Mayor Michael Gonnelli and his “Take Back Secaucus” election slate drew a large crowd at a Sunday brunch fundraiser, even as they near the end of a campaign with no opponents. The election for mayor and three council members will take place Nov. 5.
More than 250 people packed a room at the La Quinta Inn & Suites on Sept. 22 to back the man and his team who have led them for the past four years.
Gonnelli and Councilmen Robert Costantino and William McKeever are running for reelection. Political newcomer Mark Dehnert is also campaigning for a seat on the Town Council, having taken the spot on the ticket of the politically retiring Deputy Mayor John Bueckner. The council has six members in total, two per ward.
“I’m here to support the mayor,” said Bob Kowalewski of Blanche Street. “He’s doing a good job in town.”
Kowalewski cited the mayor’s fight to save the taxpayers money by reducing the amount that Secaucus pays into the Meadowlands Commission’s Inter-Municipal Tax Sharing Program. Most towns in the Meadowlands have to contribute, but Gonnelli worked on a one-year temporary solution to reduce the town’s share.
Pat Reuter of Roosevelt Avenue, whose husband was a Secaucus councilman, was at the brunch and sang the praises of the mayor.
“Whenever you need something, he’s always there,” she said. “Whenever you turn around, you see the ‘Green Gecko,’ the green thing he drives around in,” referring to Gonnelli’s Jeep Cherokee.
Melissa Heintjes of Valley Court, a Secaucus High graduate and lifelong town resident, supports Gonnelli and his running mates. She is a local teacher, and member of the town Democratic Committee.
“They’re all about small town unity, and I like that,” Heintjes said. “They’re about building Secaucus to be an even nicer place to live.”
The politically powerful were there too, as evidenced by the attendance of Assemblyman Vincent Prieto.
“The mayor and I have a great relationship. We always have, from the get-go,” said Prieto, of Secaucus. “We’re actually colleagues, working for the town. We have a relationship for 20-plus years.”
“I’m amazed at the support,” said Costantino. “It seems to be the same supporters from the past. It makes you feel you’re doing the right thing.”
McKeever stated that the lack of competition the slate has experienced this election year is a statement by itself.
“This is the first time in the history of Secaucus that the mayor and council slate are running completely unopposed,” he said.
Bueckner joked that he was not used to being at the podium without being on a ticket.
“It was a good run, I had a lot of good years,” he said of his political career now at its sunset. “I thank you for the last 20 years.”
The deputy mayor said he was not going away, but rather staying active with projects he has worked on, including the summer concert series.
Gonnelli talked about the administration’s accomplishments, focusing on the work with Prieto and other state legislators to have Secaucus’ share of the Meadowlands tax sharing lowered this year from nearly $3 million to just under $600,000.
Gonnelli has repeatedly cited the efforts of Prieto, State Sen. Nicholas Sacco, and Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez as instrumental in forging the stopgap measure, which saved Secaucus $2.3 million in 2013.
“Vinnie was the budget chairman this year, and without Vinnie and without Vinnie’s help, we couldn’t have gotten done what we got done,” Gonnelli said.
The mayor referred to the town’s recent accomplishments while concluding his remarks.
“Secaucus has gone through a lot of things these past few years,” he said. “It’s just a tribute to what we do, and a tribute to everyone in this room.”
At the brunch, a flyer touted what the administration said was its municipal accomplishments in the last four years: keeping taxes stable, growing the surplus, shrinking the debt, expanding services, reducing the Meadowlands tax sharing, preparing financially to build a new middle school, adding police to patrols, “preserving suburban character,” and expanding recreation and social activities.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.