After Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff said last week that he would not seek reelection in November of 2017, one group of candidates -- Team Guttenberg -- announced its slate of candidates at a fundraiser in West New York.
The slate will include incumbent Councilman Wayne Zitt, who will run for mayor, Councilwoman Monica Fundora, Councilman John Habermann, and Richard Delafuente. The latter, who serves as coordinator of the town’s Office of Emergency Management, will run for Zitt’s council seat while he runs for mayor.
In Guttenberg’s form of government, there are five council seats and one mayor. Two current council members are not up for election this year.
There will be a primary election June 13.
Before addressing the crowd at the packed II Vaporetto restaurant by the waterfront, slate members and colleagues discussed plans for the upcoming months and the election. They also paid homage to the departing Drasheff.
The mayor – who first won election in 2009 – said he wants to more time with his family. However, he made it clear he is not completely retiring, as he will still work for the county’s personnel department.
“We have a great team. We’re unified, and that’s the most important thing.” – Wayne Zitt
Mayor of Guttenberg is a part-time job.
What’s in store?
Though they are still hashing out positions on major issues before the election, the team will continue with initiatives they were already working on before Drasheff revealed his plans.
In the coming months, local officials will finish up a bike share program on the waterfront and introduce a tax abatement program.
Zitt said, “I’m just thankful that the Democratic committee and the other council people chose me to take this opportunity to try to win and lead the team. It’s the best in town for all the residents.”
Zitt lauded the outgoing mayor for maintaining consistently low tax increases since 2011, and negotiating for the $18 million Anna L. Klein School expansion/community center. The center will be named after Drasheff, and is set to open in December.
“He ran a stable town here,” Zitt commented. “Good government, good people. He helped build a beautiful waterfront park. Guttenberg doesn’t have any parks. That’s something we’re going to grow up also. The school, for years, has been bursting at the seams. He did the right thing.”
The team will also focus on extracurricular activities for young and elderly residents. Councilwoman Fundora said, “With the seniors, we are doing a lot of activities like celebrating birthdays, dance classes, gymnastics, and we’re planning to have a lot more. And we have great programs for the kids and we want to make more, definitely in the coming months. We have gymnastics, we have cheerleading, and we have basketball. We’re ready to start two weeks from now. A lot of good things are coming.”
On Drasheff, she said, “We’re happy for Jerry. I think that’s he’s making the right decision for his family. He’s a good person. We accomplished a lot together. We respect his decision, but at the same time, we are excited about Wayne. He’s going to be our next mayor. We know that he’s going to be good for everybody.”
Councilman Habermann – who regards Drasheff as “a gentleman, a professional” – has a simple vision for the team.
“Basically, we want to put the citizens first,” he said. “We want to make sure the citizens have a say in town and the direction we’re trying to go in. We need young blood, we need old blood. We’re trying to get a big mix of the young and the old to kind of come together and really try and push us to the 21st Century.”
Delafuente, relatively new to the political arena, said he wants “to do the best job that I can, and serve the people as best I can.”
County colleagues salute Drasheff
Sen. Nicholas Sacco, who represents Guttenberg in his district, described Drasheff as “terrific to work with all these years. He’s just a really good person, a good family man, and I just wish him well.”
He compared his relationship with Drasheff to the relationship between Guttenberg and North Bergen, of which he is mayor.
“Our towns share a lot,” he said. “We share a high school because his kids come to our high school. We share our recreation departments, because their kids play in our recreation departments. We share a library. They’re a small town. We have a large facility, they join us, and we have a great relationship. We may be competitors in the elementary school on our teams. But when they get together in the high school, we’re all together.”
“I think he’s done some extraordinary work,” said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, at the event. “I think he’s been a great mayor, and I look forward to his tradition being carried out by Team Guttenberg. My sentiment is that they embody a continuation of what the mayor has done for Guttenberg, and that would be good if they got elected.”
“For me, it’s a pleasure working with him,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, who helped with the school expansion. “I know he’s somebody who deeply cares about the town, and I’m sure he’s going to stay involved. He’s not going anywhere. I think it’s great when people give up their time. But a lot of times, you know, it’s time to maybe spend time with family again.”
Addressing the crowd, Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez threw all her support behind Zitt. He previously worked in her office. “I couldn’t be more proud of you, and I know you’ll do an excellent job as the mayor of Guttenberg. Good luck, and thank you.”
“We know where the future is,” Sacco told the audience. “The mayor decides to step aside and they, the council people, have to decide who would come forward and be their new leader. That leader is someone I know. He is the real deal. Wayne, congratulations on running in this primary. You’re going to be a great mayor.”
The filing deadline for all running slates is April 3. The clerk’s office did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails requesting explanation as to how residents can file to run. We will update in a future story.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org