Roselle Park mayor’s race offers a unique choice

ROSELLE PARK, NJ — Mayor Carl Hokanson, who failed to win the Democratic nomination and is running for re-election as an independent, said he is gaining support from residents tired of “watching the fighting between Democrats and Republicans.”

When the mayor did not receive the party nomination in March he quickly announced he would run as an independent. At the time, Roselle Park Democratic Committee Chairman Daniel Petrosky told LocalSource his party didn’t endorse Hokanson in the June primary because he “wasn’t a team player” who “doesn’t get along with any of the Democratic council people.”

Hokanson said having to run as an independent “might be a blessing in disguise” because he thinks he can draw voters from both parties in the Nov. 6 election.
“When I go door to door talking to people, from what people see going on down in Washington, D.C., the Republicans this, the Democrats that,” Hokanson said. “Me, I’ve got one goal. I’m moving forward. I don’t care what you are, Republican, Democrat, it’s got to stop. There’s bickering and fighting along party lines. It’s crazy. It’s not what people want. People say, ‘What are you going to do for me.’ I don’t say, ‘Excuse me. Are you Democrat or Republican?’ No, I don’t do that.”

The local Democratic Party endorsed 30-year-old Joseph Signorello III, a political newcomer, over Hokanson, and council President William Fahoury is running on the Republican ticket. Borough Republicans are in the majority on the six-member council in Roselle Park, which has an estimated population of 13,600. The current councilman at-large is a Republican, as are the representatives of 1st, 3rd and 5th Wards. Last November, Republicans won two of the seats. There are also two, three-year seats open on the council. Incumbent Petrosky is running against Republican Richard Graves in the 2nd Ward and Democrat Robert Mathieu is challenging incumbent Republican Thomas Thos Shipley in the 5th Ward.

Signorello, a fifth-generation borough resident whose father is the fire chief and a school board member, said he is relishing the role of being “a bit of an underdog” in the first three-way mayoral race in borough history.

In an Oct. 10 phone interview with LocalSource, he said what he may lack in political experience he makes up for with his work in the financial technology field. Through his firm, borough-based Signorello Consulting LLC, he said he has worked with multibillion-dollar corporations in several capacities.

After working in Switzerland and Germany for a few years, he said he found that so many businesses had closed downtown that Roselle Park looked like “a ghost town” when he returned. In an effort to revitalize the downtown, he outlined a plan to attract more service-oriented commercial spaces that will not be affected by online shopping giants such as Amazon. He imagines streets lined with coffee houses, yoga studios and even emergency medical centers.

“We’re giving out PILOTs, tax abatements, for more apartments,” Signorello said. “I would like to use PILOTs for mixed use to make sure it is tax-favorable to make sure we get commercial space in town.”

Council President Fahoury, 26, is a decorated Marine who was deployed to Afghanistan, Japan and the Philippines. The Seton Hall University graduate and lifelong resident was elected to represent the 3rd Ward in 2017.

In an Oct. 11 phone interview with LocalSource, he said that moving from council president to mayor would be “a natural progression,” adding that for the first time in five years there is a Republican majority on the council, so the party is “starting to implement some of the vision plans that we have.”

Fahoury said the borough has applied for Transit Village status, which would give it access to grant money. The borough has also adopted the “Complete Streets” policy, and will work with the New Jersey Department of Transportation to fund, plan, design and construct streets to accommodate pedestrians, public transportation users, cyclists and motorists. Roselle Park has also launched a Department of Economic Development and hired an economic developer to help “new business owners and walk them through the process.”

Hokanson said there has been a lot of progress during the past four years. In particular, he pointed to the two residential-retail apartment buildings constructed on Westfield Avenue on the site formally home to Domani’s restaurant before it was gutted by a fire in 2009. He said it was the “first major construction in Roselle Park in 53 years.”

The mayor also said he had received a phone call from Gov. Phil Murphy, who assured him the state would fund the revitalization of the train station, a plan that had been canceled by former Gov. Chris Christie. The mayor said bids for the project should go out early next year.
He characterized the current mayoral race as “the silly season,” when people are “exaggerating” and “making up lies.” In particular, campaign literature that Democrats have distributed calling for a crackdown on “wasteful spending” seemed to irk Hokanson.

“What I don’t understand, the guy who’s running for Democratic mayor, has his 2nd Ward councilman (Petrosky), has been in council for five years. He’s putting out ‘wasteful spending.’ Did you help waste it? I get confused. People put this stuff out. Wait a minute. You’re running for mayor. You’re going to stop wasteful spending, but the person you’re running with has been on the council for five years. Does that make sense?”

Signorello said it’s awkward to “take the gloves off” with Hokanson because he has been a family friend for many years. When Signorello’s brother, Anthony, died as the result of an all-terrain vehicle accident, Hokanson was a pallbearer.

“I don’t think he’s a bad person, I just think he’s bad at his job,” Signorello said. “I know that sounds harsh and that’s what makes it difficult. I know his heart is in the right place and I know he cares about the town. I just don’t think he has the right skill set to get it done.”