Despite the Democrats' hopes that they could finally unseat incumbent Independent Councilman John Bueckner in the 2nd Ward, voters restored him Tuesday with a nearly two to one majority over challenger Joseph Kane.
"Voters have always shied away from giving one party every seat on the [Town] Council," said Democratic Mayor Dennis Elwell. "For years, voters have given at least one seat to someone not in the majority."
Elwell, in supporting Kane, said he was disappointed in the outcome, saying that Kane would have made a good addition to his team. The Town Council consists of seven members, six of whom are Democrats.
Former Mayor Paul Amico called both candidates good men, but said Kane had not presented a strong enough case to unseat the incumbent Bueckner.
Bueckner beat Kane 1,158 to 694.
Secaucus resident Frank MacCormack, who lost his bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Nicholas Sacco for state senate, said the 2nd Ward race was not simply an incumbent beating a challenger, but a message to the Democratic-dominated administration that voters want an alternative voice on the council to help keep an eye on what goes on there.
"John [Bueckner] is one of the few politicians who can get his point across with a low profile," MacCormack said. "He does his work all year around and is very well-respected."
MacCormack, who ran against Elwell for mayor in 1999, said voters were not completely happy with Elwell's switch in 1999 from Independent to Democrat. This was evident, he said, by Elwell's inability to get Kane votes in his home district. While Elwell managed to get 495 voters in the 2nd Ward's first district, Bueckner managed to beat Kane there 333 to 277, and Bueckner's percentage of victory was even larger in the other three 2nd Ward Districts.
Kane was disappointed but upbeat, thanking those voters who had voted for him. But he also said he was not going to cease his efforts on the Board of Health or let the election affect plans he has to help expand the Secaucus Municipal Alliance, two boards on which he serves.
"I will continue to serve the community in whatever way I can," he said.
Bueckner thanked his supporters and attributed his victory to "being honest with the voters."
"I always told people how I felt," he said. "When I started this campaign, I understood that I wasn't merely running against Joe Kane, but the whole Hudson County Democratic machine. It was a tough bullet, but I won."
Bueckner attributed his win partly to his most ardent supporters, who he claimed helped get his message to the voters.
"When I went around the ward talking to people, I got an excellent reaction," Bueckner said. "People told me they wanted somebody on the council who they could trust to tell them what is going on, and I have always done that."
Elwell said his re-election as mayor will allow him to pursue some of the projects started during his first term of office.
"We're going to start by repaving some of the streets in the 2nd Ward," he said.
Larger projects such as the walkway around the town and other ideas brought up during his first term will depend largely on the economy and the town's ability to get more grants. Elwell said the town will actively seek to find alternative funding for a variety of projects rather than burden taxpayers with the costs.
A questionable campaign against the mayor
Also Tuesday, Mayor Elwell won re-election, not much of a feat considering he ran unopposed.
Although not advertised in any campaign literature, critics of the Democrats waged a word-of-mouth campaign against Elwell. While people such as Republican Tom Troyer - who also ran against Elwell in 1999 for mayor - knew the mayor would be re-elected since no one ran against him, Troyer and others sought to reduce the overall number of votes Elwell received.
"I encouraged people to not vote for mayor when they went into the voting booth," Troyer said.
The success or failure of this campaign depends upon whom you ask.
Elwell supporters claim this campaign failed, pointing to the fact that 75 percent of those who voted in the election cast their ballots for Elwell.
"That's an unheard of percentage," said Town Administrator Anthony Iacono. "No mayor - even one running unopposed - gets those kinds of numbers. That means people who voted for [Bret] Schundler for governor had to cross over and vote for Dennis [Elwell]. That also means that many of the people that voted for Bueckner also voted for Dennis."
MacCormack, however, said the mayor's overall numbers were low. Elwell took in 3,205 votes this year out of nearly 5,000 cast. This means that 25 percent of Secaucus voters did not cast a ballot for mayor.
In 1999, Elwell - then opposed by McCormick and Troyer - had garnered 2,928 votes of mayoral ballots - a similar percentage.
"Unopposed he should have cleaned up," MacCormack said. "The fact is that one of four voters did not vote for him. And this was a year when voting for Governor should have increased his numbers."
Troyer called the result of the campaign to reduce the number "delightful"
"I guess voters got my message, I hope Elwell got theirs," Troyer said, predicting that Elwell will have to make peace with former Independent supporters.
Law regarding four-year term was an issue
Troyer said the newly established four-year terms for the mayor and council disturbed many of the people he talked to. Elwell, Bueckner and the two other unopposed council members, Christopher Marra and John Reilly, were awarded four-year terms for the first time in Secaucus history.
Last April, the Secaucus Reporter discovered that legislation increasing the term of office from two to four years had already passed the State Senate and was rapidly moving through the state assembly without local residents being aware of it - this despite voter rejection of four-year terms in 1996.
Elwell claimed at the time that he hadn't known about the legislation, despite the fact that Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-20th Dist.) - whose firm is employed by the town - was chief sponsor in the senate. Legislation in the state assembly was sponsored by Republican Neil Cohen (D-20th Dist.), someone who has frequently sponsored legislation with Secaucus Democratic Municipal Leader Anthony Impreveduto.
Troyer, who called the bill stealth legislation, said opponents might have put up a slate of candidates against the Democrats had the information about the four-year terms been made available sooner. As it was, Republican or Democratic opponents did not have time to gather signatures to meet the April 10 deadline for filing a mayoral candidacy. Even Independents may have been denied an opportunity despite the fact that they had until June 26 to declare. Governor Donald DiFrancesco signed the legislation into law on June 26, the same day as the primary.
"Some people were discouraged by the large amount of money Elwell had collected for his re-election," Troyer said. "But those same people might have run anyway if they had known in time that it would be four years before they could run for mayor again."
Assembly race could give Secaucus a power position
While the re-election of Impreveduto and his runningmate, incumbent Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, in the 32nd District, helped put the state assembly in firm Democratic hands for the first time since 1990, the move could also make give Impreveduto the second most powerful position in the assembly - provided the state Democratic Committee agrees.
A vote slated for Nov. 8 was expected to pit Assemblyman Joe Doria (D-31st District) against Camden County Democrat Joseph J. Roberts (D-5th Dist.) for the role of Assembly Speaker. If Doria won, Impreveduto would inherit the next highest rank of Pro Temp.
State Democratic Committee sources, however, suggested last week that Roberts had the inside track since he was deeply involved in Jim McGreevey's gubernatorial campaign. According to published reports, state Democrats may compromise, making Albio Sires (D-33rd Dist.) the speaker instead, leaving Impreveduto without a leadership position in the Assembly.
In Secaucus, Impreveduto led the assembly race with 3,474 votes, followed by Quigley with 3099, giving them both seats in the new assembly. Republican challenger Frances Cohen received 1,051 votes and runningmate Esther Gatria got 1,001.
Turn out for this election was average
Town Clerk Michael Marra said 53 percent of registered voters cast ballots this year, about average for a local election. Usually, elections coinciding with national or state elections are higher than normal.
"What might have happened here is that those voters who didn't come out because the mayor was running unopposed balanced off those who came out because it was a gubernatorial election," Marra said.
As expected, the largest percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2nd Ward, at 58 percent, and the lowest percentage cast in the 1st Ward, with 49 percent.
Secaucus voters followed the state in overwhelmingly electing James McGreevey over Bret Schundler for governor, 3205 to 1,722. Alternative gubernatorial candidates also received local votes, led by Jerry Coleman with 11, followed by Michael Koontz with 10, Constanino Rozzo, 8, Mark Edgerton, 5, Kari Sachs, 1, and George Watson, 1.
Republican MacCormack, in his race against Sacco for state senate, lost by nearly a two to one margin. In Secaucus Sacco received 2,750 to MacCormack's 1,594. MacCormack said he never underestimated Sacco's ability to get out the vote.
"I felt I got my message out to the people," he said. "But I knew all along with was a David and Goliath effort."
Two alternative candidates also received votes in Secaucus, with Herbert Shaw getting 50 votes and Louis Vernotico, 33.