Mayor's Choice Falls Short in Council Bid
Parsippany GOP opts to add a woman to the field vying for Town Council vacancy.
The three candidates chosen to vie for Freeholder John Cesaro's vacated Township Council seat are Dr. Louis Valori, James Vigilante and Julie Carifi.
Left out of the contest is the candidate many believed was a sure bet: Milin Shah, the former Planning Board member backed by Mayor James Barberio and Councilman Vincent Ferrara.
The Parsippany Republican Club, comprised of township GOP county committee members, gathered at the Rescue and Recovery building at 100 Centerton Road for what most thought would be a quick exercise.
Once the process of conducting the vote began, committee members made nominations for candidates. Barberio immediately named Shah. Nominations of Valori and Vigilante followed.
Member Michael Strumolo nominated Vinny Schindel, a popular party member who was recently hospitalized and in intensive care and is now recovering at home. Every member present seconded Schindel's nomination. Per the body's rules, he had to accept or decline the nod on the spot. The mayor phoned Schindel, who turned it down.
New member Robert Crawford stood and, citing the need for a woman on the presently all-male council, named Judy Tiedeman.
"I am greatly honored, a little embarrassed and surprised," Tiedeman said, adding that while she agreed that it is important to have a woman on the council, she could not accept the nomination.
Patricia Petaccia, another newly elected member, offered the name of ZBA member Loretta Gragnani as a nominee.
"I unseated her in the recent election, but I know the important work she has done for this town, and she deserves to move up the ladder," Petaccia said.
Gragnani thanked Petaccia for the nod, but declined because of her new position as an assistant to Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce.
Committee member Joseph Roman then put in the name of Julie Carifi, wife of Parsippany Police Capt. James Carifi and sister-in-law of Councilman Paul Carifi Jr. The visibly surprised woman indicated that she would accept the nod.
With four candidates, the members voted to close the nomination period. Each of the four was then given an opportunity to speak to those assembled.
Julie Carifi cited her experience as a "Republican from the age of 18" who has worked in various political efforts including campaigns for her brother-in-law and for BettyLou DeCroce.
"I will bring a fresh perspective and new opinions to the council," she said.
Shah said that rather than talk about his experience he would speak from his heart instead.
"For me, this is about community, commitment, dedication and service," he said, noting that he was lucky to have grown up in Parsippany and was eager to give something back to the town. "I will work with my council colleagues to bring down property taxes and generate new revenue."
Valori said he was running to represent the town as a "true Republican," adding that the Obama administration, Sen. Frank Lautenberg and what he labeled the "aggressive Democrat machine" are "ruining this country and this state."
He cited 25 years experience in law enforcement and pledged to give his council salary back to the town.
The fourth candidate, James Vigilante, was not present for the meeting, as he is in San Diego on assignment for the U.S. Air Force Reserves. Councilman Michael dePierro spoke on his behalf.
DePierro recalled working side by side with the candidate during Vigilante's 12 years as a council member, including stints as president and vice president.
"He was a team player," DePierro said. "He asked questions and he listened to the answers. I enjoyed working with Jimmy, and I would love to see him come back."
The speeches completed, it was time for the vote. Each of the 64 voting members present filled out a paper ballot and was permitted to select up to three candidates. The three receiving the highest vote totals would have their names presented to the council the following night.
When the votes were tallied, Parsippany GOP President Nicole Green announced 52 votes for Valori, 38 for Vigilante—and 33 votes each for Carifi and Shah. She said the tie meant members would have to vote again and choose between the two.
The final tally of the second round of voting gave the victory to Carifi by a vote of 33-27.
Many in the room, including Shah, appeared stunned.
Carifi thanked the crowd for their votes.
"We'll see what what happens tomorrow," she said.
Member Judy Foster, who represents Parsippany's District 1 with Valori, questioned the process that would give the council the power to fill its vacancy.
"Lou Valori got the majority of the votes, 52," Foster said, "and I would like to know why the committee can't just appoint him now."
"The law mandates that we are to provide the council with three names within 15 days of the vacancy," said President Green. "We are in Day 13. The council president recognized that the [committee's] meeting was going to be today, so in order to fill the vacancy as quickly as possible he is convening a special meeting that already has been posted to the public for [Tuesday] at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers, at which time the council will vote on which of the three names [chosen] will fill the unexpired term for John Cesaro."
Committee member and former Mayor Frank Priore stood and said that all four candidates were "excellent."
"Somebody has to be the winner and there is always someone who doesn't prevail," he told the crowd.
Priore then turned to address a visibly deflated Shah.
"You're a fine young man and you've got a great future ahead of you," he said. "Stay involved. When I was your age, I lost a county committee race by one vote. I stuck in there and eventually became municipal chairman at 25 years old, elected to council at 27 and mayor at 32.
"One little setback doesn't make a difference. People recognize you as a strong, eager Republican," Priore concluded to a huge round of applause.
Mayor Barberio also stood to praise Shah.
"I have had the opportunity to work with Milin Shah since 2007," he said. "When he was a Democrat, he ran against me [for Town Council]. I said to Milin Shah, 'You have the principles of a Republican. Why are you runnng as a Democrat?'
"You know what he said to me? Because he didn't think the Republicans would accept an Indian. That frustrated and bothered me," Barberio continued. "In 2009, he worked hard on my candidacy for mayor. He worked on a lot of individual campaigns in this town.
"You have a bright future, you really do, Milin."
The mayor added that he would save "what I'd really like to say" for the Tuesday special council meeting and would not elaborate further.
Valori thanked the people who gave him 52 votes.
"A lot of people here obviously supported my candidacy," he said. "But what is the process tomorrow night? Because a lot of people in this room would love to see me in the council spot."
The mayor stated that the township attorney will read the ordinance governing council vacancies. Then the three candidates will be voted on as the ordinance mandates: one at a time in alphabetical order, until one gains a majority of council votes.
"It doesn't matter how many votes you get [tonight]," Barberio said. "That's our ordinance, and that's what we have to follow."
Council President Brian Stanton noted that it is possible that the process could end immediately if the first candidate receives the necessary majority of three votes, meaning that Julie Carifi conceivably could win the spot before Valori's or Vigilante's names are presented.
"There is no tie," Stanton said. "If the first candidate is called and you get two yesses and two nos, that's your vote and we move to the next candidate."
Valori protested, saying that the process went against "common sense" and should be modified.
"Let's say somebody gets 60 votes and the other candidates get two votes and one vote [respectively]. The democracy has spoken. The Republican committee has spoken, and that's how it should be," he insisted. "I'm not trying to be a spoiler, but the reality is I got 52 votes. The committee's choice [should be upheld] to keep the party united. Just food for thought."
Valori then encouraged everyone present to attend the Tuesday council meeting "to show the importance of supporting your candidate."