The newly sworn in mayor of Hillside, Joe Menza, is rapidly becoming a hero of sorts as is often the case when the little guy puts up a gallant fight against “the machine.” Menza was the winner of a runoff election in a town that has what are known as nonpartisan elections for its governing body. However Hillside’s elections are nothing but nonpartisan as they have for years been dominated by one very well funded political party.
The machine here is of course a political machine which by definition in US politics is a party organization headed by a single boss or small autocratic group, that commands enough votes to maintain political and administrative control of a city, county or state. In his Political Dictionary William Safire defines “Machine Politics” as the election of officials and the passage of legislation through the power of an organization created for political action. Hierarchy and discipline are hallmarks of political machines’
Safire’s definition describes Hillside to a “T”, the party organization is the Hillside Democratic Committee, and the boss – Charlotte DeFilippo is also the Chair of the Union County Democratic Committee. Those involved in Union County politics recognize , even though she staunchly denies it, that DeFilippio calls the shots all over the county. She has been running a tight ship in the Democratic controlled municipalities with the assistance of a few loyal & time tested devotees making Charlotte the strong arm of the machine. One would think. However, it appears that things could be diverging from what has been the norm. Linden now has an independent mayor, Roselle is being governed by a mixed bag of party faithful and rogues as is Plainfield, Kenilworth shifted back to the GOP and now she is faced with a bagful of malcontents right in her hometown. The karma is not lending itself to what should have been a peaceful retirement in her not to distant future, which it would appear she was setting herself up for if her double dipping government employment history was any indication.
Now, along comes Mayor Menza who pursued the office with the full knowledge that the Hillside Machine was not about to back off but rather they would be doing everything in their power to stand in his way should he by some stretch of the imagination actually win the office. Having run before and coming close Menza seemed to have figured, what the heck he would go for it. He joined forces with a couple of the regular election candidates who were not able to garner as many votes as he. Together, they formed a coalition that has put him in the mayor’s seat by a narrow victory over Charlotte’s handpicked mayoral candidate. But now what?
If its past performance with the last two mayors is any indication the Hillside town council, dominated by a crew of Charlotte’s people, are capable of making Gitmo look like Paradise. Fully knowing the score Mayor Joe predicted even before taking the oath of office that he would have to face his township council in court in order to get things done. The “torture” commenced just about immediately with the township clerk scheduling his swearing in at midday July 1st and on the town hall steps rather than during the townships reorganization meeting that night. Barely a month later the mayors prediction came to fruition when they all landed in court after he issued an executive order, in accordance he beleives, with the Faulkner Act, appointing an attorney, acting business administrator and an auditor only to be rebuffed by the council who claimed that he had overstepped his bounds and they would not confirm his selections but make their own. He has steadfastly refused to cave to their pressure for absolute control of the township by as he saw it the Democratic Party machine, they in turn requested an injunction and restraining order against him. The judge rejected the council’s request so for now until Sept. 2nd Mayor Joe has his own people he can legitimately depend on until both sides appear back in court.
According to Safire a Political Machine is “not only a machine but an army, and in any army there must be discipline”, a theory that DeFilippo the Hillside Democratic Party chair for more than three decades echoes “advice and consent of the council is necessary to do things in all facets of government,” she has reportedly said. Over the years she has made it clear that advice and consent needs to originate on King Street at her dining room table, just ask Menza’s predecessors especially the last mayor, Karen McCoy-Oliver. McCoy-Oliver it seems fell out of Charlotte’s good graces shortly after being elected which led to such open hostility from the town council that it could be said she all but abandoned her office in an effort to maintain her sanity. Periodically McCoy-Oliver would resurface and attempt to reclaim the reins of government but those attempts would be short-lived as Charlotte’s army would block any endeavor she embarked upon. She would retaliate and in one case landed in court and has been ordered to repay legal fines incurred by department heads who sued her when she refused to sign their contracts. McCoy-Oliver finished her term refusing to resign as her predecessor had done after two years in office citing personal attacks and a dysfunctional government.
Even with all of that history Menza still decided to take on the machine; eyes wide open to what could be lying in wait he has forged full steam ahead to confront this Goliath and her emissaries of ill will. With the support of the judicial system and the residents of Hillside behind him and knowing that the truth always finds its way to the forefront in even the most difficult of circumstances Menza will surely make steady progress in taking back, for the residents, control of their hometown.