Shaking off another contentious municipal election season, North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco was sworn in to his eighth term as mayor on May 21, alongside incumbent Commissioners Frank Gargiulo, Hugo Cabrera, Allen Pascual, and Julio Marenco.
The five won by a large margin against a slate headed by Larry Wainstein, who ran with Diana Ortiz, Juan Almanzar, Alcides Siri and Franklin Fabre.
“This is the tenth time I’ve been sworn in in North Bergen, the eighth time as mayor,” Sacco said. “We went door to door meeting people, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before, with the enthusiasm within this organization or within the people themselves. Even on Election Day, people were stopping us and telling us they’re with us. They believed our message and knew we were trying to make North Bergen a better place.”
Sacco cited targets his administration hopes to hit by the end of the 2019 term, including plans for a $60 million expansion to the high school. That project has been suspended since mid-February, due to an appeals court case filed by electoral opponent Diana Ortiz.
“We have to build our school system,” Sacco said. “We have to get it out of court and build it. We have to finish the parks, and we have to fix our roads. We have to make our town a better place to live, with construction that’s wise.”
‘Mr. North Bergen’
The re-elected officials sang each other’s praises and spoke optimistically about kicking off another four years with the team that won in 2015. The commissioners credited the mayor with providing them with leadership in their respective departments and expressed gratitude that the election resulted in the same group of officials.
Sacco first held office in North Bergen in 1985, when he was elected as a commissioner in a recall. He became mayor of the township in 1991, and was elected as a state senator representing the 32nd legislative district in 1994. He’s held the latter two positions since then.
“No one loves this town more than him,” Marenco said. “His name at the end of the day isn’t Sacco, it’s Mr. North Bergen. It’s fairly hard, most people don’t believe it when your boss will call you at 1:30 or 2 in the morning mid-sentence, because he’s got North Bergen on the brain while everyone else is normal.”
Commissioner Gargiulo said, “He’s crazy, but that craziness makes for something special about him and what this community’s about. When I got involved here, I guess 35 or 38 years ago, the town was hurting in every aspect. I don’t want to repeat all of the pieces, but we needed someone with great leadership ability and with great vision, because without those two things, we’re back to where we were.”
On the steps of town hall, the officials were sworn in by Hudson County Superior Court Assignment Judge Peter Bariso, Jr.
The township held a reorganization meeting immediately after the inauguration. Sacco was unanimously appointed mayor, and to the Public Affairs Department. Cabrera was appointed to the helm of Parks and Public Property, Pascual was appointed to Public Safety, Marenco was appointed to Revenue and Finance, and Gargiulo was appointed to the Department of Public Works.
Moving on unscathed
The election saw plenty of tension and vitriol between the incumbents and their opponents, with the incumbents winning 69 percent of the vote compared to 31 percent for the Wainstein slate.
In 2015, Wainstein secured about 35 percent of the vote compared to the Sacco team’s 65 percent.
Still, the conflict between the two teams made plenty of headlines.
“We had a tough campaign,” Marenco said. “We got called everything in the book, and yet, it didn’t work. We have the greatest committee on these hills. There’s no one that knows every single house in any other city in America, and there’s no town that works harder for its residents.”
The administration will move forward with upgrades to public facilities and continue a fight in court to expand the high school’s facilities according to the plan brought forward last year.