The same group that started a petition to recall Mayor James Davis on April 20 is now targeting Second Ward Councilman Sal Gullace. The group, which consists of residents Ryan Walker, Jacqueline Force, and Mary Curtis, was at the City Clerk’s office last week to file a notice of intention to recall the councilman. The group is known for its fiscally conservative views on local government, opposition to the proposed Muslim Community Center, and for petitioning to recall the mayor.
The New Jersey State Constitution states that a petition to unseat a mayor needs to be submitted within 160 days of filing, and needs signatures from 25 percent of the total number of registered voters. If the group succeeds in every step, then a special election will be held.To unseat Mayor Davis, 8,178 signatures are needed. According to the group, 3,500 signatures have already been collected, according to the group. To unseat Gullace, 2,569 signatures are needed.
The recall group issued a statement listing grievances with Councilman Gullace. One is that he called the second ward a “dump.” Another is that he “made a fool of himself at council meetings,”and also for having been improperly provided health benefits from the city for a year.
Mary Curtis said that the councilman “doesn’t help us and isn’t involved in our community.” She said the group is well-intentioned. “This is not anything malicious, nothing personal against Mr. Gullace. He’s a good guy.” The group is mostly disgruntled with their ward having been absorbed into the second ward.
“He doesn’t help us with anything and isn’t involved in our community.” – Mary Curtis
Councilman Gullace, Council President Sharon Nadrowski, and Councilman Gary La Pelusa all are part-time employees who accepted health benefits last year without knowing the laws changed in 2010 to offer only full-time employees coverage through the city, according to published reports. The city said at the time that the health benefits coordinator mistakenly offered the council members health benefits without knowing they were part-time. Even though the council members collectively cost the city about $47,000 in health coverage, they agreed to pay it back, according to city law director John Coffey II.
Gullace said that he is paying back his share by foregoing his $21,600 salary this year. He said that he feels he is serving his community well and is puzzled by the recall effort. “I don’t get what the recall is for,” he said.“They’re saying I’m not doing enough, but if you go around and see most of the development is in the Second Ward.” He says that the recall group has not reached out to him personally, and of the three in the group, he’s only met Mary Curtis once at a meeting about the Muslim Community Center.
He points to some of his successes to prove that he is doing enough, such as the $250,000 in county funds he secured for renovations for Francis G. Fitzpatrick Park and the St. Barnabas clinic on Broadway that is expected to create 250 jobs.
As to the allegation that Councilman Gullace called his ward a “dump,” the group is referring to a council meeting last year in which the councilman was supporting the plan for the Muslim Community Center on 24th Street off Avenue F by saying a new center will improve the current unoccupied site. He said, “It’s a dump down there now. The plan is to buy it, fix it up, and clean up the area.” Gullace added his support for the Muslim community, which he also represents, “I believe everyone has the right to pray. I’m Catholic, and I go to my church, and they can go to their mosque to pray.
Gullace cited the ways he serves his community, which he thinks helped earn him his council seat, like helping to get a neighbor’s property painted, or buying a prom dress for a high school student. He said, “I try to help anybody I can around here.”
Last month, Mayor Davis acknowledged the group’s right to challenge his seat, but says “My feeling is that this is nothing more than a publicity stunt.” Despite the criticism, he expressed assurance in his ability as mayor. “I am confident with the progress we’ve made during my time in office so far, and I am further encouraged every day I come to work as we pursue a brighter future for the city. I get a great feeling from many of the people and groups in the community.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at email@example.com.