By Ron Leir
It’s back to square one for members of the Kearny governing body in its efforts to fill a First Ward seat on the Town Council that was vacated when Alexa Arce resigned Jan. 5.
So now, according to Mayor Alberto Santos, the decision will fall, by default, to members of the local Democratic County Committee, who will choose one of the three candidates it offered to the council: Marytrine DeCastro, Sonia Hill and Jenny Mach.
Even after a public Q&A with the three nominees, followed by a nearly 90-minute-long private deliberation among themselves on Feb. 2, the seven Town Council members emerged and declared themselves deadlocked.
Santos said that although “there were three strong candidates,” none had a “strong majority” to put one of the three over the top.
“There were different views who could best serve the council and the town,” the mayor added, and what complicated the situation was that each nominee “had different skill sets” supporting their candidacy.
It’s the first time in at least the past 15 years that the council has failed to come up with a clear choice after a vacancy has occurred, according to Santos. Council President Carol Jean Doyle said she found each candidate “strong and opinionated. Personally, I could work with all three without blinking an eye.”
Each has been an advocate for the community, Doyle said. Hill, for example, was among the group pushing to keep the former West Hudson Hospital open, Mach has been a pioneer in helping launch the Butterfly and Community Gardens and DeCastro is on the Board of Health.
Doyle volunteered that, “the DeCastro family has supported me politically for the past 23 years,” but hastened to add that she remained open-minded about the virtues of all three nominees.
“Each one would bring something positive to the council and the town,” said Doyle, a Third Ward representative, “so how do you pick one?”
It was the council’s suggestion to have the Q&A, Doyle said, because “we thought it would be easier – especially for those of us who didn’t know a candidate particularly well – to make the choice but, ironically, it made it more difficult.”
In fact, Doyle recalled, during the closed session, “[Council] people were cheerleading for all. Everybody wanted the three of them. All three deserve to be there.”
And, she said, all three responded well to the questions posed, such as, “What is your vision for the town’s future?” and “How can you make Kearny better?” and “What would you like to see as your accomplishments during your term in office?”
“Not exactly softball questions,” Doyle said, although she acknowledged that the subject of local real estate “taxes did not come up.”
Fourth Ward Councilman Michael Landy readily agreed that, “We had three really good candidates. They all had positives and we just couldn’t come to a consensus of one over the others.”
All three candidates assured the council that if they were appointed, they had every intention of running in November for the balance of Arce’s unexpired term through 2017.
Meanwhile, the pressure is now on the Dems County Committee to solve the vacancy dilemma.
“By state statute, we must hold another meeting of the committee on or before Feb. 19 and vote by secret ballot for one of the three nominees,” Santos said. “The candidate with the highest number of votes will be the appointee.”
There are 60 members of the county committee – two from each district – but Santos, who is the committee chairman, said that its bylaws are silent on the issue of a quorum for such a vote.
As of press time, no date had been set for that crucial meeting but Doyle said that whenever it is scheduled, she would press for a Q&A session similar to the one arranged for the Town Council for the benefit of county committee members who may be unfamiliar with the nominees before the vote is taken.