Countering slates assembled
By July, the two competing slates in the Secaucus town council election were set. In the First Ward, incumbent Michael Grecco is up against attorney Gary Jeffas.
A three-way race in the Second Ward pits incumbent Robert Kickey against Gonnelli, the superintendent of the town Department of Public Works and a battalion chief in the town fire department. Tom Troyer, a longtime member of the Secaucus board of education, is running independently of any slate.
Finally, the Third Ward race lines up Elwell administration ally and former board of education member John Shinnick against chiropractor Dr. Robert Berckes.
Gonnelli speaks out
Last week, Gonnelli discussed some of his differences with the Elwell administration. One notable division concerns the question of development. Mayor Elwell has been a strong and consistent supporter of the Transit Village residential housing project near the Secaucus Junction train station, while Gonnelli no longer supports the project, claiming that it is a contributing factor in the overdevelopment of Secaucus.
Gonnelli went further into the reasons why he and Elwell differ. He referred to the issue of his retirement. The Elwell administration believed that Gonnelli was asking too much compensation for his sick days, while Gonnelli claims that he actually asked for much less. Many Secaucus residents debate whether or not Gonnelli is running for town council for revenge, arguing over speculation that if Gonnelli received what he believes he is due in his retirement package, he simply would withdraw from the race.
Gonnelli addressed this issue firmly and definitively.
"That's 100 percent not true," he said. "The Elwell administration has done everything in their power to get me not to run. I think that they were afraid that I was going to run for mayor last year. On three separate occasions, I agreed to a retirement package. The real reason that I'm running for office in what happened in February. Over 300 town residents came out to talk about the restructuring of the Department of Public Works (a restructuring that curtailed Gonnelli's power and responsibility). All they did was ask the council to take another look at the issue, and they turned their backs on them. In the government that we have now, that's how things work. What I would like to be is another voice on the council so that this stuff doesn't happen anymore. I'm not going to look like I'm selling out to these guys."
If Gonnelli's "Talk Back Secaucus" slate wins, some Secaucus residents have speculated that Anthony Iacono's position as town administrator may be in jeopardy. Conversely, Gonnelli stated that town politics will go in a different direction in the future.
"Even if all three of us won, you would need five votes to get rid of Mr. Iacono," he said. "I can assure you that Mr. Iacono will be at work everyday. I am making it my position that I am not retaliating against town employees. We have a great staff, some of whom were put there by Mayors Just and Amico. It's a shame that this administration has taken a position of retaliation in recent years. If we do take control of town government, there should be no fear for any town employee out there."
According to comments made by Mayor Dennis Elwell after the Oct. 10 town council meeting, town employees have no need to fear any reprisals now.
"Gonnelli and his team talk a lot about reprisals," he said. "What reprisals? I would like to see anyone demonstrate that there has been one single reprisal. I'm not running for office myself this year, and I don't want people to be confused. However, the gentlemen on our ticket are confident that they will win on the issues, not because of any rumors of reprisals."