Absentees were key in contested Lyndhurst election

LYNDHURST — A lot of people didn’t go to the polls in last Tuesday’s municipal election in Lyndhurst but they made up for it by filing absentee ballots.

Enough, certainly, to make a difference in the tally as the “Lyndhurst Community Pride” ticket, headed by Mayor Robert B. Giangeruso, captured a 4-1 majority on the township Board of Commissioners.

The new lineup will be sworn in at a reorganization meeting slated for Tuesday, May 18, at noon at Town Hall Park, weather permitting. A majority vote by the sitting commissioners will decide who becomes mayor.

That person, typically, is the commissioner with the biggest vote total.

In last week’s contest, three incumbents were returned to their seats: Giangeruso, top vote-getter with 2,134 votes; Thomas A. DiMaggio, 1,934; and John J. Montillo Jr., running on an opposition “Lyndhurst’s New View: Making it Happen” ticket, 1,775.

Newcomers Karen Haggerty and Richard L. Jarvis Sr., aligned with the Giangeruso slate, who were credited with 1,883 and 1,724 votes, respectively, are the other winners.

Laura Jean Checki, the fifth member of the Giangeruso team, polled 1,721, just three shy of Jarvis.

Incumbents Theodore J. Dudek and Matthew T. Ruzzo, who ran with Montillo, got 1,642 and 1,478 votes, respectively; John Scardino Jr. and Christopher Musto, also teamed with Montillo, netted 1,298 and 1,211, respectively.

And independents Joseph Sarnoski and Elaine Stella collected 1,382 and 721 votes, respectively.

According to the Township Clerk’s Office, a total of 3,549 residents – out of 13,219 registered voters – cast ballots in the election, a turnout of about 26.8%.

All five candidates running on the Giangeruso tickets were the beneficiaries of individual absentee ballot totals ranging from 349 to 374 – triple the typical number of absentees cast in a municipal election, according to several township observers familiar with local voting trends.

Even Montillo acknowledged, during a phone interview with The Observer last week, that, “no doubt, they were a factor in the election.”

Commenting last week on the results, Giangeruso said he was gladdened by “our great victory. We ran a very clean campaign. I want us to move forward and bring Lyndhurst back to the way it once was.”

He said he would strive to “keep the public informed” and continue to “seek the public’s input which will always be a great asset to us.

Giangeruso, a retired Lyndhurst deputy police chief, was compelled back in October 2014 to yield his leadership of the Department of Public Safety – by a majority vote of a politically split commission in the wake of several lawsuits by cops (including the chief) alleging Giangeruso’s interference in police operations.

Giangeruso ended up switching with Commissioner Montillo, who was, at the time, director of Public Affairs and Montillo subsequently clashed with Giangeruso over revising hiring policies for the department.

Now, however, Giangeruso believes he’s got the votes to allow him to return as public safety director, he told The Observer.

Giangeruso, who has also feuded with township CFO Robert Benecke and with former Commissioner/Mayor Richard DiLascio township attorney also on loan to the Lyndhurst Board of Education under an interlocal government services agreement for the past four years was asked if he planned to initiate any personnel shakeups.

“We’re going to be doing some changes but right now, we’re still regrouping,” the mayor said. “We’ll be in touch with our advisers on that.”

DiMaggio, commissioner of Parks & Recreation, said: “I’m excited about the [election] results. We have five people committed to move this town forward in a big way. There’s a lot to think about and lot of work to be done to make this town what we all want it to be.”

Montillo who now finds himself a political outlier on the governing body was asked his take on the balloting.

“It’s what the voters wanted,” he said. “I want to thank my running mates and all the people that have supported us in the campaign and the election. I congratulate all the winners and I look forward to serving the residents of Lyndhurst for another four years.”

Asked if he would oppose Giangeruso’s efforts to regain the public safety helm, Montillo said simply: “I serve at the pleasure of the commissioners.”

In a related development, introduction of the 2017 municipal budget which was supposed to happen this past Thursday. May 11 has been rescheduled for a special meeting on May 23, according to Township Clerk Angelo White.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.