Sal Bonaccorso: A Profile of Clark's Longest-Serving Mayor

Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso is currently in his fifth term as mayor of the town. His political career began in 1996 as a Republican councilman before running for his first term as mayor in 2000. Credits: Daniel Collins
Clark Township Mayor Sal Bonaccorso was inducted into the New Jersey Elected Officials Hall of Fame at the State House in Trenton on Wednesday, February 8, 2017. Credits: Christina Bonaccorso
Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso with other officials at the New Jersey Elected Officials Hall of Fame on Wednesday, February 8, 2017. He credits his family for always supporting him in his career. Credits: Christina Bonaccorso

CLARK, NJ - You may find him in his office at the Clark town hall, you might watch him on TV-36 as he leads a town council meeting or see him around town helping to make Clark great. He is Sal Bonaccorso, the mayor of Clark Township.

On Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, he was sworn in for his fifth term as mayor and said he enjoys every minute of being the mayor of the town he grew up in.

“Good people,” Bonaccorso said. “I truly believe one of the biggest assets of Clark, more than the government and anything in it, is the people and the attitude about how kind they are.”

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The road leading up to his re-election bid in 2016 was rocky, as he and his family struggled with the long illness and death of his father, Joseph S. Bonaccorso. The elder Bonaccorso died on March 14 of that year, at the age of 86. Sal Bonaccorso was very open in discussing what his father was like.

“I had him with me here since day one and he was always campaigning for me and working hard for me as his son,” Bonaccorso said. “It was a tough year, we had him in the hospital for ten months and when he finally passed away, it was rough.”

He said his 2016 election victory over Democratic challenger, Dario Valdivia, provided closure for his family with everything they faced as his father’s health declined.

Most recently, on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, Bonaccorso was inducted into the New Jersey Elected Officials Hall of Fame at the State House in Trenton. The Hall of Fame recognizes municipal governing members who have served for 20 or more years. He was one of 18 people inducted that day.

Bonaccorso is a devoted family man.  He is involved with Clark Travel Basketball and the Little League program, coaching his two daughters and son Joey. He reasserted his commitment to his family while being mayor.

“The first thing I said when I became mayor was that I’m never going to allow my kids to grow up as orphans, meaning that I am so busy in politics and government that he has no time for his children because I would’ve robbed them of something special,” Bonaccorso said. “That’s why I never got involved in any county or state committees as mayor. I’m here, I serve my town, I go home and want to be with my family.”

His daughters are proud and amazed by everything he’s done for his family and the town.

“He’s definitely working hard to keep up with everyone,” his daughter Kellie said. “He’s always done a great job being a dad, being the mayor and a coach.”

“I've always been inspired by how he applies his own personal values and ethics to his job,” his daughter Christina said. “He believes his residents are all important and cares about them all, it's hard to come by someone like that in his position nowadays. He truly is the best mayor and dad in the world. Watching how he treats people is what inspired my career, I want to go home and know that I've helped someone. I hope to make the same difference that he has made one day.”

Sal Bonaccorso’s career in local politics dates back to 1996, when he won a spot as a Republican councilman.

He first ran for mayor in 2000 and won, defeating then Councilwoman Marie Soyka.  In 2004, he was re-elected to a second term, defeating Democratic challenger Sheree Bosze. He faced off against Gary Slodowski and won re-election to a third term in 2008. In each election he won by wide margins.

Sal Bonaccorso said there’s no way to describe a typical day in local government.  No one knows what can happen on a day-to-day basis, he said.  Something unexpected can pop up and demand his attention.  

A crisis can happen at any time, and Bonaccorso said each one comes with enormous responsibility. 

“Hurricane Sandy almost killed me,” Bonaccorso said, referring to the Oct., 2012 superstorm.  “I was on the street for 15-16 hours every day, running around, trying to get this town back with electricity, worrying about the seniors and children. I was standing in the police station the night it hit and the phones were ringing off the hook.”

“We had to call them off the street,” he added. “We called DPW, police and fire-fighters off the streets because the winds were so dangerous. We had to wait for it to calm down and then we sent everybody back. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.”

He said the key to a good emergency-response is preparation.

Bonaccorso’s actions worked in his favor, as he won re-election to a fourth term, defeating Democratic Councilman Richard Kazanowski in November 2012.

While most people would think of Election Day as a day to be nervous about the election’s outcome, Bonaccorso says it’s more exhausting than anything else.  He explained the day starts at 6:00 a.m. and goes until 8:00 p.m, all the time standing at the polls.  Even when the polls close and the results are in, the team stays together until midnight or later, he said.

Bonaccorso has fond memories of his days as mayor.  Among his favorites: meeting Clark native Kenneth Ham, an astronaut who was the Commander of the Space Shuttle, and the construction of the Clark Commons Mall in 2015.

“The greatest thing of working with Sal is because of his passion,” Clark Recreation Director Ralph Bernardo said. “He supports almost everything I want to do in recreation because it’s going to benefit the kids, the youth of Clark, our seniors, general residents. His drive causes me to come up with new and exciting ways to do good for the town.”

Bonaccorso is grateful to his wife, Geraldine, his three children, and his parents who he said have all given him the love and support  he needed to be successful as Clark’s longest serving mayor.

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