Zitt Flexes his Political Muscles in Hudson County

While it might be something of an exaggeration to claim Guttenberg is so small you could spit off The

Zitt
Zitt

Palisades into Hudson River and miss the town entirely – but not much of an exaggeration.

Yet as one of the smallest municipalities in the state, Guttenberg appears to have political clout in Northern Hudson County out of proportion to its size.

This was made evident by a fundraiser held for Guttenberg Mayor Wayne Zitt on Sept. 26, where most if not all of the North Hudson’s political elite came to pay him tribute as well as drop off checks to pump up his 2021 reelection war chest.

The event, held at the Waterside – a well-known political watering hole in West New York, drew a healthy mix of political leaders, many of whom are the most powerful political figures in that part of the county. Even Bergen County GOP chairman, Jack Zisa stopped in to say hello.

State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco described Zitt as one of “the up and coming” political leaders of North Hudson.

“Wayne is working hard to make Guttenberg a great place,” Sacco said.

Zitt earlier in the evening refused to disparage previous administrations and simply said his goal is to make Guttenberg an even better place to live in.

A former transportation specialist, Zitt got into government service as a legislative aide to Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez, and later, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (who Zitt cited as a model.)

Zitt, who became mayor two years ago, already said he is running for reelection, and traditionally holds two fundraisers a year to which the high and mighty of Northern Hudson regularly come.

Known sometimes as the “four by twelve block” city because the quarter mile-sized municipality in completely contained in those blocks, Guttenberg is arguably one of the most densely populated cities for its size in the nation.

But its political footprint as demonstrated by the Zitt fundraiser is much larger than its geographical size – even though it can hardly turn out the massive vote of towns like North Bergen or Union City.

Sacco
Sacco

Leader after leader in North Hudson made an appearance – including the all-powerful Sacco, County Executive Tom DeGise, two Hudson County Freeholders, all five commissioners from West New York, former and current state assembly members, mayors from nearby towns such as Richard Turner of Weehawken.

“Wayne is doing a great job as mayor,” Turner said during the cocktail hour preamble to the fundraising dinner.

This was a kind of meet and greet designed to raise money but also to introduce Zitt to potential supporters he might not already know – although from the way Zitt called out thanks to people in the room later, he appeared to know nearly everybody already despite the standing room only crowd.

While Zitt privately admitted he has some political critics in Guttenberg, you can bet none of his opponents were in the room that night. The whole point of the event was to build on the perception of a strong and growing political base of support.

“It’s been a great two years,” the enthusiastic Zitt said, shaking hands with supporters even as he conducted this interview.

The gang at Zitt’s

Historically, most of the town’s 13,000 plus residents live in one housing complex called The Galaxy Towers — a one-time political nightmare for any candidate who the population of the towers might oppose. While Zitt appears to be on good terms with the towers, the landscape of Guttenberg is changing – especially under Zitt – with new and redevelopment occurring in other parts of town including the waterfront.

This change might not see a dramatic increase in overall population; it could dramatically change the fundamental nature of the voting base as new, younger millennials employed in Manhattan move in. 

As the mayor with an eye open for reelection, Zitt hopes to avoid some of the mistakes made in other places such as Hoboken and Jersey City where old and new residents came into conflict. 

This, Zitt said, does pose other issues as older residents feel threatened, and his administration seeks to provide services that will make everyone feel comfortable. One such effort is the recent addition of adult programming by the recreation department, he said.

Park development – thanks to funding from Hudson County’s Open Space Trust Fund – have also been high on his agenda.

Looking back at his first two years as mayor, Zitt said he has learned a lot – including what not to do such as the blunder of taking mugshots of dogs during licensing in order to later determine which owner didn’t pick up their pooch’s poop in public spaces.

A more positive lesson was how to leverage regional resources to benefit Guttenberg residents from being part of a regional fire department to the more recently added library services in conjunction with North Bergen – something Zitt made a point of thanking Sacco for during his speech at the fundraiser.

This is not to say Guttenberg is free of challenges. This year the town saw a modest tax increase for the first time in years, due in part to the $20 million bond the town took out to help expand its schools. The future also presents challenges such as dealing with desperately needed sewer system upgrades, Zitt said.

Agreements with other towns for shared services and interlocal agreements with local schools help keep costs down, Zitt said.

“We work together,” Zitt said, giving part of the credit for success to his town administrator, Cosmo Cirillo, who also serves as a commissioner in West New York. Cirillo returned the compliment, describing Guttenberg as “a small town with a big heart” and crediting Zitt with helping make that happen.

Zitt in his public comments said while he might be the mayor of a town four blocks wide, he said, “it is a city with the most heart in Hudson County.”

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