The Guttenberg Town Council received the names of three candidates for the vacant position of councilman on Monday, Dec. 14, and by Wednesday they had sworn in their newest member. Wayne D. Zitt Jr. will serve both as councilman and chair of the Guttenberg Department of Public Works, replacing Efrain Velez, who retired effective Dec. 4. Each councilperson chairs a different town department, which has its own staff.
Zitt also will continue to serve in his full-time job as chief of staff to Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez, representing the 32nd Legislative District, including Guttenberg, North Bergen, Secaucus, West New York, and other portions of Hudson and Bergen counties.
“The council position is part time and the chief of staff position is full time,” Zitt said in a conversation with The North Bergen Reporter last week, explaining that there would be no conflict of interest. Quite the opposite, he said.
“I can serve as the voice between the town and [Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez] and provide insight into what’s coming down the road.” –Wayne Zitt
Chief among his focus is an issue of concern to almost anyone in town, whether residents or visitors. “Everybody’s issue is parking, so I’ll be looking at anything creative being done in the state,” he said. “Also seeing how other towns are dealing with that issue.”
With no DPW experience, he will rely on Superintendent DPW Kenneth DeGrushe to “continue handling things the way they’ve been handled in the past.”
“The council members themselves are great. They’re residents and they really care about the town, as do I,” he said. “The town itself doesn’t seem to have many issues. My goal is to try to drum up new ideas and new thoughts and have a voice.”
North Hudson born and bred
Born in North Hudson Hospital in Weekawken, Zitt was raised in North Bergen, playing all-state football and graduating in 1994. He worked for 14 years for a trucking firm in Elizabeth, moving up from dispatcher to general manager.
He is the unmarried father of two kids: Devan, 8, who attends Robert Fulton School in North Bergen, and Isabella, 2. Zitt said he spent “90 percent of my life” in Hudson County, moving to Guttenberg four or five years ago, where he is a member of the Guttenberg Democratic Committee.
While in North Bergen, he used to help out with elections. He got to know Jimenez, along with Mayor and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. When Cosmo Cirillo, the former chief of staff to Jimenez, left the position three years ago, Zitt applied.
Cirillo is currently a commissioner in West New York and senior advisor to Prieto.
“I walked into this cold, not knowing anything from a legislative or campaigning standpoint,” said Zitt. “Between Cosmo and the other staffers, I’ve continued to learn. Working within this team is awesome, a great experience. They’re all very knowledgable.”
Zitt is currently studying for an online degree in political science. He expects to receive his bachelor’s degree next year.
When Efrain Velez resigned, the Guttenberg Democratic Committee had 15 days to provide the names of three candidates to fill his position.
“I was trying to get my name thrown in,” said Zitt, who lived on the same block as Velez and knew the councilman was leaving. The 12-member committee met on Sunday, Dec. 13 to nominate the candidates. As a member of the committee, Zitt was nominated by another member and abstained from the voting on his name.
The next day the committee provided the Guttenberg Town Council with three names: Zitt, Ret. Police Capt. Joel Magenheimer, and William Hokien.
An emergency public meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 16 and the three candidates were interviewed by the council.
“Captain Magenheimer was first. And he declined to be considered because he’s newly elected to the school board,” said Zitt. “He felt it was his duty to serve the people and would not be appropriate to move out before he even started.”
After the interview process the council went into closed session and unanimously voted for Zitt.
“I was right next door at my boss’s Christmas party, which I organized,” said Zitt. “I got a text message within a half hour saying a decision had been made.”
So back he walked to the council chambers, and he was sworn in that night.
A ceremonial swearing-in ceremony will take place at the council meeting at 8 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 4 in Town Hall. That meeting will also serve as a reorganization meeting for the council.
By law, Zitt, who is officially replacing a retiring councilman, must run again for the position at the time of the next general election, in November of 2016. At that time any other candidates can submit their names to run for the unexpired remainder of the term.
The term will then expire in 2017 and Zitt, or whoever is in office, will need to run again in order to remain on the council.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.