Mayor Dennis Elwell has announced the slate of three council candidates who will run with him in the Democratic primary on June 2. If Team Elwell wins this spring, they will square off against candidates from other parties, most notably the Independents, in November.
Elwell, who is seeking his third term as mayor, has openly acknowledged this year’s race could be the most difficult one of his political career. He faces a primary contest from a slate of rival Democrats, and will likely face a tough challenge from an Independent ticket headed by a fierce political foe in the fall general election.
The seven-member Town Council includes the mayor as well as two council representatives from each of Secaucus’ three wards. This year, one councilperson from each ward is up for re-election, in addition to the mayor.
As expected, Elwell has tapped incumbent Town Councilman John Reilly to run again in the 3rd Ward and newly-appointed Councilwoman Dawn McAdam to run in the 1st Ward. Something of a surprise was Elwell’s choice for the 2nd Ward: Frank Trombetta, currently a member of the Secaucus Board of Education.
In recent weeks, attention has been focused on the 1st Ward following the abrupt resignation of former Town Councilman Richard Kane in February and the subsequent drama surrounding McAdam’s appointment to the seat.
Now that Elwell has formally announced his slate, election season in Secaucus has officially begun.
The Elwell ticket will be challenged by Peter Weiner’s slate in the Democratic primary. Weiner, the town’s public defender, announced his council slate last month. Health care executive Joseph Morano is running on the Weiner ticket in the 1st Ward and will oppose McAdam. Weiner selected former school board member Susan Pirro as his 3rd Ward candidate to challenge Reilly. Weiner opted not to run a candidate in the 2nd Ward. He and his allies have said they will support incumbent councilman John Bueckner, an Independent, in the fall general election.
Bueckner is expected to be included on an Independent ticket being put together by Town Councilman Michael Gonnelli, who is likely to challenge Elwell for the mayoral spot in the fall. As an Independent, Gonelli doesn’t have to announce his running mates until June, although he may announce his ticket before then.
Registered Independents are excluded from the primaries, and only participate in the general election.
‘Strong’ but vulnerable ticket?
“The Secaucus Democratic Committee wanted a balanced ticket and I think we have that,” Elwell said. “It’s been more than 20 years since we’ve had a woman on the Town Council and Dawn McAdam brings some gender balance. As far as Frank Trombetta, I think the main issue in this year’s election will be the economy. And as a small businessman he knows what it’s like trying to keep a business afloat and successful in a tough economy. He adds another kind of balance to the ticket that will be important to the local business community.”
Trombetta is president of FTC Carpet Inc., a family-run business in Lyndhurst.
Elwell’s political rivals said last week that the mayor has put together a solid ticket, but one that is still tied to an unpopular administration and is therefore vulnerable.
“Most people know what the current administration stands for,” said Weiner ally Morano. “It’s a closed administration. They’ve been hesitant to allow videotaping of meetings. They have not been proponents of passing local ordinances regarding pay-to-play. They’ve been involved in numerous lawsuits that have cost the town a lot of money in legal fees. There’s a total contrast between their ticket and ours.”
“I think it’s a strong ticket,” Gonnelli said last week. “But I think our ticket will be stronger. And I think we can win on the issues, issues like [wasteful] spending, professional service contracts, pay-to-play, open government, and government accountability.”
Without naming specific individuals, he added that some of Elwell’s candidates might face stiff competition in June and might not make it to the November general election.
Trombetta, however, isn’t worried.
“In Secaucus, we’re able to provide a lot of services for our senior citizens and for kids,” Trombetta commented. “Our school system is phenomenal, and yet our taxes are stable. Voters will see that, and see that there’s no need to change the administration.”
Trombetta has been on the Secaucus school board for more than two years. His term on the board ends next spring and he is scheduled to face re-election in April 2010. Should he win a council seat in November, Trombetta would be sworn in on Jan. 1, 2010 and he said he would immediately resign from his seat on the school board.
Candidates have until April 6 to file petitions for the June primary and other candidates could still jump into the race before the deadline. It’s unclear whether additional Democratic candidates would take votes from Elwell’s ticket or Weiner’s.
Reach E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.