Mayor Richard Turner has filed to run for an eighth term as mayor of Weehawken – technically, running for one of five council seats this May. In Weehawken’s form of government, candidates run for five council slots, and the council chooses a mayor from among them.
Turner and his “Weehawken and You” council ticket announced their 2018 reelection campaign in a press conference on Wednesday. The election will be held on May 8.
Two long time councilmembers will not seek reelection, and are being replaced on the ticket.
In Weehawken, the governing body consists of a five member council elected to four-year terms in non-partisan elections. From among themselves, the council members choose a mayor. Two councilmembers–including the mayor–are at large, and three additional councilmembers represent each of the township’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd wards.
The 1st Ward stretches from the Union City/Weehawken border to Route 495. The 2nd Ward runs from Park Avenue and Route 495 to Clifton Terrace. The 3rd Ward goes from Clifton Terrace and Park Avenue to 51st and Park. Each ward also stretches to the waterfront.
This year, 1st Ward Councilwoman Carmela Silvestri-Ehret and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Rosemary Lavagnino are running for reelection. 3rd Ward Councilman and Deputy Mayor Robert Sosa is retiring after around 40 years on the council. Running for his seat is Raul Gonzalez, who works as the town’s director of social services.
At-Large Councilman Robert Zucconi is also not seeking reelection. Running to replace him is David Curtis, a retired North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue chief. Currently, he oversees construction projects for the town’s three schools.
Both the council and mayoral positions pay $8,000 annually.
The deadline for other candidates to file is March 5, according to Township Manager Giovanni Ahmad. Turner has run unopposed several times.
The council touted successes such as providing free recreational programs; keeping the town’s stretch of the Palisades Cliffs from development, preserving New York City views; beautifying Park Avenue; expanding open space from 10 to 52 acres, and maintaining the lowest crime rate in town since the 1970s.
But “What we’re proudest of is making sure that Weehawken, with all the development, keeps its small town atmosphere,” said Turner, whose job is part time. He also has a job serving as district director for U.S. Rep. Albio Sires.
“These are really tough times to lead communities.” — Richard Turner
Why run again?
“These are really tough times to lead communities,” the mayor said, about running again. “Especially a community like Weehawken, with development issues. Hudson County is the densest per person per square mile area in the country. You need lots of experience to solve some of these problems.”
Silvestri-Ehret said, “There’s a lot in this town that we have done, and there’s a lot in this town we continue to do, and there’s a lot in this town that we will do together as a team.” First elected in 2003, she previously served on the Weehawken Board of Education for 16 years, and serves on the town’s Planning Board.
As it happens, NJ Transit plans to use land in Silvestri-Ehret’s ward for the current Hudson Tunnel Project, which will bring a new trans-Hudson tunnel into New York Penn Station. Keeping things stable during the project is a key issue in her ward.
“This is our neighborhood,” she said. “This is our front yard. We want to make sure that whatever is being done, this still continues to have a neighborhood atmosphere.”
Because of those kinds of discussions in the past, NJ Transit will use the land—which they own—for an air vent instead of digging the tunnel through that area, Silvestri-Ehret said.
“For us, that’s a great win,” she said.
Lavagnino said, “In my ward, people are choosing quality of life issues and safety. They’re interested in streets-are they repaved? We do them every six years.”
Lavagnino is in her 20th year as a councilwoman. She has served on the Library Building Committee, the Water Tower Preservation Committee, and the Weehawken Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee, all volunteer positions.
Lavagnino has been pushing the mayor to expand the number of paved streets in town, Turner said.
Gonzalez said, of his ward, “I think what’s important in our ward is the feeling of the town passing the torch. I want people to understand that I want to have the same level of dedication that Deputy Mayor Sosa has. I think that we can come together to ensure the neighborhood continues to look for new opportunities to help , whether it’s the school systems, on Park Avenue, whatever it is.”
Gonzalez has served as the town’s Director of Social Services since 1997. He has also lived in Weehawken for the past 40 years and is a Weehawken High School graduate.
Echoing Gonzalez, Curtis wants to “follow in the footsteps of Mr, Zucconi. It’s very tough shoes to fill. He did a wonderful job. I’m going to do my best to learn from him.”
Curtis said he has established strong relationships with residents on the waterfront, where he lives, and will keep an eye on construction efforts there.
Currently, Curtis serves as the town’s “Clerk of The Works,” overseeing a project approved by public referendum to upgrade and repair Weehawken’s three schools. That work includes blue print review, bid preparation, and overseeing the performance and production of contractors for the project. It started in March 2017 and is expected to head into 2019.
Hannington Dia can be reached at email@example.com