning from Police Chief James O’Connor that two school crossing posts – Stuyvesant and Court Aves. and Page and Riverside Aves. – had been dropped as a budget economy, Giangeruso asked: “Where did that order come from?” The chief replied he’d been informed by Benecke.
“You [Benecke] and Mr. DiLascio called me into your office and told me you’re going to eliminate 10 crossing guards and I said, ‘Not one,’ ’’ Giangeruso fumed.
Summoning DiLascio to the chambers, Giangeruso continued to vent. “You’re no longer the mayor – you work for us. You do nothing but stay in that cubby hole [Town Hall office] and bang us around. … How come the streets aren’t done? We don’t have the money to do it.”
DiLascio listed several streets that, he said, were paved this year – Lake, Post, Green and Fern Aves. – while Thomas Ave. was left unfinished because of a broken sewer line and he said that state funding for New Jersey Ave. was reallocated to the Jersey shore after Sandy hit. “You are making progress,” he said. The township was fiscally hampered by the EnCap bankruptcy, he added.
“EnCap is always your excuse,” Giangeruso retorted. “You did a lot of damage. And now you’re looking to become CFO.” Later, DiLascio acknowledged he was “taking classes to be a CFO,” but didn’t elaborate.
A bit later, Giangeruso continued listing his grievances against his former political teammate, saying: “You’re pulling my commissioners down to your office to give legal advice. … I gave you the mayorship for seven years. Where’s the loyalty? You’re done giving me orders. … We never knew you were going to be the Board of Ed[ucation] attorney. I hope my board [of commissioners] votes to give me an independent counsel.”
DiLascio acknowledged he was “upset about some of the things you’re doing” and now, he said, Giangeruso is angry because “I sent you an e-mail telling you about them.” He reminded Giangeruso that he spent several years as a member of the Board of Education advocating for children and for construction of a new middle school to enhance the value of the township to attract new residents and ratable. And, by consolidating the jobs of township and BOE attorney, “I’ve saved $300,000,” he added.
“You control the Board of Ed,” Giangeruso said.
Harking back to the furor over selecting the Sanzari Hospital as the preferred charity to benefit from the street fair proceeds, DiLascio said he’d tried to explain that making such a choice might not be the best idea. “I didn’t want people by the river to think [the township] was abandoning them,” he added.
To that, Giangeruso responded: “He was ordered by the Army Corps of Engineers to put that barge in the middle of the river.” Residents have complained that contributed to the spread of debris and interruption of the river’s flow.
As of last week, Giangeruso declined comment on his next move – other than to refer a reporter to the RFP notice – and DiLascio didn’t return a phone message.
Stay tuned for further developments.