NUTLEY – Mayor of the town of Nutley and Commissioner of Public Affairs, 49-year old Joanne Cocchiola is seeking her third term on the Board of Commissioners. Four years ago, she was the top vote getter. That’s why she’s mayor, and the first woman to hold the office in Nutley’s 106-year history.
“All night on Election Night I was neck and neck with (Commissioner) Mauro Tucci,” Cocchiola recalled. “I thought he was going to be the mayor. When I won, my father came up to me and said, ‘You did what I could never do.’”
Her father, the late Frank Cocchiola, a first cousin of Carmen Orechio, served as commissioner for 28 years. So no one who knows Nutley was surprised when the younger Cocchiola followed him into local politics.
“I literally grew up playing shuffleboard at the Elks Club where the
politicians hung out,” said the mayor. “My father loved this town. He bled maroon and gray. Those are the Nutley colors.”
One-time allies on the Commission, Orechio and Cocchiola fought a
well-documented political battle for years. They proudly came together when Cocchiola’s daughter became mayor, and to this day,the mayortells Orechio what she’s going to do whenever she makes a big decision.
An attorney,Cocchiola has worked in the state Attorney General’s office in the Division of Gaming Enforcement. She currently serves as deputy counsel for the Sports and Exposition Authority.
“I can’t believe how helpful being a lawyer has been in doing a lot of the things we were charged to do on the commission,” she said. “A lot of things circle back to law and civil procedure, and I think I’ve saved Nutley a lot of hours of thinking time.”
As head of Public Affairs, Cocchiola has developed and overseen senior healthcare clinics and women’s initiatives highlighting women’s history in the town.
She acknowledged that the town’s biggest challenge is balancing
redevelopment so that it fits into the existing character of Nutley.
The town needs rateables, said the mayor. It’s 80% residential and
requires businesses to offset what residents pay in taxes.
“People are getting a little afraid, and they’re asking why there are so many nail salons in town,” she admitted.
At the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, the governing body authorized an application for a $50,000 grant to undertake a community “visioning project.”
Cocchiola doesn’t want to lose the texture of the town. She’s heard the voices and says send her back for another term. “I love the accountability of our form of government,” said the mayor. “I love Nutley. Clearly.”