By Ron Leir
And then there were none.
Mayor Ray McDonough’s Democratic team solidified its hold on the Harrison Town Council when the remaining Independent on the governing body was voted out of office last Tuesday, Nov. 8.
With the defeat of Second Ward Councilwoman Maria McCormick by McDonough ally Victor Villalta, the Democrats take an 8-0 clean sweep on the council.
Last year, the only other Independent on the council – Steve McCormick (Maria’s spouse) – lost his Second Ward seat to Anselmo Millan.
In last week’s election, Villalta narrowly outpolled Maria McCormick by a machine tally of 209 to 175; Villalta extended his lead with 12 mail-in ballots to McCormick’s four. Provisional and military ballots weren’t yet counted at press time.
In the Third Ward, efforts by challenger Angela Alday-Pfleger, running as an Independent, to dislodge incumbent Democrat Francisco Nascimento fell short by about 100 votes, and in the First Ward, Independent Joe Nelson, opposing incumbent Dem Caroline Mandaglio, dropped out of the race for personal reasons. Fourth Ward Councilman Michael Dolaghan, a Dem, ran unopposed.
The four other ward council members and the mayor are up for re-election in 2014.
McCormick said she was considering challenging the results but, as of press time, she hadn’t decided whether to pursue that route.
It was tough campaigning when the odds were stacked against her, Steve McCormick reasoned. “They (the Harrison Democrats) spent many thousands and we spent a couple hundred dollars; they had 200 workers while we had 10,” he said. “People listened to their propaganda.”
Relaxing with her family the day after the election, Maria said: “I feel pretty good. I gave it my all. I stayed responsible.”
In her four years on the council, McCormick said she “tried to accomplish many things by working together as a team but I couldn’t. I felt I was not included in anything. I became the other side of the tracks.”
As a former clothing retailer, McCormick said she’d hoped to get the town to promote the local businesses – “not just inviting people to come to a ball game (at the new soccer stadium)” instead of focusing solely on prospective redevelopers – “but I didn’t get any help.”
“I would have liked to have a state of the art parking meter system with kiosks with lots of advertising,” she said. “Our neighbor Kearny does well because it’s business-friendly.”
“I wish we didn’t force people out of town to accommodate redevelopment,” McCormick added. The town could’ve made more of an effort to get the redevelopers to fit in more of the existing businesses “and not just, ‘well, we don’t need you anymore,’ ’’ she said. “I had approached the Red Bulls three years ago about helping our Little League field but I was told they were soccer-specific.”
“Somebody’s got to fight for the common people,” McCormick said. “So now, Harrison’s lost a voice (on the council) but I’m still going to be a voice at the meetings. I’m proud to be a Harrisonian.”
Villalta, who lost his Second Ward council seat to McCormick four years ago and has now won it back, said he’s already spoken to the mayor about lining up funding to fix certain ripped-up roads in the ward – particularly the “100 block to 200 block of Bergen St.”
“By next June, it’s going to happen,” Villalta asserted.
He also wants to devote more attention to programs at the Harrison Senior Center. “Maybe some more trips to movies,” he said. “I know money’s tight. We’ll see what we can do.”
No doubt real estate taxes are a big headache for Harrison homeowners, Villalta conceded. “But the mayor has a plan for redevelopment: 9/11 set us back and then we got hit with the recession. But now we’ve got more than 200 new apartments built near the PATH station and between 80 and 90 are already rented. And we’ve got another developer ready to break ground in six months on the Advance property (near the stadium).”
The Third Ward council race featured first-time office seeker Alday-Pfleger, president of the Harrison public housing tenants association and a private teacher aide, battling Nascimento, public school administrator of Harrison and Hudson County. Another Independent candidate, Robert Villanueva, circulated a letter in the ward asking residents to vote for Alday-Pfleger.
In a letter to Third Ward residents, Alday-Pfleger, wrote: “Currently Harrison is facing unprecedented economic problems including our poor credit-rating, large debt service, taxes, cuts in services and stalled redevelopment. I believe I will being a fresh approach with fresh ideas and a fresh outlook to help solve these problems.”
She advocated holding council meetings in the Third Ward where residents could get “more than five minutes” to talk about issues in the ward, switching to an elective Board of Education to encourage more parental involvement, getting the Red Bulls to help subsidize town recreation, restoring the Halloween Parade, and saving some of the town-owned parking lots in the ward that the town has put up for sale. Promises by the town to pave the area along the railroad tracks off Kingsland Ave. and to put in lights have never been kept, she said.
Her post-election message was: “I’m coming after (Nascimento) next time.” Until then, though, she plans to stay active politically.
For his part, Nascimento says he’s pledged to walk the mayor’s path. “Forty percent of our town is being redeveloped,” he said. “That’s the plan that was set by the mayor …. We have to continue in that direction. That’s our best alternative. On Nov. 17, a developer will start demolition of the old Hartz property. We’re going to create a new road behind the Red Bull stadium to alleviate traffic congestion. I’m very optimistic about our future. … The mayor has good relationships with Sen. (Nick) Sacco and the county executive (Tom DeGise) – he has the connections. We don’t need any new revolution.”
Elsewhere in the region:
North Arlington Borough Council incumbents Steve Tanelli and Mark Yampaglia, both Democrats, defeated GOP challengers Kirk Del Russo and Gary Burns. Tanelli was top vote getter with 1,508; Yampaglia had 1,359; Del Russo, 1,263; and Burns, 1,227, all by machine vote.
East Newark Borough Council incumbents Hans Peter Lucas and Jeanne Zincavage, both Democrats, were uncontested, as was Belleville Councilman Vincent Cozzarelli, an Independent.
In Bloomfield, Democrats captured all three seats up for grabs on the Township Council: In the First Ward, Elias N. Chalet beat Robert Goworek, 1,009 to 662; in the Second Ward, it was incumbent Nicholas Joanow over Kent A. Weisert, 1,383 to 833; and in the Third Ward, Carlos Bernard bested Sue Ann Penna, 973 to 502, all by machine vote. First Ward incumbent Dem Janice Letterio didn’t seek re-election and Third Ward incumbent Dem Robert Ruane lost to Bernard in the June primary.