GOP Primary battle lines drawn Dale, Signorino to face off for mayoral party nod in June

| 26 Feb 2019 | 09:21

    By Charles Kim
    WEST MILFORD – What looks to be a contentious GOP primary is already starting to take shape just days after the township’s Republican Committee decided to back Mayor Michele Dale and two others against incumbents Township Council President Peter McGuinness and Councilman Luciano “Lou” Signorino.
    Signorino, the longest serving member currently on the governing body, is giving up his council seat to run for a full term as mayor and McGuinness is looking for another term on council.
    Dale, who won the mayor’s seat for a one-year term in a three-way race in November, must run again for a full term.
    She replaced former Democratic Mayor Bettina Bieri, who resigned from office in late August with one year left in her term.
    Dale beat Democrat Chris Garcia and Independent Tim Wagner in the November polling.
    Last week, the township’s GOP Committee threw its support behind Dale for mayor with Kevin Goodsir and Warren Gross as candidates for council during its meeting in the back room of the Jimmy Geeze North Sports Bar & Grille in Oak Ridge.
    Acting GOP Chairman Vivienne Erk said 18 county committee people attended the candidate screening, including one from each voting district.
    Dale won the party line with a 14-4 vote over Signorino in the mayoral primary election, she said.
    “The West Milford residents and the county committee expressed serious concerns about the business sense and management style of releasing a key township employee without having a replacement in mind, or naming any performance issues or deficiencies,” Erk said. “They also expressed serious concerns about (Signorino and McGuinness’s) conduct on the dais at township council meetings.”
    Erk said residents were “extremely” disturbed and contacted committeemen in their respective voting districts regarding the incumbents conduct and move to ouster Township Administrator Antoinette Battaglia from her part-time post in December.
    Battaglia, who remains as the township clerk, was voted out 5-1 at the Dec. 19 council meeting.
    Signorino, McGuinness, then Council President Tim Wagner, and councilwomen Andie Pegel and Patricia Gerst voted to remove her from the position with only former Councilman Mike Hensley voting against the measure.
    “Many people believe removing the administrator was done for political reasons to hamper the smooth transition of Michele (Dale) being mayor,” Erk said. “The county committee showed its support (at the meeting) for Dale, who overcame that.”
    After being “snubbed” by the committee, Signorino and McGuinness announced Tuesday that they would challenge the party line in the June primary for the Republican nomination.
    “I am excited to announce my candidacy for mayor of West Milford,” Signorino said in a press release. “Our township deserves strong, resourceful, and hands-on conservative leadership, and I am up for the task to bring these attributes to move West Milford forward.”
    According to the release, Signorino is a three-term councilman who has served as council president three times, and was not selected despite his three previous victories as a Republican.
    The release said McGuinness, a former chief and lifetime member of the volunteer fire department, president of the Girls Softball Association, and longtime town youth sports coach, was passed over by the committee who selected two first time candidates connected to Dale.
    “It is with great optimism and renewed commitment that I announce my intent to run for council again this year,” McGuinness said in the release. “This opportunity to seek re-election and continue serving my friends and neighbors in West Milford is one I simply cannot pass up. Despite the fact that the current mayor appears to have influenced 12 people to select her longtime friend and financial donor, I look forward to earning the trust and support of West Milford’s residents once again.”
    Dale, who also previously served on the council, said she is “honored” to be selected to run for a full term.
    “I am honored to be selected by the county committee and I plan to continue the work I started (when I took office) in November,” Dale said Tuesday evening.
    Goodsir, who works with a building trades union, is a lifelong resident of the township and has volunteered for several organizations.
    “If you are going to be a leader, you have to try and make people’s lives better,” Goodsir said. “I am honored to be able to run and represent the people of West Milford.”
    The Democrats said they plan to screen candidates for that party on March 9.
    “We’re looking for local candidates who will think independently and put the interests of the town first, while providing the critical checks and balances needed against an all-Republican council,” West Milford Democratic Committee Co-Chairman CarlLa Horton said in a Feb. 5 press release.
    All candidates for public office must now get petitions signed and turned into the township clerk by the end of the month to appear on the June primary ballot.