On a municipal level, this year's election is all about the 2nd Ward - where Democrat Joseph Kane is challenging incumbent John Bueckner.
Although there are four positions in town up for election - and the terms have changed from two years to four - no challengers have filed to run against the mayor or the other two council incumbents, leaving the 2nd Ward as the focus of attention and a test of Mayor Dennis Elwell's power to get Kane, a relatively unknown candidate, elected.
If Kane is elected, the Democrats will hold total control of the Town Council for the first time in modern Secaucus history. Although once an independent, Elwell severed political ties in 1999 when he ran on the Democratic line - although he claims to have invited incumbent John Bueckner to join the Democrats as well. In 1999, Elwell's support for Jim Clancy, a former councilman, failed to unseat Bueckner, making some political observers wonder how Democrats can expect Kane to fare better.
Who is Joseph Kane?
Kane grew up in Jersey City and attended St. Nicholas Grammar School and St. Mary's high school, after which he started work on the New York Stock Exchange,
He then won the lottery, as he calls it, when he got drafted into the Army as part of the late 1960s draft lottery, and served in Turkey in an advisory capacity, guarding the Soviet border and the United States' nuclear weapons stationed there.
"That was 1970," he said. "I thought I was going to wind up in Germany, but I found out differently when I got my assignments. I had a choice between Vietnam and Turkey. I went to Turkey."
The experience, he said, gave him a clue as to how to deal with people. Although as an American G.I., he did not need to learn the language, he picked it up anyway, saying to understand other people he needed to speak their language. Unlike many Americans traveling to other countries, Kane said he knew he was the one who was a foreigner, not the natives.
It is a lesson in communication that he has carried around since, telling himself that to reach people he has to speak their language, whether it is people he works with every day or people he talks to when dealing with issues at church. This is particularly true when getting involved in politics, he said.
"You have to go out and meet people face to face," he said. This is something he has been doing a lot of since he decided to run for the 2nd Ward council seat earlier this year.
When he got out of service, he tried to go back to Wall Street, but found the country in a deep recession and jobs scarce. Before going to service, he had applied to become a member of the electrician's union - his brother was an electrician. In years since, he has worked for numerous contractors on a variety of projects, but never regretted his choice.
Oddly enough, his association with the union has helped him in his political career. His union was willing to endorse him as long as he took courses offered by the AFL-CIO at Rutgers Labor Center. He attended the classes this past June. These covered a variety of subjects from public speaking to managing campaign funds. Union officials check in on him from time to time to see how he is doing.
Kane is deeply committed to the church. He is a Eucharist minister at Immaculate Conception church, a place where his volunteer efforts have made him a familiar face, although many people didn't associate his face with his name.
"One of the things I had to do when I started running for the council was to make people aware of who I was," he said. "A lot of people knew my face, but didn't associate my name with it."
He has lived in Secaucus for the last 10 years, although he notes that he lived here before and made the mistake of moving out. His wife grew up in Secaucus and moved to Weehawken as an adult before marrying him. Kane lived in Secaucus previously from 1975 to 1981 and moved to Woodbridge, but said he missed Secaucus.
"We couldn't afford a house at the time, so we bought a condo," he said. "I truly love this town. I left once and then I came back."
He said he is running because he believes that he can make a different in maintaining the quality of life in Secaucus. He said he likes the job Mayor Dennis Elwell is doing, such as keeping the taxes stable and preserving open space, and he said he feels he can help.
Kane said his two years of service on the Board of Health inspired him to run for council. He was impressed by how well the board, the mayor and council handled the West Nile Virus situation over the last two years. He also felt that board's decision to inspect nail and other salons was the right thing to do for public safety, even though the board took some heat for the ordinance.
Kane also said his daughter attendance in Huber Street School made him more aware of the need to get involved.
Kane is also a member of the Municipal Drug Alliance, which is connected to the Board of Health.
"While we've had a little trouble getting started, we're now making progress," he said, and he sees significant activity in the near future.
If elected to the council, Kane said he would resign from the Board of Health but maintain his seat on the municipal alliance. He believes the town needs to keep a focus on potential drug problems among its kids.
In traveling around town, Kane discovered that most people are still concerned about taxes, even though the current mayor has maintained taxes at the same level for three years. Another issue is the preservation of open space. He said the town is about to close an agreement the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission for the possible purchase of the Nautical property that will allow plans to move ahead connecting the Old Mill Property with the high school, increasing the length of the current nature walk.
The council, he said, must continue to help the schools in whatever way possible, as it has in the past with the construction of property for a parking lot near Huber Street School.
While Elwell has been criticized by some people for close ties to county government, Kane believes that Secaucus does not exist in a vacuum, and that the county has the ability to help the town in numerous ways, such as acting as a conduit to the federal government to bring money for affordable housing projects. Kane said it is important for local official to maintain a good working relationship with county, state and federal legislators, since each level of government can help bring necessary funds into Secaucus.
"If we alienate people, then we run the risk of not getting services," Kane said.
John Bueckner is a mainstay in the 2nd Ward
John Bueckner has served on the Town Council for eight years or four two-year terms. Although this election's terms are longer, he said his goals and motives for running have not changed. He said he enjoys being the sole candidate not affiliated with a larger political party.
"I'm not endorsing any candidates on a state level because my interest is in Secaucus," he said.
Bueckner has always emphasized his business experience and his desire to run municipal government as a business.
Bueckner did accounting and auditing work with AT&T before moving on to become a business systems consultant, a functional planner who sees what needs to be done and gives those ideas to developers who write the programs.
In 1985, he ran against Clancy for the council seat and lost. Before that, however, Bueckner served four consecutive terms on the school board from 1972 to 1984.
It was during his time on the board that negotiations with Hartz were underway for property to be set aside near Harmon Cove in case a school was needed - an issue that has reemerged this year as the town seeks to sell that land to NJ Transit.
"I believe that the final decision on what happens to that land should be in the hands of the school board," he said.
Bueckner is a life-long resident of Secaucus with a bachelor's degree in business management from Farleigh Dickinson University. He's also an Army veteran, chairman and founding member of St. Matthew's nursery school for 28 years, and a member of church council for 30 years.
"I helped establish the nursery school at a time when residents didn't have much else to turn to," he said. "Now we have more programs - some of them developed by the town."
Bueckner is also a charter member of the Patriot Booster club, charter member of the former Jay Cees and the manager of a Build Better Boys Baseball, and for 32 years he served as manager of Kiwanis recreational girl's softball.
Even as an independent, he says he's part of the team
Running for re-election, Bueckner said he played a big part in many of the programs Democrats lay claim to.
"Almost everything the Democratic team boasts about, I voted for," he said.
These include the purchase of the Old Mill Property for recreation space, establishing new recreational programs, street paving, cooperative programs with the Board of Education, parking in the North End, stable insurance premiums and no municipal tax increases for the last two years.
Bueckner disputed the credit given to others on several items.
"Dennis Elwell and his candidates claim they started the move to preserve open space - if the truth be told, credit goes to the former mayor, Tony Just," Bueckner said.
Bueckner also said he has concerns about lack of planned street paving in the 2nd Ward this year.
"I wanted more money set aside for street paving," he said. "The rest of the council did not go along with me on that."
Bueckner said speeding on town streets is also a problem and an issue he will continue to pursue if re-elected. He also pointed to the number of new committees being appointed, and the lack of new faces. Many of the boards are being populated with town workers or people who serve on other boards.
"Our town administrator has ten jobs," he said. "Surely we can find other qualified people in this town to take some of those jobs off his hands."
Parking fees to residents in the North End are also a concern he wants to address. He also said he fears the impact of possible privatization of the sewerage facilities. While the town has not yet moved to privatize the sewerage plant, Bueckner said investigations of sewerage assets, such as the treatment plant, could lead in that direction and he feared taxpayers could suffer.
"We are currently looking at leasing our assets, which is a complicated issue I'm not sure I even understand," Bueckner said. "So I want to move very slowly and make sure we are not doing anything to hurt the taxpayers of this community."