A special election will be held to finish out the term on the Board of Commissioners originally occupied by Peter Perez, who had to resign the position after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges two months ago.
Current Commissioner Allen Pascual, hand-picked by Mayor Nicholas Sacco to be the successor to Perez, faces two challengers, namely vocal Sacco critic Edward "Bo" Scannavino and civic activist Denis Jaslow.
The three were the only candidates to file for the special election, which will be held Nov. 5. The trio of candidates will seek to fill out the remaining six months of Perez' elected term. Sacco and the entire Board of Commissioners will be up for re-election in May, 2003.
Virtual political newcomer Pascual, who has headed the Parks and Recreation Department since his appointment, said that he was not surprised to receive a challenge in the election booths in November.
"Actually, I was expecting it," the 38-year-old Pascual said. "I knew that there would be people running. I planned on working hard in the campaign anyway. Although I'm kind of new at this, I don't think having opposition changes anything I was going to do. I'm receiving good support and I'm actually enjoying it."
History of involvement
Both of Pascual's opponents are former township employees who allege that they were terminated wrongly by Sacco. But both say they have different reasons for running.
The 53-year-old Scannavino, the former township construction code official who now owns his own private contracting firm, has been one of the more vocal critics of the Sacco administration, making his presence felt at every Board of Commissioners meeting. Scannavino has been charged with creating a public nuisance at the meetings - charges that were dropped in court last month - and has signs accusing Sacco of corruption hanging from his home.
Scannavino has also been a long-time friend and colleague to former Township Clerk Joseph Mocco, who has been interested in getting back into political realm once again since his release from prison two years ago.
Scannavino, who is seeking public office for the first time, insists that he is running on his own. He was unavailable for comment by press time last week.
The 39-year-old Jaslow has been active in politics since he was a youngster. He was once housing inspector for the town, but alleges he was terminated by Sacco in 1994 when he vehemently opposed the formation of the Municipal Utilities Authority and helped to form a homeowners' association to fight higher taxes.
Jaslow has been a corrections officer at Rahway State Prison for the last three years.
Jaslow ran for county sheriff in 1986, but he was a Democratic committeeman for seven years and served as the administrative aide to former Freeholder Vincent Ascolese and former State Assemblyman David Kronick.
"I've been involved in politics for half my life," Jaslow said. "I've really never been out of politics. I've been involved in Jersey City, as a ward leader for Lou Manzo, working on Bret Schundler's campaign. I have my civic association. I think I've always had a knack for it."
Incredibly, while both independent candidates should seem to want to concentrate their efforts battling the candidate who is supported by the administration, they are apparently knocking each other.
Scannavino has been threatening to file a complaint challenging Jaslow's residency. Jaslow said that Scannavino's candidacy was the main reason why he decided to run.
"I hate to see a guy like Bo get into office," Jaslow said. "We've been down that road before. We all know the things he's done. I'm running to give the people of North Bergen representation. He's trying to knock me off the ballot. I'm upset, but it's not all about him. I'm an independent candidate, a free voice. I don't answer to anyone. I answer to the people."
Jaslow also feels that the recent string of indictments and subsequent guilty pleas have hurt the credibility of the township.
"I think it's cut into the Sacco machine and has made a lot of people wake up and take notice," Jaslow said. "I feel very confident that people will see my background and support me. It's time for truth. I think this special election is a great opportunity for someone who is aggressive like me. I think I can do it."
Sacco was asked about the candidacy of his political foe Scannavino.
"I think this is a sign that we have democracy in the truest sense, when Bo Scannavino is a political candidate," Sacco said. "It's going to be very interesting. I know he's campaigning very intensely and I know he's a legitimate candidate, because he's wanted to run for a long time. But I think he will be soundly rejected by the voters. Then, he'll know where he stands in this town. People don't want to go back to the days when thugs ran North Bergen. Those were terrible days."
Pascual, Scannavino and Jaslow were the only three candidates to file petitions by the deadline Sept. 12. They received their places on the ballot last week, with Pascual receiving Row C, Scannavino receiving Row D and Jaslow receiving Row E.