A torrential downpour did not stop more than 250 supporters from packing a ballroom at the La Quinta Inn & Suites on Thursday, May 23 to show their support for the “Take Back Secaucus” slate in the November mayor/council elections.
Mayor Michael Gonnelli and the three members of his council ticket launched their re-election campaign.
In Secaucus’ form of government, residents elect a mayor every four years, along with two council people from each ward. Secaucus has three wards. Three of the council people are up for re-election with the mayor this year, and three council people will be up for re-election next year.
On May 23, the mayor announced a change to his ticket.
Deputy Mayor John Bueckner, 74, will not seek re-election on Nov. 5 for his 2nd Ward seat, but
will complete his current term. He will be replaced on the ticket by Mark Dehnert, 51.
Mayor Gonnelli and Councilmen William McKeever and Costantino are up for re-election.
Members of the “Take Back” team said they did not yet know who their opponents will be, if any, in the fall election.
“I think I can walk away with my head up.” – Deputy Mayor John Bueckner
The deadline for independents to register to run for the general election is June 4.
Time to go
Citing three eye surgeries in the last year, and another one coming, Bueckner decided to step down.
“I don’t want to do a half job,” he said. “I want to do things all the way. It’s time.”
Bueckner’s council associates had nothing but praise for the 20-year council veteran, including the last four as deputy mayor.
“John knew how to run government, how to do everything with only the goal of the town in mind,” said Councilman Gary Jeffas.
“I would like to just thank him for his years of service,” said Councilman Robert Costantino. “Thank him for being a true independent voice for this community.”
Bueckner leaves with no regrets.
“I feel bad, but I think I can walk away with my head up,” he said.
Who is Mark Dehnert?
While the Bueckner retirement from local politics surprised many, the obvious follow-up question was “Who is Mark Dehnert?”
Although he is a political newcomer, Dehnert is not new to Secaucus. He is a lifelong town resident, and is married 26 years to the former Lori Muscarella. The couple has three children.
Dehnert is a product of Secaucus schools, and has a strong record of involvement in sports programs in town. He coaches Little League and travel baseball, recreation girls’ softball and travel team, and boys’ and girls’ recreation basketball and travel teams.
He is chief operating officer and general manager of River House, a co-op building, in New York City, and is a former small business owner.
“I look forward to working with the mayor and council,” Dehnert said. “If elected, I promise I’ll give you my best.”
Vision for four more years
Gonnelli began the night talking about his first administration, and then spoke of his vision for a possible second term.
Gonnelli won his seat four years ago after then-Mayor Dennis Elwell was charged in a bribery sting. Elwell was found guilty in July 2011 of accepting $10,000 in cash.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been four years,” Gonnelli said. “I’m pretty sure we ‘took it back,’ so we’re going to keep that slogan.” However, he said his ticket came up a new one also; “Living in Secaucus keeps getting better and better.”
Elections in Secaucus are sometimes partisan, but in the Gonnelli-Elwell race, both candidates were Democrats. Gonnelli did not actually face off with Elwell in the 2009 general election, as the then-mayor resigned after being charged in the sting.
If re-elected, Gonnelli said, his focus over the next four years will be on children and their needs.
“I want Secaucus to be the place where people want to come and raise their children,” he said. “They are the future of this community.”
He pledged that by year’s end, work on each park in town will be completed.
Third Ward Councilwoman Susan Pirro sang the praises of the man she believes is the “most popular mayor ever” and one who works “24 hours a day.”
“I’m proud of how he’s grown so much,” she said, “and I envision the next four years to be even better.”
Secaucus is a rarity in that although the current council is comprised of five Democrats and two Republicans, they all run as independents.
“We’re not aligned with any big political party,” Pirro said. “We govern with our hearts and our minds. We’re very focused on doing the right thing for the town of Secaucus and its residents.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.