MAPLEWOOD, NJ - In a shocking move Tuesday, Mayor Vic DeLuca has been chosen by the incoming Township Committee (TC) to serve another year as mayor, thwarting initial plans that had TC member Greg Lembrich expected to take the top spot.
The surprise came from incoming TC Member Dean Dafis, who revealed he had told Lembrich earlier this year that he would support him, but changed his mind just this week.
“I’ve come to the decision tonight literally just a few hours ago and I’ve never been more nervous in my life,” Dafis said during a lengthy statement in which he explained his decision. “I’m going to throw my support to Mayor Deluca for possibly one final year as mayor.”
The incoming TC, which included Dafis, met in a caucus Tuesday night as it does every year to choose the mayor for the new year. When the deliberations were done, three members voted for DeLuca to serve a 10th straight year at the helm, with two choosing Lembrich.
DeLuca’s votes came from himself, TC Member and Deputy Mayor Nancy Adams and Dafis, while Lembrich received his own vote and that of TC member Frank McGehee.
The swing vote was clearly Dafis, who ran with DeLuca during the 2017 election in which they beat Republican challenger Mike Summersgill. DeLuca will be sworn into another three-year term on Jan. 1, 2018, while Dafis will begin his first term and replace TC member India Larrier, who chose not to run for re-election.
Speculation had been rampant for weeks that Lembrich would have the votes of both McGehee and Dafis, along with his own, to take the top spot. But as Dafis explained in a 10-minute speech prior to the vote, he had been conflicted and hinted that he was disappointed his choice had been leaked.
“It’s no secret since there has been a lot of talk and speculation and gossip about who I’m going to nominate for mayor,” Dafis said. “I had conversations earlier this year about this with Mr. Lembrich and assured him at the time that I was in his camp. I had conversations with Mayor DeLuca as well during that time, before that time, since that time. It’s also no secret that because of my conversations with Mr. Lembrich it made for some uncomfortable events between me and the mayor during our time out there as running mates.”
He also added, “I’ve spoken to voters about how they feel about this. We are serving them, we are not elected to serve our egos and our titles and we’ve kind of lost track of that as the drumroll leads to this point every year.”
Dafis then stated, “It saddens me that whatever conversations were had earlier in the year as I was deliberating about this went outside of the private moment that I shared with a particular individual. Because it was disrespectful I think to do so and highly disrespectful to the deliberations of this body.
“I have considered all of that and thought to myself over and over again, what’s the right choice? Who is the right choice in the best interests of the community?”
Dafis noted that to work with the incoming governor and deal with “big-ticket” items and “to best serve the challenging issues that we’re facing and to leverage our relationships outside of Maplewood for our local benefit” he chose DeLuca.
The change is not official until the TC votes on Jan. 1, 2018. But Tuesday’s actions appear to give DeLuca another year at the top.
“I would like to just express my complete shock and genuine disappointment at some of what has been said tonight and I am not going to say anything further out of respect for this Township
Committee and this Township,” said Lembrich after the close vote. “But I’m surprised at what has been said tonight.”
DeLuca, who was first elected to the governing body in 1997, previously spent three years as mayor, from 2001 to 2003, before being voted off the TC in 2003. He won back his seat in 2006, returned as mayor on Jan. 1, 2009, and has been reappointed annually ever since.
In a related matter, McGehee hinted that threats had been made and other outside pressures to influence the mayoral choice, but gave no details: “I find it very disappointing that others outside this TC meeting attempt to influence this process.”