The tectonic plates of politics have momentarily shifted to a halt in West Orange, where most observers expected Assemblyman/Mayor John McKeon to pull the plug on his tenure as mayor and focus on his legislative career.
McKeon’s made no public statements reversing his assertions late last year, when he said he was likely done as mayor, but two matters beyond his control have forced political soul-searching that others around him – and one man in particular – appreciate and respect.
“I’m pretty sure our mayor is prepared to move on,” said Councilman Robert Parisi, who is ready to run for mayor if McKeon does not pursue re-election.
“Ultimately, that’s his decision,” added Parisi, a 12-year veteran of the council who runs his own insurance business.
“If our mayor decides to seek re-election, I would support our mayor,” the councilman made clear. “I think he’s been a good public servant, and I don’t want to butt heads with someone I respect.”
McKeon’s decision could ultimately ride on the political fates of two statewide names.
For one, the dethroning of McKeon’s District 27 ally, Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland), sent a wave of turbulence through the ground-level layer of West Orange politics, creating anxieties and potentially disrupting timelines.
As Codey waged a losing battle against his successor Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney, McKeon still projected near certainty that he would not run for the local executive position he’s held since 1998.
“You never rule anything out completely, but without sounding self-serving, the issue is it’s time to turn the page (on the mayor’s job),” McKeon told PolitickerNJ.com last year, a little over a week in front of the governor’s race.
But if McKeon at that point could reconcile himself to a weakened Codey in the same-district senate chair with redistricting looming and the potential for Codey to not be in a district including West Orange, and McKeon’s own loosening grip on the local reins of government, he also could still hold hope that Gov. Jon Corzine would win re-election and create a possible opportunity in the command chair of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
As chair of the Assembly Environmental Committee, McKeon’s become an authority on environmental issues and, in fact, in the midst of Corzine’s collapse, successfully spearheaded passage of the open space referendum question to notch a win on an otherwise troubled Democratic Party landscape.
But Corzine’s loss to Gov.-Elect Chris Christie shriveled up the DEP option for McKeon, who insisted that no one ever asked him if that would be a job he could have, despite a lot of party buzz that at the very least he would be a short list commish candidate.
Now, again, McKeon’s step-aside locally would create the opening for the 43-year-old Parisi, whose insistence on not colliding with his ally is borne out by the patience he projects in conversation.
He’s comfortable not moving while McKeon mulls.
Sources say another potential candidate, meanwhile, West Orange Democratic chairman John Scarbnik, does not intend to challenge either McKeon or Parisi, despite prodding from certain disaffected quarters.
Regardless of what transpires from the political calculations of the mayor, Parisi remains confident about the town.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said. (Given the nationwide economic downturn), “The prospects in the short term do not look very good, and the new (Christie) administration could make things even harder. But I’ve enjoyed public service. My wife and I are lifers here, and our kids are in school. With 12 years on the council, I’m ready to take the next step. Whatever happens, West Orange will pull together.”