Melham, DePeña & Graziano cruise to Belleville election victory

Belleville Mayor Michael Melham easily cruised to a second term, holding off challenger and current Councilman Steven J. Rovell and his council running mates — Naomy DePeña and Thomas Graziano — also easily secured new terms in the Tuesday, May 10, 2022, municipal election.

Though the results are not yet certified by the Essex County Clerk’s Office, Melham unofficially beat Rovell garnering 62% of the vote to Rovell’s 38%. That represents 2,640 votes to 1,595 votes, with 96% of the votes counted. Melham scored substantially more votes than he did in 2018, when he was a “newcomer” to the mayoralty, and narrowly beat the late former Mayor Raymond Kimble.

Melham says it’s the first time an incumbent mayor in Belleville history scored more votes in re-election than in the initial election.

“It’s never happened before and that speaks volumes — the people saw what we’ve done and will continue to do and they appreciate what they’re seeing,” a jubilant Melham told The Observer following his victory.

In the race for council, Graziano and DePeña both walked away with easy wins over challengers Charles Hood and Tracy Williams. With more than 8,000 total votes cast in that race, Graziano had 30.9% of the total, DePeña had 30.6%, Hood ended up with 20.1% and Williams had 18.2%. Just .2% of the vote was for write-in candidates.

The election was one where the incumbents ran on their records of accomplishment, whilst the challengers offered very little by way of a specific platform.

There was also an attempt, by Melham detractors, to influence the election by drawing attention to the mayor’s appointments to the township’s Planning Board. However, it didn’t work — as the mayor took the steps to memorialize the appointments with retroactive approval of them by the Council. The detractors tried using the opinion of a well-noted land-use lawyer to say the appointments weren’t proper.

After the election was over, Melham said he will do his level best to work with his opponent, Rovell, who retains his seat on the Council. He’ll be up for re-election for that seat in 2023. But he says he hopes Rovell would bring to the council some of the “incorrect” accusations made during the campaign about the mayor’s handling of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

“I’d love for him to explain the statements that we lost $3.6 million in funding,” Melham said. “I am sure others are curious as to what he meant, too, because that never happened. He put it out there and was put in his place, but up to now, he hasn’t responded.

“With that said, however, it’s time to put the past behind us and to continue to look ahead. That is what I plan to do.”

Melham says he plans to operate term two under a mandate the voters gave him.

“We won overwhelmingly,” he said. “It’s what we wanted and what we got. I’ve said from the beginning just one or two of us winning wouldn’t be enough — all three on our team won. We got the mandate we were looking for and it’s feels so good.”

Lastly, but hardly of least importance, Melham says that while he is aware of his detractors, he says they’re a select few and won’t influence him at all in a new term, which commences July 1.

“They’re small in number — loud, but small in number,” Melham said. “I rarely pay attention to the nonsense, but occasionally I’ve had to respond to their accusations (mostly on social media.) But no more. The voters spoke, they sent us to new terms overwhelmingly and they’ve told us they don’t buy into the nonsense.”

DePeña, meanwhile, was elated following her stirring victory.

“I am very emboldened by the results of this election,” she said. “As we walked door to door, people everywhere were telling us they’ve never seen the change like we delivered. They felt we were accessible. They felt we delivered on our plans. I’d say of the people we spoke with, 97% of it was positive.”

But what about the detractors?

“There’s a group of five or six people. They’re in a bubble. Their days are done,” DePeña said. “They are on the decline and their negativity and anger can only go so far.”

During the campaign, DePena says it was meeting people she’d never encountered before that was most enlightening.

“It was empowering to meet the people we never knew telling us they appreciate what we have done,” DePena, currently the township’s deputy mayor, said. “The culture of the old way is over. I’ve always said you don’t have to scream to be right. So we will continue to listen and hear what the people have to say. We will continue to respect the public.

“When you live in a small community like ours, we’re all related or connected in some way. So we must treat each other as such.”w

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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.