Voters give Mayor Dale full term, elect GOP to council

West Milford. Republican Mayor Michele Dale won her first full term by an almost 4-1 margin Tuesday.

05 Nov 2019 | 11:20

Republican Mayor Michele Dale won four more years Tuesday, defeating Democratic challenger Bob Nicholson 3,776-1,159, according to the unofficial results from the Passaic County Clerk’s Office.

“I can’t begin to express the gratitude I feel for being given this chance,” Dale said, celebrating with fellow Republicans at the home of Councilwoman Marilyn Lichtenberg. “I always try to raise the bar higher, and I hope to do that for West Milford.”

Dale thanked Nicholson for running a clean campaign.

“There were two good candidates for mayor,” Dale said. “We let the people decide what they wanted for the future of the town.”

Nicholson spent election night at the Irish Cottage on Route 23 in Franklin, playing music with a few friends.

“I wish Michele Dale all the best and look forward to supporting her,” Nicholson said. “I wanted to give the voters a choice and the people spoke. Democracy has been served.”

Dale won a one-year term last year, filling the seat vacated by Democratic Mayor Bettina Bieri who resigned at the end of 2018 to move out of the township.

In that race, she defeated Democrat Chris Garcia and Independent Tim Wagner for the seat.

The banking executive also defeated incumbent Republican Township Councilman Lou Signorino by a similar margin in the June primary.

Republicans Kevin Goodsir and Warren Gross will join Dale on the dais as two new Republican council members winning their seats with 3,521 and 3,445 votes respectively, according to the clerk’s office.

Goodsir and Gross defeated incumbent Republican Township Councilman Peter McGuinness and challenger Steven Castronova in the June primary, and were unopposed in the general election because Democrats did not field any candidates in the race.

With both Signorino and McGuinness exiting the governing body in January, Dale is likely to find a four-vote majority with the new additions with Councilwomen Ada Erik and Lichtenberg.

During the last year, Dale has often found herself at odds with a four-vote majority cadre of Signorino, McGuinness, Councilwoman Andie Pegel and Councilwoman Patricia Gerst.

Both Pegel and Gersts’ terms end December of next year, and both seats will be up for election.

Among several issues, Dale, Lichtenberg and Erik opposed the removal of the late Township Clerk, and administrator Antoinette Battaglia in December of 2018.

Battaglia was terminated from her part-time position as administrator during the final meeting of 2018, while Wagner served as council president and before Erik and Lichtenberg took office.

She was terminated “immediately” with a vote of 5-1 with outgoing Township Councilman Mike Hensley being the only dissenting vote.

She was given a 90-day payout and continued on as clerk until her death from cancer earlier this year.

Dale and the four-vote members also recently tangled about using most of the town’s $1 million surplus to fill a budget hole.

Signorino said he supported using the surplus because it was “extra money” that he felt should go to reducing or eliminating the estimated 2-3 cent per $100 of assessed valuation increase in this year’s municipal budget.

The four-vote majority approved using the funds over the objection of both Dale and Acting Administrator, and Budget Consultant Bob Casey.

Casey and Dale argued that using the surplus funds could end up causing a bond rating drop that would mean a greater cost for the municipality to borrow money.

They also warned that using the funds now would possibly set up a large tax increase for next year and that would not be fair to the new incoming council.

“I can’t begin to express the gratitude I feel for being given this chance. I always try to raise the bar higher, and I hope to do that for West Milford.” - Mayor Michele Dale