A man who served as mayor of West New York for 24 years was immortalized in a state hall of fame last week.
The late Anthony DeFino was inducted into the New Jersey State League of Municipalities Elected Officials Hall of Fame at the 17th Annual Mayors’ Legislative Day event at the State House Annex in Trenton this past Wednesday.
DeFino held his first public office, as mayor, from 1971 to 1995. He was the 14th of 16 mayors the town has had since its founding in 1898.
Current West New York Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega had nominated DeFino.
“We have to honor those who served,” said Vega last week. “I see it as an honor, not only to be the mayor of West New York, but also to keep the history of West New York alive. And DeFino played a big role in the history of West New York.”
At 33, DeFino was elected on a reform ticket, said Vega. Before that, he had practiced law and worked as a county prosecutor, having attended Seton Hall University School of Law.
A courtroom attraction
DeFino always drew attention not only because he was 6-foot-3 and close to 600 pounds, said Vega, but also because he was an animated person.
People often came to his court to watch him do his job, said Vega.
“Not that I ever saw him in court,” he said, “but people told me that when he was prosecuting a case, the court would fill up with people who would come just to see him prosecute the case.”
Regarding DeFino’s size, Vega said: “He was as big as he was for a reason. He loved to eat and he loved all foods.”
DeFino was even noted as regularly eating entire pizzas for lunch in an article published in The New York Times.
“As he walked in, everybody knew they were going to have a good time.” – Silverio “Sal” Vega
DeFino’s heart was as big as he was, said Vega. He was jovial and loud, articulate and funny.
“He was the biggest kid on the block,” said Vega, “and as soon as he walked in, everybody knew they were going to have a good time.”
He added that DeFino is also remembered as a great mayor.
In addition to taking care of the town’s senior citizens, said Vega, DeFino also made sure the kids of West New York had the chance to learn in school and to enjoy recreation.
“He was loved by the seniors and every kid in town, and through the kids, the parents,” said Vega.
Improved schools, City Hall, recreation
DeFino is remembered for various improvements he made in town. In the 1970s, his administration supported Memorial High School getting a new cafeteria and more classrooms, after the school’s enrollment reached more than 2,000. DeFino also supported the construction of Elementary School No. 2, which is now being renovated.
City Hall also got an addition, which included the underground parking lot. The West New York Recreational Town Pool was also built, with a baby pool and picnic area added later.
The DeFino administration also had its challenges, said Vega.
“I think one of the big challenges in the late ’80s was dealing with the regulations through the Clean Water Act, and that required the municipalities to upgrade their sewer systems,” said Vega. He added that the project became very expensive and many towns, including West New York, did not have the resources to support it.
“There was a time when West New York didn’t have the capacity for additional sewer hookup,” said Vega. “That put a stop to new development.”
Waterfront dream deferred
For quite awhile, said Vega, the new regulations and the housing market collapse got in the way of DeFino’s dream: development on the waterfront.
“That waterfront project got delayed for many years,” said Vega. “I think that it would have been something that he would have loved to see completed or at least started under his tenure.”
In 1993, DeFino was recalled by a public vote, then reelected all on the same ballot. An article published in The New York Times mentioned that the ballot was not clear and may have confused voters.
Nonetheless, DeFino went on to finish his last term as mayor. In 1995, he decided he would not run again for office. DeFino passed away soon after, in 1996.
A lifelong West New York resident, he had lived here with his wife Patricia and their three children, Michael, Anthony, and Nicole. His wife and son Michael have since passed.
His other two children, Anthony and Nicole, planned to attend last week’s event with their families.