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PARSIPPANY – During the public portion of a recent council meeting, a man rose to criticize Mayor Michael Soriano, suggesting it was “absurd” for the mayor to continue to blame the previous administration for township fiscal woes.
This seemed like mere politics as usual. Then again, the speaker was Jamie Barberio, the former GOP mayor and the man Soriano ousted in 2017 by about 800 votes. Since time tends to move quickly, the next election is now less than two years away.
Is Barberio showing up in public in preparation for running in 2021?
Before we get there, let’s dwell a bit on what led up to Barberio’s visit to town hall.
Back in early February, Soriano gave his “state of the township” address. It wasn’t remarkably divisive, although the mayor did criticize the tax policies of his Republican predecessor. He said that when the GOP ran the show, property tax increases were avoided in 2013 and 2017, two election years. But this had nothing to do with fiscal prudence, just politics. Soriano asserted that artificially avoiding increases in election years just means the bill has to be paid later.
Or as the mayor put it, “a hole was blown through our budget,” because there weren’t equivalent cuts in spending and any hint of long-term planning.
Obviously, there’s nothing unusual about officials trying to avoid tax increases in an election year. In fact, it’s to be expected.
Nonetheless, one of those offended was Republican Councilman Mike dePierro, the council’s senior official.
He delivered a response to Soriano at the next council meeting, castigating the mayor’s “gloom and doom” approach. And he suggested that if the township was experiencing a fiscal crunch, it may have something to do with the mayor’s $500,000 worth of patronage hires.
He essentially made the same point about the mayor’s alleged blame game, drawing cheers from some in the crowd.
Barberio has had an interesting post-mayoral career.
He first took a job as municipal administrator in Englewood Cliffs, a town atop the Palisades that offers panoramic views of the Hudson and Manhattan. Politics here is hardly as picturesque. Infighting is constant and Barberio lost his job in January. 2019.
He then surfaced in Hunterdon County, where he is administrator in two towns – Tewksbury and Lebanon. He splits his time between both. This would appear to be a much more pleasant environment than his previous stint
As for the mayor’s race in general, former county freeholder John Cesaro was at one time considered a candidate. But that ended – one would think – when Cesaro was charged by the state Attorney General’s Office with accepting bribes from a “cooperating witness” who wanted legal work if indeed Cesaro became mayor. That case remains pending.
So, Barberio may be a logical candidate. And as he left the podium, Barberio said he’d be back. As a mere spectator or a mayoral candidate? Time will tell.
Soriano by the way doesn’t seem too bothered by it all, saying he hopes Barberio does run against him. The mayor said that would allow their records to be compared.