North Arlington Mayor Joseph Bianchi, who spent the last four years as the leader of this small southern Bergen County borough and who was to face re-election in just a few short weeks, died Wednesday, Oct. 10, following a brave battle with Sept. 11, 2001-related cancer.
He was 77.
A statement issued by Borough Administrator Stephen LoIacono brought greater light to Bianchi’s service at Ground Zero following the terror attacks of 17 years ago. While some knew he spent time there, most didn’t.
“He stayed at the site not because he had to, but because it was the right thing to do,” LoIacono wrote of the long-time North Arlington volunteer firefighter. “We thought he had conquered the illness — that is why the news of his passing was more difficult to hear.”
While it did appear he conquered the illness, Bianchi was, at times, appearing to slow down some at local events. At times, he would need assistance getting to podiums to speak. But that never stopped him from doing what he loved — and that was being of service to the community he was born in, raised in and where he lived every single one of his 77 years on this earth.
The Republican became a councilman in 2007 and then, in 2015, he was sworn in as mayor after defeating Democrat Peter Massa in the 2014 election.
Upon becoming mayor, he initiated the North Arlington Renaissance program, where he sought to make the community a stronger and more vibrant place to live, work and play. He worked hard to make North Arlington a clean and safe municipality.
Aware that redevelopment along Ridge Road would help business owners like himself develop a stronger clientele so their shops would be more viable, when he took over as mayor, 16 storefronts were vacant on Ridge Road. There is only one now.
When FedEx was looking for a site, he put the “open for business” sign on Borough Hall and moved heaven and earth to get their approvals in just four months. He offered no tax breaks or concessions to them. He thought the fact that the Borough of North Arlington had no new large ratable since 1995 was unfair to homeowners whose taxes rising.
But not even a year ago, the FedEx facility opened amid great fanfare, and it was partly his diligence that led to the shipping giant setting up shop here.
Under his leadership, both Time and Money magazines named North Arlington as one of the greater communities to live and raise a family in the entire country. In an interview with The Observer earlier this year, Bianchi said: “We already knew North Arlington was a great place to live. Now the entire country knows — and I couldn’t be more proud of our community here.”
Perhaps even more stunning — especially given the tax rates in nearby communities — North Arlington saw a 0% tax increase over the last two years, something else, about which, Bianchi was proud to boast.
“Find me another community that can boast this,” he said several months ago.
Despite having several opponents in the 2018 general election, it is evident just how much Bianchi meant to this community, regardless of what political party to which one belonged. Mark Yampaglia, Bianchi’s Democrat opponent, and former Councilman Albert Granell, also a Democrat running as an independent candidate, took time to reflect on that life that was Bianchi’s.
Both served with him on the Borough Council.
Yampaglia, in honoring Bianchi, says he’s unsure of how the rest of the 2018 campaign for the North Arlington mayoralty, will proceed.
“The passing of Mayor Joseph Bianchi is a tragic and devastating loss for our community and pulls at the very fabric of North Arlington,” Yampaglia said. Mayor Bianchi’s decades of public service as a volunteer firefighter, member and chairman of the North Arlington Planning Board as well as his elected service as a councilman and mayor are to be admired and praised. I have had the distinct pleasure and honor to serve with Mayor Bianchi during most of my time as a borough councilman and I always found the mayor to be bipartisan, independent and dedicated to the cause of honest an open government.
“He was nothing but considerate and fair and always put North Arlington first. He was a gentleman and a tremendous ambassador for the North Arlington brand. I consider Mayor Bianchi a friend, colleague and neighbor. His salon, Pal Joey’s, is a North Arlington institution and his strong presence as a businessman enabled him to empathize with our local retailers along Ridge Road. Mayor Bianchi placed community over politics and service above self.
“I am temporarily suspending my campaign so that Mayor Bianchi’s passing is appropriately acknowledged … my deepest sympathies condolences are sincerely offered to his wife, children and extended family. I will reevaluate my efforts moving forward once this time of mourning has been completed.”
Granell echoed Yampaglia’s sentiments.
“It’s in times like this where one has to take a second and take a step back. In this unstable political climate of back and forth, one looks for words to express the moment. Joe Bianchi was a North Arlington resident, a staple of the community — a family man, business owner, volunteer, councilman and then mayor.
“I’ve known Joe Bianchi for many years. We served together as councilmen on the governing body for several years. While we didn’t always agree on the way to resolve the issues that North Arlington was facing. I always knew Joe loved North Arlington. There were so many things we did together for North Arlington on the governing body serving together — and for that I will always be grateful to Joe.
“It’s a moment of sadness and we should all rally and support Catherine and Joe’s family at this time — as well as the community that has lost one of its leaders. Sharon and I share our thoughts and prayers to the entire Bianchi family.”
Bianchi and his wife, Cathy, operated Pal Joey’s, on Ridge Road, since 1966. The mayor had also been a member of UNICO and Rotary.
Bianchi leaves behind wife Cathy; daughter Gina Choinski; sons Joseph and Anthony Bianchi; brother Robert Bianchi; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Scores of friends and families flocked to the Armitage & Wiggins Funeral Home on Sunday, Oct. 14, for his wake. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at Queen of Peace Church, where Bianchi was a long-time parishioner, on Monday, Oct. 15.
He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington, so fitting that his final place of rest will be in the same borough where he spent his entire life.
Rest in peace, Mayor Bianchi.
Rest in peace.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.