By Ron Leir
So far, a longtime civic activist, a former cop and a re-designed slate headed by Mayor Robert Giangeruso are all in the running for five seats on the Township Board of Commissioners.
Records at the Township Clerk’s office show that nominating petitions have been filed by Annette Bortone, Louis Bilis and the new Giangeruso team, which has three new faces, to be placed on the ballot for the May 15 municipal election.
Giangeruso told The Observer he’ll be heading a ticket that includes Commissioner Tom DiMaggio, a businessman who oversees the township’s Parks and Recreation Department; Theodore J. Dudek, John J. Montillo Jr., an electrical contractor; and Matthew T. Ruzzo, a part-time township public works employee.
Three incumbents – Commissioners Richard DiLascio, Joseph Abruscato and Brian Haggerty – have decided not to seek re-election.
Others have picked up petitions but haven’t yet filed as candidates. Anyone interesting in seeking office has until 4 p.m. on March 11 to file, according to Township Clerk Helen Polito.
Bortone, who made an unsuccessful bid for a commission seat in 1997, has previously served in elective office as a member of the Lyndhurst Board of Education for 21 years, from 1977 to 1999.
During her tenure as a school trustee, Bortone said the district transitioned to the computer age, upgraded school entrances, removed asbestos from school buildings, updated curriculum and adopted an anti-nepotism employment policy.
Bortone worked nine years for the Lyndhurst Parks & Recreation Department where she ran the summer day camp program for 370 children ages five to 13 and the handicapped adult program. She also coached girls’ softball for 15 years, winning championships in all but three years, and founded a softball league for girls ages eight to 12.
A past president of the Lyndhurst Women’s Club, Bortone remains an active member, looking after the Food Pantry and serving on the state level as program assistance chairwoman.
She’s also a longtime parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, where she runs trips for the Senior Club, and is a member of the AARP Board’s Local 4866 where she oversees veterans’ activities and community service projects.
In 2010 Bortone was nominated for the N.J. State Governor’s Jefferson Award for her volunteerism in the Lyndhurst community of which she’s a lifelong resident.
Why is she now running for office? “I’ve known these guys [on the Board of Commissioners] all my life and they’re all great guys,” Bortone said. “But there are a lot of little things happening around town that have been bothering me and I think I could be an asset to this board.”
One of those annoyances is the township’s decision to move the Board of Health offices from the Public Affairs Department offices at 253 Stuyvesant Ave. to The Heritage residential complex at 601 Riverside Ave. and to relocate the Township Clerk’s office into the vacated health offices on Stuyvesant.
“Before the move, the health offices were centrally located and convenient to get to,” Bortone said. “Plus they were right next to the Carucci Apartments so the seniors living there had a short walk over.
“But where the offices are now is in a bad location. It’s dangerous driving there because the entrance to the parking is on a curve; there are no lights.” Walking there is no picnic, either, she said, since people have to brave a heavily-traveled Riverside Ave. to cross over to the building.
Once a resident reaches the building’s entrance, Bortone added, “you have to walk down a long hallway, past a bar and a gym, to get into the health offices. Plus, the door to the front office isn’t locked so anybody can get in. And once you’re inside, there’s no privacy when they do marriage licenses and death certificates. In the examination rooms, there’s just a sliding partition. In the main room, everybody is in the same area: you’ve got the [Public Affairs] Commissioner’s secretary, medical transport drivers, health inspector, health coordinator and nurse. At Stuyvesant Ave. everybody had an office with a door that closed.”
Additionally, Bortone griped, there isn’t enough parking for people visiting the health offices. “The [Heritage] residents take up most of the parking.”
The township has justified the move as a way of getting a bigger, rent-free space in a more modern building.
Transferring the municipal clerk and staff and records makes no sense, either, Bortone said. Given the periodic updates of the building, including the addition of a “sallyport” for the transport of prisoners and an elevator, “how absurd is it now to move the clerk’s office and the staff away from Town Hall – where residents go to pay taxes, water bills, etc.”
The township has said switching spaces will give the clerk and her staff more room to operate and store current and archival municipal records and it will ensure that physically impaired visitors can easily access the office. People visiting the old clerk’s office had to climb several steps to get to staffers or ask a staff member to come down to assist them.
“If handicapped accessibility was the problem because of three steps … was there any thought of perhaps a desk area two to three days a week for those unable to climb those three steps?” Bortone wondered.
Soon after the clerk’s office at the Municipal Building was emptied, municipal workers began alterations to prepare it as a new office for the mayor in place of his former upstairs office which is now slated to be occupied, rent-free, by staff of Ninth District Rep. Bill Pascrell. Office hours have yet to be announced.
Bilis, a retired Lyndhurst police officer, couldn’t be reached for his views and, as of last week, Giangeruso said he and his team were still assembling election press releases. Residents Anthony J. Giarrusso, Ronald M. Szwec, Elaine Stella, Joseph Sarnoski, Hilda Monaco, Christopher G. Lopez, William Barnaskas, Dan Perrotta (on behalf of Charlene Perrotta) and Darius Hughes have picked up nominating petitions but, as of last week, none had submitted completed papers to the clerk’s office.