"I'm going to sit in my backyard and enjoy my life," said the 82-year-old Sabello, who will finish his second stint as mayor in December, but has decided not to seek re-election. "I've had enough. I don't have to put up with the crap anymore. My time has come. To hell with this."
Sabello has had a long and distinguished career in politics. He served 27 years on the Guttenberg Township Council, then spent six years in the New Jersey State Assembly. He then became mayor for seven years, before spending 13 years as the director of the township's Housing Authority.
Sabello retired from the Housing Authority nearly three years ago and was comfortable with his life in retirement, until several township politicians who wanted him to head the ticket for Mayor in 1999 approached him. David Delle Donna formed a Democratic ticket with Sabello as the head and Delle Donna, Javier Inclan and Carlos Garcia running as councilmen.
"I was happy being retired," Sabello said. "I didn't want to come back. I was out of politics, out of the game. When they approached me, I said, 'I'm sure there has to be someone else.' But they said that they had done some canvassing and asking the people who they wanted. And they said that the people of Guttenberg wanted me."
Added Sabello, "None of them had the experience I had, so I think that was the reason they needed me. They were counting on my help and convinced me to run."
Sabello said that he is fed up with the political chicanery he believes is going on in the town, between the members of the Township Council that were once political allies and the people who want to see him out the door.
"They never gave me the chance to feel like a mayor, sneaking around here and there," Sabello said. "I knew it was coming. The first chance they got to screw me, they were going to do it. They thought that I would be this old guy, sitting in the mayor's chair, and that I would do everything they tell me. But they didn't have prior experience. I did. And they're the ones that came to me and asked me to head the ticket [two years ago]. I was retired. I didn't need this. They thought they could take advantage of me. But I wanted to serve as mayor. They couldn't even give me that decency."
Sabello said that he never had intentions of simply being a figurehead.
"I made it clear that if I was going to be the mayor, I was going to be the mayor," Sabello said. "I was in that office every day. I was very dedicated. I never missed a day. I might be an old man, but I still have an opinion and I still have a say. They didn't want that. They figured that I was 82 and I wouldn't be around long. They felt they could take advantage of me."
Sabello said that the last straw took place last November after a ball was held on his behalf at the Lighthouse Restaurant in West New York.
"It was a nice party, a nice affair," Sabello said. "Some of my old-time friends came out of the woodwork to attend. I had some of my friends in politics, dating back 50 years, who came to support Bob Sabello. There were so many people there to support me. We raised $34,000. I figured that was sitting in a war chest." However, Sabello claims that he found out that people were using the funds collected for that dinner for other uses.
"They were buying tables for different affairs and using that money," Sabello said. "Every single affair that came along, $1,000 here, $1,000 there. I then asked [township attorney] Wilfredo Ortiz to see the books and the reports from the [campaign] war chest and it was down to $24,000. I couldn't believe it. When they found out how much money we had in the war chest, they all wanted a piece."
Added Sabello, "I couldn't use that money for myself. I knew that. But once I found out what was happening, I wanted to donate it to a hospital or a worthy charity. These wise guys are in it for themselves." In recent weeks, it became evident that the rift between Sabello and the councilmen who once were his allies had grown to irreparable proportions. Sabello was wholeheartedly supporting the development of a senior citizen complex on 70th Street, only to have the members of the council vote the measure down. Sabello was the lone vote in favor of the proposed complex.
Delle Donna has maintained that he has no hard feelings for Sabello.
"There's no rift between myself and Bob Sabello," Delle Donna said. "I have nothing but respect for the man."
However, that feeling is obviously not mutual.
Delle Donna has said that he has "a major political announcement," forthcoming, which is expected to be official word that he has formed his own ticket to run for mayor in the upcoming elections. Some of the current council members, like Inclan, Garcia and John Schwartz, will also appear on the ticket.
But Delle Donna will not get support from the outgoing mayor.
"There's no way in hell," Sabello said. "I'm not touching anything they're doing. I made that clear that I want no part of them."
Sabello said that if Planning Board member Thomas Rizzi runs for mayor, then he will throw his support - and financial backing - to Rizzi.
Sabello said that he has no regrets about his political career.
"There's one thing that can be said about Bob Sabello," Sabello said. "I always had the highest regard for the people of Guttenberg. I loved it. It was the story of my life. I knew only two things, recreation and politics, and I did them both to the best of my ability. I think anyone who ever knew me would say that if you gave Bob Sabello something to do, he would do it and he would do the best job. I was always more than supportive."
Added Sabello, "I was trained by the best politician [former Mayor Herbert Klein], who never steered me wrong. I had so much respect for him and I learned so much from him. I loved serving the people of the town, in all the roles I played. I love the town and dedicated my life to the town. In that respect, I'm a lucky guy."
But Sabello didn't want to see his political career end with bad feelings and a bad taste in his mouth.
"I tried to put these wise guys in line, but they're all in it for themselves," Sabello said. "I've had enough of all the political hot potatoes being tossed around. I have two daughters and three grandchildren. That's what's important to me. I'll serve every day until December and then walk away with my head held high, knowing I did a good job. I intend to walk away with my solid reputation in tact."