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NORTH BERGEN – Petitions don’t vote, but don’t tell that to Mayor Nick Sacco.
Sacco and his four fellow commissioners on Friday filed nominating petitions with a robust 10,492 signatures. Yeah, in case you are wondering that is enough to get them on the ballot for the May commission election.
The Sacco team and other supporters stood behind 42 boxes of petitions that were stacked neatly in the township commission chambers. They said that about 1,000 volunteers collected the signatures with a zeal that would have pleased the post office. The mayor said volunteers went door-to-door oblivious to rain, snow and freezing temperatures.
That takes time. Given the fact all five commissioners run separately on the ballot, a volunteer needed to get each voter to sign five individual petitions.
Anthony Vainieri, a Hudson County freeholder and Sacco backer, said such support is easy to understand. He said that the township is the safest in Hudson County and that the Sacco team is building schools and parks. He added that the DPW is “second to none.”
Sacco, who is also a state Senator, actually went a bit further, saying that township police have been ranked in the top 50 in the country for municipalities the size of North Bergen. The township’s population is roughly 60,000.
Friday’s hoopla notwithstanding, there are some issues here that are bound to pop up in the campaign. Challenging the Sacco team is businessman Larry Wainstein, who was beaten by the mayor four years ago.
Asked if he had any comment about the petition celebration, Wainstein pointed to a local newspaper story reporting that Commissioner Frank Garguilo is still being paid about $280,000 a year as superintendent of the Hudson County School of Technology despite leaving the job last September. That seems to be what Wainstein is referring to when he says on his website that he wants to end Sacco’s “corruption.”
Garguilo, who old-time Hudson County sports fans remember as a successful football coach at St, Joseph’s High School in nearby West New York, said that the payment was negotiated and approved by the school’s board when he stopped working. Garguilo is technically on sabbatical and the payment reportedly continues to August.
Sacco also defended the arrangement, saying, “It isn’t something that Frank Garguilo invented.”
The mayor was probably more right than he thought. So-called terminal leave agreements – in which a public employee stops working, but remains on the payroll for a few months (sometimes because of outstanding sick and vacation time) are common in New Jersey.
Another issue bound to pop up in the campaign are recent NBC-TV stories alleging that Sacco and other political leaders have numerous relatives on the public payroll.
Patronage of this type is also common across the state. But one difference is that such population centers as North Bergen and Hudson County have a large government apparatus, and consequently many. more jobs to fill than other locales.
Sacco said he was unconcerned about the NBC reports,
“You can say certain things about us, but the people know,” the mayor said. That seemed an obvious reference to the many good things Sacco says are happening in North Bergen.