On Nov. 7, one Town Council seat is up for grabs in each of Secaucus' three wards. However, no seat has drawn more attention than the seat at stake in the 2nd Ward.
Incumbent Robert Kickey is up against Department of Public Works Superintendent Michael Gonnelli, with Board of Education member Tom Troyer adding to the mix. If Gonnelli - who has had a number of personal and political battles over the last few years with the administration of Mayor Dennis Elwell - succeeds in his election bid, that victory could be a harbinger of more clashes in town.
All three men spoke last week about where they are in their campaigns.
Kickey touts Elwell administration record
Kickey, 56, has been a councilman since 2000, taking the seat previously held by Mayor Elwell. Kickey was a private businessman before he entered politics, as has been deputy coordinator for the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management (OEM).
The 2nd Ward, which roughly lies between the Maple Street ramp over Route 3 to the Hackensack River, has benefited from the Elwell reign, according to Kickey. He got right to the point about this belief.
"If I didn't care about taxes and the fact that this administration hasn't raised taxes for the last eight years, I'd be home watching the Yankee game tonight," he said. "I would have given my opponent his buyout, and it would have been an easy election."
The issue Kickey is referring to an ongoing controversy between Gonnelli and the administration over the size of his and his wife's retirement packages, a fight that has added a personal tinge to an already nasty political feud.
Kickey also noted the effect of Secaucus' growth on the school system.
"Naturally, as with all parents, we are concerned with our children's education," he said. "We want to make sure that if development comes, it won't overcrowd the schools."
Kickey knows that there is more heat that normal in this election. He is not taking his re-election chances for granted.
"I take every opponent as a major challenge," he said.
Gonnelli declares his disdain for the status quo
The man who presents that major challenge discussed a wide variety of issues facing the town. In general, Gonnelli is displeased at the direction his town is taking.
Gonnelli has worked for the Secaucus department of public works for 33 years. He has been a town volunteer fireman for the same period of time. He has been D.P.W. superintendent since 1986, and was elected fire department battalion chief in 2004. He has also been a commissioner at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) since 1997.
He feels very confident going into the election. "Support has been tremendous," he said.
Gonnelli believes that his support is based on his stands on several issues.
"The 2nd Ward is part of the big picture in the issues facing the town," he said. "We have a stable tax base, and that is based on development. Taxes haven't risen for a reason, because we are still a community that is still able to develop properties. The Transit Village [proposed development] started at around 1,650 units. Then it grew to 1,850, to 2,000. Now it's around 2,200, with 230 affordable. At first it wasn't opposed to it. I am now opposed to it. Why increase the density so much?"
He added, "Residential development such as that has a tremendous impact on a municipality. They should keep that zone commercial. A commercial ratable is a very valuable ratable, and requires much less services that a residential ratable."
The link between taxes and public safety are also on Gonnelli's mind.
"This year, the town receives $1.65 million in hotel tax revenue. The original concept of the hotel tax was to support emergency services. This changed, and towns have used it to offset their budgets. But I still think that emergency services should be the number one priority. Bringing in $1.65 million to offset taxes, plus the surplus, is really only a recipe for disaster down the line. We should use the money instead for a second ambulance in town."
Gonnelli sees another way to avert disaster for Secaucus: tighter term limits on politicians.
"We want a compromise, two may be short, and four is too much. Maybe three is best. With four years, people get too comfortable in their positions."
Gonnelli knows why he is running for council. He also was clear on what the reasons aren't.
"I am not running because of the issue of my retirement package," he said. "I know the pressure's on. I'll get through it."
(For more on the Elwell/Gonnelli rivalry, see next week's edition.)
Troyer speaks out
Tom Troyer has been on the Secaucus Board of Education for a total of 12 years. Regarding this election, he is not pleased with the designation that some town observers have put on his candidacy.
"They say I'm a spoiler, which annoys me," he said. "People who have each set of signs up say they are voting for me, so I'm encouraged, but who knows until Election Day."
Troyer mentioned a specific issue that is a focal point of town debate.
"Overdevelopment has to be really looked at," he said. "Where are we going? They're not even sure how many homes are going up. There has to be more openness and accountability in our town government. I think I can do a better job than both Kickey and Gonnelli. But in general, Elwell is drunk with power. We've got to jump on him."