Julio Marenco is running for New Jersey Assembly to represent the 33rd Legislative District, joining a ticket led by State Senator Brian Stack and West New York Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez. Marenco wants to use his experience as a North Bergen commissioner, school board member, and his time on the State Parole Board to bring fiscal discipline to Trenton and expand state-level services for his constituents at home.
Marenco grew up in Union City and is a navy veteran, having served on nuclear submarines for four years. With his service completed, he then used his GI Bill to get his degree at Montclair State University, and then a law degree at Seton Hall. While there, he got an internship with State Senator Nicholas Sacco (a fellow Seton Hall graduate) which was one of the key moments in defining his outlook on public service. Marenco said it was during that time that he was crystalizing his conviction that he wanted to embark on a career in public service. He credited Sacco for this. “I slowly came to the realization through the years, with the mayor’s mentoring, that public services are pretty good, and I am helping people. I always want to make people’s lives better somehow. One day, he just sat me down, said, ‘Hey, listen, I know you want to help people. There’s a great way of helping people. You ever think about running for office?’”
With an opening on the Board of Education, Marenco said that Sacco suggested he run. And run he did. Marenco won a seat and eventually became president. “I learned a lot about local issues, which we know helps in the Assembly.”
In 2015, Marenco was asked to join Sacco’s ticket and run for North Bergen Commissioner. “It was a great honor to get to work with him even closer and learn even more about local government. We ran a great campaign and I became the Finance Commissioner for the city where I’ve been politically active for almost eight years.” It was during this time, Marenco said, that he was nominated to serve on the state parole board. He also spent some time as a professor at the Teaneck campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Redistricting has changed the lines and affected the political strategies of all parts of New Jersey, and Marenco’s is no different. “We got put together in a brand new district that combined Union City, North Bergen, West New York, Guttenberg, Secaucus, and Weehawken, and it’s a perfect opportunity to put the skills I’ve learned under Mayor Sacco’s mentorship, my fellow Commissioners—they’ve always been mentors to me—and it gives me a chance to serve a greater audience, public service being what I really enjoy. It gives me a chance to serve communities that are very alike. Even though we are all different towns, we’re still very much alike.”
When asked what some of his specific concerns would be as he tries to make his case to the voters that he should serve in the Assembly, Marenco cited his financial background with respect to municipal government. Marenco seems to see the Assembly as a potential extension of the world of municipal service and management, where similar skills can be applied. “One thing I always learned from watching the mayor and his chief of staff was, sometimes it’s not what law you push through, sometimes it’s what you prevent from happening.” He warned that sometimes hastily drafted laws are advanced and signed, leading to years of headaches afterward.
“One of the things I want to concentrate on is to work to write laws that are effective right from the beginning and hopefully pass a couple of them if I’m lucky enough,” Marenco said. After praising the State Assembly offices for their constituent services work with respect to COVID-related labor issues, Marenco said that he wants to continue and further develop those services. “I’m coming from one side of Kennedy Boulevard that lives and breathes serving the constituents, North Bergen. Now I’m joining another side of Kennedy Boulevard, where they live and breathe serving their residents in Union City. So, if I had an education before on constituent services, by the time I’m done with this I’ll have a master’s from both of those professors.”
Amid a national sense of political turmoil and uncertainty, New Jerseyans are and always have been contending with bread-and-butter issues. Affordability and expenses are bipartisan issues which every politician from a school board member to the governor is aware of. New Jersey’s cost-of-living is spiraling out of control and residents worry how they will continue to get by. Marenco has those concerns as part of his strategy going forward.
“Everybody’s got issues that they’re dealing with,” Marenco said. “Just look at the price of eggs. I have an aide who is always bringing up how much eggs cost. They have real-world problems. I hope that in the assembly I can help address some of those concerns, through legislation and advocacy, to make people’s lives a bit better. Problems like inflation, insurance costs, how much health benefits cost. We know that for most governments, their biggest cost is health benefits. That’s something that the state can look at, and there are all kinds of things that you look at that can makes our constituents’ lives much better.”
Last year, the State Health Benefits Commission voted to increase the rates for public workers, with the worst brunt falling on the county and municipal levels. State workers will see a 3% increase, while county and municipal workers will see a 22.8% increase. This has left municipal governments and mayors in a bind, with tax increases likely—further contributing to the financial hardship of simply making a living in the Garden State.
Marenco said that Senator Sacco had been “ringing the bell the whole time” on this issue, especially because of his mayoral service. “Senator Sacco has a municipal background. Sometimes in the legislature you don’t have a lot of people like that. I always say that, especially having a finance background, I’m one person who would have been out there saying, ‘Hey, listen, this is going to screw the local governments,’ and at the end of the day, we know local government affects people’s pockets the most. A curveball went right by the batter on this one, because no one besides Sacco was down there screaming to the high heavens, ‘hey, this is not good for municipal government.’”
Issues such as the State Health Benefits Commission decision may seem remote or even unknown to the typical New Jersey resident, but all taxpayers will feel the pain of the commission’s decision. Marenco therefore hopes that more residents will take part in the democratic process and use the system we have to make their voices heard. “Not enough people partake in democracy. Of course, that’s a choice. We’re lucky we live in a country where that is your choice. But a lot of New Jerseyans have issues that they have to deal with. I think most of them vote for people that they believe will keep an eye on these issues for them. That’s why I hope to be an advocate and someone that they can trust, who will be always thinking in the forefront.”
Characterizing himself as “a regular guy” Marenco said he wonders how many “regular guy” candidates there still are. With regards to voter apathy, Marenco credits his district as being one where the leadership is constantly engaged. “I come from a county where in every single town everybody knows their mayors, because it’s almost ingrained here that you’re pressing the flesh at all times. Now I’m working with two mayors who are really great at that. Mayor Stack spends all day talking to his constituents and making sure that every single one of them gets what they feel they need. Mayor Sacco has a huge, long career, almost 40 years. In Hudson County, out of touch is out of office.”
Alongside Marenco running for assembly is West New York Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez, a long-time friend of Marenco back from his college years. “We go way back, before any of us thought we would be in these positions. He’s always been the same, he has always been a service-oriented guy. We are going to the same place, we have different routes, but the whole time we’re two guys who grew up in this community.”
With his military background, his time in education, and his role on the state parole board, Marenco believes that he has seen enough of the realities of life to add to his toolbox of skills. “The parole board gave me a direct insight into the criminal justice system. In a lot of ways, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. We see every single piece of paper in this person’s life, we see where the criminal justice system is kind of failing and where it is succeeding.”
Marenco said that while New Jersey is often thought of as a “blue state,” he says that it really is more “middle of the road” that outsiders may realize. “New Jerseyans are always middle of the road when it comes to Criminal Justice. They want middle of the road solutions.” Garden State residents, Marenco asserts, don’t want a criminal justice system that is either too lax or too severe. “The pendulum does swing back and forth in criminal justice. We have to sit down and figure out a way where we’ll keep our towns safe and at the same time, we’re not going to be too heavy handed either and go back to the draconian laws that were taking people off the street for things that we’re releasing them for today. So, it’s staying middle of the road, staying in a lane that gives judges a chance to make better decisions.”
With a municipal-services mindset, combined with a diverse set of educational and practical experiences, Marenco hopes the voters will allow him the chance to apply his skills in Trenton. Seemingly a centrist Democrat, coming from the Sacco universe in Hudson County, Marenco’s objectives are to focus on nuts-and-bolts matters that New Jerseyans need addressed now more than ever.