With North Bergen’s May 14 election on the horizon, Mayor Nicholas Sacco’s incumbent campaign kicked things off with a petition drop and local rally.
Sacco is running with four sitting commissioners, Hugo Cabrera, Frank Gargiulo, Allen Pascual, and Julio Marenco. He’s campaigning for his seventh consecutive term as mayor, a position he’s held since 1991.
On March 8, the candidates held a brief presser while turning in a record-breaking 10,492 petitions for each candidate, totaling more than 52,000 signatures. Those signatures represent about 17 percent of the township’s population, according to 2010 census data.
“For those of you who went out to collect petitions, you know what it was like, the weather was cold, it was tough,” Sacco said. “It was a tough, tough thing to do, but apparently the people were responsive.”
“The reason we can have these numbers is because we know our neighbors,” Marenco said.
Larry Wainstein, a local businessman running against Sacco for mayor, submitted petitions to get his full slate on the 2019 ballot just before the March 11 deadline. He is running with candidates Juan Almanzar, Alcides Siri, Franklin Fabre, and Diana Ortiz, on the “Our Town, Our Time” slate. This will be Wainstein’s third time squaring off against Sacco.
In 2015, Sacco defeated Wainstein 8,465 to 4,904; Wainstein vowed to run again this year.
He first announced his mayoral campaign in October 2018, and has been involved in legal battles and ongoing conflicts with those working under Sacco’s administration including an ongoing lawsuit against North Bergen’s Board of Education.
“They hurt North Bergen by their existence. Let’s go out to war, let’s finish these people. Let them be destroyed once and for all through your power.” — Nicholas Sacco
On the day that Wainstein delivered his petitions, Sacco’s team displayed its political clout at a rally; elected officials called the upcoming election a war on Wainstein.
At the rally, Sacco vowed to “destroy” Wainstein and his team after Freeholder Anthony Vainieri led the crowd in chanting the words “crush them.”
“I would’ve been really upset if they didn’t file [their petitions],” Sacco said. “I’d have nothing to do for the next couple of months. We’re going out, over one thousand strong, door by door, step by step, and destroying these people, destroying them. They’re not worthy of being in this town, they’re the worst individuals. They’re liars, they’re cheats, they stand for nothing but nihilism, and they have to go. They hurt North Bergen by their existence. Let’s go out to war, let’s finish these people. Let them be destroyed once and for all through your power.”
Fighting flak with flak
Wainstein refuted statements made by his opponents, saying there were several errors and false statements that those officials said on the record, and claimed that local news outlets have failed to cover his campaign fairly.
“I’ve been working to help thousands of North Bergen residents through programs I’ve put together,” Wainstein said. “I want to lower property taxes and build and create things for the people of North Bergen.”
He challenged a recent accusation by township officials that he is connected to Joe Mocco, a former town administrator who was convicted of illegal dumping in the 1980s. This longstanding allegation surfaced after Mocco was spotted walking into Wainstein’s campaign headquarters.
“I let Joe Mocco into my office because I’ll let anybody come into my office,” Wainstein said. “I’ll let Nick Sacco come into my office if he wants to. Look at the indictments, and the people who pled guilty under Sacco’s administration in the last few years.”
Wainstein listed widely reported incidents including one involving James Wiley, an ex-DPW director, who was let go after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit official misconduct in 2012, reportedly testifying that he had local DPW workers perform personal chores at his home. Wainstein also mentioned the indictment of Walter Somick and Abe Garcia, parks department aides charged with falsifying time sheets by the state attorney general in 2015. The township placed them on unpaid suspension.
Wainstein said that he met with dozens of residents who are unable to cover living costs, claiming that rent control ordinances are not strong enough.
“I received dozens of calls from people who could barely pay their rent; these are basic, minimal, essential services that are not being met,” Wainstein said. “One woman was living with her daughter in an apartment that was cold, and wet.” In a video he posted online in early February he visited a resident in a Palisade Avenue apartment that had several obvious code and safety violations including leaks, a pest infestation, and open doors with broken locks. “This is a shame, this is heartless, and we shouldn’t take it,” Wainstein said.
He claimed that tenants called township departments but didn’t receive help, so he called the township’s police department to the Palisade Avenue apartment.
When asked about how the township was responding to those violations, Sacco spokesman Phil Swibinski sent a report on that landlord. Apparently, the property was already facing several violations. The health department was in litigation with the landlord, and an inspector from the housing department had visited the site and cited several violations. Swibinski said the landlord was also facing violations from the Fire Department and that the responding police officers forwarded reports to the local health and housing departments.
“Wainstein is trying to claim that North Bergen has somehow weakened its rent control protections,” Swibinski said. “This is absolutely, blatantly false. The truth is that North Bergen has the strongest rent control law in the area and the best possible protections for renters, including a dedicated tenant advocate to help renters with legal challenges.”
A display of political clout
At the March 11 rally, Gov. Phil Murphy was one of many high-ranking officials to turn out and sing Sacco’s praises.
“I talk about a stronger and fairer New Jersey all the time, and if you want to see an embodiment of strong and fair, look at the leadership we have on stage tonight,” Murphy said. “I know the mayor as a friend, supporter, and confidante when times are tough. I know him as one of the most senior, distinguished, and respected state senators in Trenton, and most importantly I know him as Mayor Nick Sacco of the great North Bergen.”
Hudson County dignitaries including County Executive Tom DeGise and Hudson County Democratic Chair Amy DeGise showed their support for Sacco..
“Nick has been mayor here for a long time, and a lot of people ask, ‘why does that happen?’ It’s very simple,” Tom DeGise said. “Nobody delivers better city services than Nick Sacco and his group of commissioners. The people of North Bergen are pretty smart, and they know what they’re getting.”
Others on hand included assembly members Angelica Jimenez, Pedro Mejia, and Nicholas Chiaravalloti; Bayonne Mayor James Davis; Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner; Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla; Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli; Guttenberg Mayor Wayne Zitt; West New York Commissioners Gabriel Rodriguez, Cosmo Cirillo and Margarita Guzman; Hoboken Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher; Freeholders Anthony Romano, Kenneth Kopacz, and Caridad Rodriguez; and Sacco Team Campaign Managers Rishi Mehta and Adamarys Alonso Galvin.
Touting the past four years
At the rally, Sacco’s team touted recent improvements, noting North Bergen’s move to an AA2 bond credit rating from Moody’s investor service, the growth of the police department, the DPW’s snow removal efforts, and the expansion of the high school.
Public Safety Commissioner Allen Pascual talked about the growth of his department, and a survey that ranked North Bergen among municipalities with populations over 50,000 as the safest in Hudson County, and 23rd safest in the U.S.
“The department went through a grueling, three-year accreditation process with the New Jersey Police Chief’s Association,” Pascual said. “But what I’m really proud of is the 135 men and women in the police department that have made North Bergen the safest community in Hudson County.”
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Hugo Cabrera said, “We just finished a baseball field last year, and this year, we’re opening a softball field.” Six parks will be renovated this year, and the groundbreaking for the downtown library and recreation center complex is on the horizon.
Pascual said voters should take the election personally, and despite establishment support should not take these connections for granted. He anticipated a landslide victory, calling out to Wainstein that come election night, they are “going to blow [his] lights out from here to Franklin Lakes.”
For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com, or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.