For decades, Guttenberg was the busiest out of all Hudson County municipalities in terms of elections. All of the offices were two-year terms, which meant that there was a vote every year on at least one seat.
Plus, there were primary elections in June.
The process was very costly for the small town of Guttenberg and its approximately 11,000 residents.
Last year, the state legislature passed a bill that enabled municipalities that had two-year terms of office to increase them to four years. One of those towns affected by the bill was Guttenberg. The two-year terms became a thing of the past.
So when Guttenberg’s approximately 5,000 registered voters make their way to the polls this Tuesday to participate in the November election, it will be the last time they will vote in a regularly scheduled municipal election until 2009.
Four vying for two seats
Last November, Mayor David Delle Donna and council members Adela Martinez, Gerald Drasheff, and Efrain Velez all gained re-election and four-year terms.
There are two council seats up for grabs in this year’s election, which will now be for a four-year term of office.
Incumbent Councilman Frank Criscione and runningmate Donna Florio will appear on the Democratic Row B ticket headed by U.S. Senate candidate Robert Menendez.
The opposition will come from Republican challengers Vasilios “Bill” Scoullos and Slava Lerner, running on the Row A ticket headed by Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr.
Two Dems vs. two Republicans
Criscione, 62, was appointed to the Town Council in 2003 when he replaced Tom Barnes, who moved from Guttenberg and had to resign.
Criscione gained re-election in 2004 and is now seeking the four-year term.
Criscione was the town’s police director for a short time and commissioner of the Housing Authority. He is currently a substitute teacher at North Bergen High School. He is also an actor, producer and director.
Florio, 50, is a first-time municipal candidate, although she served as a local committeewoman for 20 years. She works at the town’s lone school, Anna L. Klein School, as a paraprofessional.
Florio is vying for the seat that will be left vacant by two-term Councilwoman Jennifer Credidio, who chose not to seek re-election because of her work demands as an attorney.
Scoullos, 55, is a semi-retired financial consultant who has sought public office two prior times unsuccessfully, but he did gain election to the Board of Education three years ago.
Lerner, 50, owns his own textile business, and is running for public office for the first time.
Lerner said last week that he wanted to run this time because he didn’t like the rising tax rate.
“In 1999, the rate was 10.69 per $1,000 [of assessed property value],” said Lerner, a native of the Ukraine who has called Guttenberg home for the last 27 years. “Now, it’s 21.24 per $1,000. That’s almost 100 percent in seven years. Something doesn’t look right here. Our tax rate has gone up higher than the real estate value has.”
Criscione and Delle Donna responded to Lerner’s position.
“Taxes are going up everywhere,” said Delle Donna, who is supporting the Democratic candidates. “The state has put a freeze on local aid. So salaries have gone up, insurance has gone up. The money has to come from somewhere. We don’t have room for more new ratables.”
Scoullos did not return calls by press time.
Excited to run
Florio, a lifelong resident of Guttenberg, said that she was “excited” to be involved in the political process.
“I’m ecstatic and overwhelmed that I was asked to run,” said Florio, a married mother of two. “I think the people already know me and they’re receptive to me being on the council. Nothing intimidates me and I’m willing to fight for what’s right.”
Criscione said that the council was “hard-pressed to find someone to replace Jennifer Credidio,” but was pleased that the choice for a runningmate was Florio.
“She’s the perfect candidate, and I’m very proud to run with her,” Criscione said.
“I am happy to be a part of this council and when we win on Tuesday,” Criscione said, “then the people of Guttenberg will be happy as well.”
Lerner understood he was facing an uphill battle.
“It’s a challenge, but I like challenges,” Lerner said. “I know Mayor Delle Donna appreciates me. I know I can give fresh ideas.”
Polls are open in Guttenberg Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the town’s seven voting locations.