When the next Board of Commissioners meeting takes place, it will be held in a newly refurbished ground-floor facility that is compliant with the regulations established by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The new facility, which was once a municipal garage, will give the general public easy access from the street level.
So Wednesday was the end of an era, closing the door on a room that had been the site of many a heated and controversial topic, the setting for many argumentative and cantankerous evenings. It will soon be converted to much-needed office space, but for now, it was the grand meeting place in North Bergen for one last grand time.
"We didn't even realize it was the last meeting, but when it became evident that it was, we paused to reflect a little," Sacco said. "The chambers have been used for as long as the building has been there. I've been attending meetings in that room since the 1970s and have been presiding over meetings in that room since the 1980s. There was a very strong feeling of nostalgia once we knew it was going to be the last time we were there."
Sacco said that he first entered the chambers when he was still a teenager in the 1960s, never realizing that he would eventually preside over more commissioners meetings than any other North Bergen mayor.
"I attended meetings there even when I wasn't an elected official, when I was just a concerned citizen," Sacco said. "There are so many memories that come to mind."
Perhaps the most memorable night in the history of the meeting chambers took place in December of 1987, when according to Sacco, "the face of North Bergen government changed forever."
At that time, Sacco, who was still a member of the Board of Commissioners, decided to align himself with Commissioner Anthony Cospito and then Mayor Leo Gattoni Sr., to overthrow Town Clerk Joseph Mocco, who had been convicted of illegal waste dumping and extortion, and the two elected commissioners who were Mocco associates, Michael DiGiovanni and current Hudson County Freeholder Thomas Liggio.
"We wanted to replace anyone who was with Mocco with people who were with us," Sacco said. "It was a very contentious meeting."
Sacco said that they had the takeover planned for weeks, with two sets of resolutions written.
"Once the meeting started, we brought out the other set, which called for the replacements," Sacco said. "It was a very heated meeting. People don't remember just how contentious it was. It was shocking the way it happened."
There was another heated but memorable meeting, that took place a few months later, when Cospito resigned as a commissioner and a possible replacement for Cospito was bantered about.
At the time, Frank Gargiulo never had any aspirations of running for public office, but he was Sacco's campaign manager. Much to Gargiulo's surprise, his name became a candidate as a possible replacement even if Gargiulo wasn't even at the meeting.
"I was doing some other business that day and had no intention of going," Gargiulo said. "I knew they didn't have the votes to put one of their people in. I went to the meeting at the last minute and I was pushed inside the room. It was packed, with people yelling and screaming. Then, my name came up for the vote and I didn't even know I was being considered."
Interestingly, one of the commissioners at the time was Liggio, who was Gargiulo's high school (St. Joseph of the Palisades) and college (Notre Dame) football teammate. But Liggio was politically connected to the opposing ticket. Liggio did not vote for his teammate.
But when then-Mayor Anthony DiVincent abstained from the voting, it gave Gargiulo the impetus to become the commissioner, which he has remained.
"There was certainly a lot of turmoil in that room," Gargiulo said. "I remember all the political figures, the personalities who came into that room. There were a lot of characters in that room. Boy, if that room had ears. And there were a lot of emotions as well. For a while, it was nothing but emotion. But it was always interesting. There was a lot of fun stuff, but important stuff as well."
Gargiulo said that he had another funny story about his experiences with going into the chambers. In 1985, Gargiulo was being considered as a possible candidate to run against DiVincent for Hudson County Freeholder. A friend of Gargiulo's asked him to attend a North Bergen commissioners' meeting.
"He told me it would be a good experience to see how things work," Gargiulo said. "It was the first time I walked into that room."
So the friend took Gargiulo into the chambers, then Gargiulo watched his friend go to work.
"Hey, mayor, you're a piece of [expletive]," Gargiulo said, recalling what his friend said. "That was my first experience in the room."
Still contentious after all these years
The contentious moments didn't end there. In fact, in recent years, the cantankerous behavior has been picked up by Sacco foe Edward "Bo" Scannavino, who has unleashed several similar public outbursts at the mayor and commissioners, including one meeting where Scannavino was arrested for charging the commissioners' table. Scannavino was charged with creating a public disturbance, a charge that was later heard in Hoboken municipal court, where Scannavino received a fine.
"A lot of different personalities passed through that room over the years," Sacco said. "It was sad, knowing it was our last time there. Time has made a lot of that anger die out. I have so many memories. It's like a movie. It's hard to pick one memorable moment."