The Gonnelli effect What do the Take Back Secaucus team victories mean?

The victories of Take Back Secaucus slate candidates Gary Jeffas in the 1st Ward and Mike Gonnelli in the 2nd Ward on Nov. 7 will lead to interesting possibilities in the town council chambers when the new council is sworn into office in January.

Elwell’s reaction

It is no secret to town political observers that many residents viewed the 2nd Ward council contest as a proxy battle between Gonnelli and his political rival Mayor Dennis Elwell. The roots of the friction between the mayor and the town superintendent of public works are also well known.

The issues between the two men include Gonnelli’s vote against a Wal-Mart gas station in his capacity as a New Jersey Meadowlands Commission member and questions concerning Gonnelli’s D.P.W. retirement package. Other bones of contention between the two men have centered on issues of overdevelopment, intimidation of town employees, patronage jobs, and “pay-to-play” practices in government.

Sitting in his town hall office the day after the election, Mayor Elwell examined his rival’s victory.

“There were several issues in the election that could have people annoyed,” he said. ‘The Take Back Secaucus team made implications that the town wasn’t being run right. They also made implications about me and town administrator Anthony Iacono. I don’t know why people vote the way they vote, but I would guess that to some degree all of those things had something to do with it.”

Together with independent councilman John Bueckner, Jeffas and Gonnelli will now form a voting bloc that aligns them against the remaining three councilmen, including councilman-elect John Shinnick, John Reilly, and Richard Kane, as well as the mayor. Elwell discussed how this slim 4-3 majority will affect his ability to govern.

“It really is going to be no different,” he said. “Councilman Bueckner has been opposed to me since I’ve been mayor, but when you look at his voting record, 90 percent of the time he votes along with us. I don’t intend to run government any differently. All of the councilmen will all have their fair share of input. If they make proposals that are possible and make sense, I would have no problem going along with them. That’s going to be up to them.”

Iacono speaks

Town administrator Iacono has been at the center of considerable speculation that a Take Back Secaucus victory would cost him his job. According to Iacono, it would take a two-thirds majority to remove him, a fact he has stated is backed up by town ordinances.

While passing the municipal budget requires a two-thirds majority, almost all other votes require a simple majority in Secaucus. Iacono gave his impression of a political future in Secaucus that many see as not so simple.

“Michael Grecco lost by a very small margin, which is not a mandate by any means,” he said. “Gonnelli is a very popular guy, but I still don’t think that there is a mandate about the direction of the town. People want to see the great services and stable taxes that this administration has provided to continue. I think that you will see that 90 percent of the votes will be 7-0, and then periodically there will be a difference of opinion with a 4-3 vote.”

Bueckner begs to differ

From the inside of the Take Back Secaucus victory celebration, Councilman John Bueckner foresaw a council that would no longer be business as usual.

“I think Mayor Elwell has to recognize the fact that the people are not happy with the way he’s running the town at the present time and that people want a change,” he said. “He should see that the three of us together are a viable group. There are a lot of things that come into play now: budgets, capital improvements and so forth. It’s absolutely essential that the mayor share the council assignments.”

A final note

Elwell may decide to share power in some way. However, he has no intention to share the mayor’s chair. Now that Gonnelli has made it to the council, many residents expect that he will soon use his 2nd Ward councilman seat as a base from which to launch a 2009 mayoral campaign against Elwell.

The mayor is unfazed.

“If Mike Gonnelli decides to run for mayor, he can run,” he said. “I can’t stop him. He’s entitled to do it. Nor can anybody stop me from running. He would have to beat me, and if he does, he does. How can I predict how people are going to vote in three years? How can I predict that Mike Gonnelli or I are going to be here in three years? That’s something that time will tell.”


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