Kearny Town Council candidates aligned with Mayor Alberto G. Santos won seats on the governing body; the incumbent Mayor of Harrison James A. Fife easily fended off a challenge by perennial challenger and former Councilman Anselmo Millan; and North Arlington Mayor Daniel H. Pronti and his two running mates were all easily returned to office on Election Day last week, Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Stathis Theodoropoulos, a first-time council candidate, overcame independent challenger Sydney Ferreira to capture a Fourth Ward seat by a tally of 826 to 404 while Eileen Eckel, who has represented the Third Ward since 2004, knocked off her unaligned opponent David Paszkiewicz by a vote of 1,113 to 511.
Theodoropoulos ran in place of longtime Fourth Ward representative Susan McCurrie, who opted not to seek re-election. She’s served on the council since 2004.
Another new face, George Zapata, was elected to represent the First Ward. Zapata, who will step down from his seat on the Board of Education for the council, faced no opposition and takes over for Councilman Albino Cardoso, who chose not to seek another term. Zapata collected 579 votes in the council balloting.
Peter Santana, Second Ward incumbent, retained his seat after running unopposed. He was credited with 513 votes.
Paszkiewicz, a longtime Kearny High School history teacher and crew coach, and local pastor, issued a statement on Facebook after the election.
“I just wanted to thank everyone who supported me during my campaign for Town Council. We did not win, but we raised issues to the attention of the town at large which may now be addressed more vigorously,” he said. “I thank you for your votes, putting up signs, canvassing your neighborhoods and praying for me personally. You guys are amazing and I love you! The issue of ‘paving roads’ was a key issue in my campaign.
“I hope that my campaign as well as Sydney Ferreira’s actually ‘paved the road’ for a flood of candidates to run in the future. Unchallenged single-party rule is unhealthy. We need checks and balances. I will continue to be a voice for you, shedding light on issues of concern.”
Ferreira, who in 2021 ran unsuccessfully for mayor and who was asked for his post-election observations, did not respond.
Theodoropoulos, meanwhile, who owns and operates a lighting distribution company, attributed his victory “to the voters and a really big team effort by the campaign”— Santos and council members included — who were “super helpful when we knocked on hundreds of (residents’) doors.”
Theodoropoulos said people who voted for him “know my values, that I’m a good person,” but added that, ultimately, he came to the realization that “I don’t win unless I’m part of the Santos team” and that supporters “jumped on board on the basis of their track record and that record resonated with the voters.”
“Most people are very happy with the leadership we have,” he said. “They feel safe, that there’s a good community around us…. People love what (the team) is doing at Gunnell Oval and our parks and they like the fact that our taxes have been stable the last couple of years.”
During the next four years, Theodoropoulos said he plans to work with his council colleagues to oversee the continuing replacement of lead service lines delivering water to homeowners and repaving of dug-up streets; expanding 4-way stops at key intersections and/or installation of rumble strips to slow down traffic; working with planners to reshape Midland Avenue into a more thriving business district; and “growing ‘E-government’ to allow residents easier access to paying bills, downloading applications forms and the like.
Zapata, a paralegal at a personal injury law firm, said he felt “privileged” to have been on the campaign trail with his incumbent running mates and to have had the benefit of their knowledge of the community and, in the process, he said he “enjoyed meeting people from different walks of life.”
Asked to assess the challenges now facing the town, Zapata said: “Overwhelmingly, it’s the parking situation, particularly in the First Ward.”
There are times, Zapata said, when local merchants will allow neighbors to use their lots for overnight parking “with the understanding that (those neighbors) will be gone before (the merchants) open up for business in the morning, but now we’ve gotten to the point where everybody is using (the lot).”
Maybe, he said, the town can help broker “an actual agreement” for designated residents to park overnight in those lots “and make it work for the merchants, too.”
Such an arrangement has been worked out for the Kearny Avenue lot across the street from the Oh Calamares restaurant where residents apply for permits to park there, he said.
Eckel, a longtime middle school English teacher in Fair Lawn, said she’s “grateful to all the Kearny residents who exercised their right to be heard through their vote.” She also welcomed the newcomers to the council and said she looked forward to their input to ensure the success of the water line replacement program.
Among other upcoming projects, Eckel said, is completion of final plans and selection of a contractor to undertake long-awaited improvements to the town’s boat launch dock area. And there’s the roller hockey rink on Passaic Avenue that’s scheduled to be refurbished in spring 2023, she said. Outside funding is in place for that job, she added.
In the 11th hour, things got very heated in the race for Harrison’s mayor, yet despite the rhetoric, Mayor James A. Fife easily rolled to another four-year term, his third in total since becoming mayor after the death of his predecessor Raymond McDonough.
The Observer spoke with Fife after the election (the entire interview may be seen at www.theobserver.com) and he stressed the utter importance of honesty in an election and in the politics behind them. His opponent, he said, was anything but honest in the runup to Nov. 8. Things got so bad between the one-time allies Fife said even if his opponent had called him to congratulate him on his victory — he didn’t, by the way —he wouldn’t have accepted his phone call.
“By not stooping to the other campaign’s level with all the charges and counter-charges (we won big),” Fife said. “And all the nasty names they called us, all that stuff, we stuck to the facts, talked about his suspension from his job, which he denied a few times, all over the place, and that’s how we did it — we just told the truth.”
The aforementioned suspension revolves around Millan’s job in Hudson County. A memo from his superiors in 2018 indicated he was suspended form work for 90 days over a nine-month period for misusing county time. Millan still denies the suspension ever happened through one of his campaign advisers.
Fife, meanwhile, says he looks forward to his new term where building new, affordable housing will be among his priorities.
There were also five council races in Harrison, all unopposed. Winners were all incumbents — Jesus Huaranga in the First Ward; Ellen Mendoza in the Second Ward; Larry Bennett and Delphim Sarabando in the Third Ward (Sarabando will complete and unexpired term) and James P. Doran in the Fourth Ward.
“It was a victory that happened, not as much as is it did,” Bennett said of Fife’s victory. “We thought we were going to win but we didn’t take anything for granted. We worked hard, the people came out and they voiced their opinion. …I said it on election night, this victory wasn’t about us — it was for the people of Harrison. They won on Election Day.”
While Millan did not make a statement on his defeat, one of his campaign workers, Attorney John Pinho, did. And it appears he is looking to assess blame for the loss to anyone but the candidate.
“Yesterday, I listened to Kevin A. Canessa Jr. interview Mayor Fife and make statements about Anselmo’s negative campaign. Anselmo did not run a negative campaign. The campaign did not even mention the above, Federal Civil Rights case where Fife admits (confesses) that he locked out Anselmo from his office because he was running against him until the false statements began,” Pinho wrote in a long, terse social-media post.
“I have a lot of respect for Kevin Canessa, but yesterday’s interview, ignoring facts, saying things like ‘I showed Anselmo the document and he denied it.’ The document that Fife in an interview with Canessa before Anselmo’s interview stated was not from the county because they would not release personnel file.
“The document that he received anonymously in a white envelope he carefully opened himself. Nauseating that our local paper who I supported through the years is stooping so low. Making statements supported by anonymous letter.”
The aforementioned document, however, was obtained through an Open Public Records Act request. Also, confirmable by watching the video, Canessa never said he showed Millan the document. Instead, he said he had the document, in-hand, when Millan denied its existence, but he never pursued the matter.
And finally, in North Arlington, Mayor Daniel H. Pronti barely broke a sweat as he won his second full, 4-year term as did his two running mates, Kirk Del Russo and Lynette Cavadas, who won 3-year terms. Pronti spoke with Canessa live on Election Night and remained positive as he did from end to end of the campaign.
“Everybody stayed the course throughout the whole town and the people spoke and and it’s pretty evident that we have more and more residents and voters that are actually paying attention and they go out and they’re voting for their heart and they’re not just voting down party lines,” Pronti said. “We don’t govern by party lines. We take care of everyone. We do the right thing by North Arlington residents. We don’t care if you’re a Republican or Democrat or a Whig — you could be any party you want. We we don’t treat anyone differently. And it shows.
“People see, they know we’re out here doing the right thing for everyone. And we’re actually out here involved. And it’s kind of frustrating when we see the people who run against us, who constantly put the same nonsense out year after year with the same rhetoric that this is a one day a month job. And and you know what? They’re they’re more concerned about how much money than what we’re doing here for the town and it’s evident we’re not doing this for the money because we don’t make a lot of money at all doing this.”
The mayor’s “salary” in NA is less than $13,000 a year.
Pronti, meanwhile, says he looks forward to his next term where he wants to be able to build senior/veteran housing as a top priority.