ROSELLE PARK, NJ – Carl Hokanson said he showed up for work the morning after Election Day about 30 minutes later than usual.
Although the mayor finished third in his bid to be re-elected in the first three-candidate race in the borough’s history, making for a long night, Hokanson stopped the following morning to pick up the customary coffee for himself and his office staff before settling in at his desk.
He may have been a little late on Wednesday morning, but he has a lot left to do before he leaves office.
Hokanson, 67, who ran as an independent after failing to win the Democratic Party nomination, received 18.4 percent of the votes, according to unofficial county records. He finished 1,656 votes behind Democratic candidate Joe Signorello III, 30, and 400 votes behind Republican candidate William Fahoury, 26.
When reached by phone on Nov. 7, Hokanson was philosophical about the results, saying Signorello “crushed me by, what, 3 to 1? But, this was the road I chose.”
Before he leaves office, however, he wants to see the completion of residential-retail apartment buildings at the site of the former Sullivan Chevrolet.
That area, on West Westfield Avenue, had been vacant for close to a decade and when officials and developers officially broke ground Sept. 28 on the two-building, six-story project that will include 212 units of one- and two-bedroom units plus street-level restaurant space and a parking garage, Hokanson called it the “biggest event” to occur in the borough in 50 years.
“I do what I did,” Hokanson said. “I brought some, even though they attacked me on a lot of the things that I started, the Sullivan property. Now they’re going to take credit for what I started. I’m going to try to finish it before I leave. This is the stuff when it comes to politics.”
The first evidence of a rift between Hokanson and the Roselle Park Democratic Party came in February when the RPDP removed all references of Hokanson from its website.
According to his statement declaring his candidacy as an independent candidate that he posted on Facebook on March 18, Hokanson saw “the benefits of keeping an open mind while trying to understand all sides of an issue and weigh them against the needs of our town and our residents. From the time I was first elected to Council in 2009 until now, I have demonstrated my ability to work with every member of council, putting political party affiliations aside.”
At the time, Roselle Park Democratic Committee Chairman Daniel Petrosky told LocalSource his party’s endorsement for the June primary wasn’t given to Hokanson because he “wasn’t a team player” and said the mayor “doesn’t get along with any of the Democratic council people.”
In an October interview, Hokanson responded to those comments by saying, “Whose team? Your team? The big Ds? My team? That was the problem. We, we, we. We, we, we. We the Democrats. We the Democrats. I got tired of hearing, ‘Get rid of him because he’s a Republican.’ Why? He’s doing his job. Why? Why do I have to hire people because they’re Democrat and they weren’t qualified? And you saw it over the years, all of sudden the Republicans came in, got the big broom out and swept out the Democrats. The Democrats finally took over and did the same to the Republicans. We’re a small town. I know these people are doing a good job. Why do we have to get rid of them if they’re doing a good job?”
The Nov. 5 election changed the dynamic of the governing body.
Joseph Petrosky Daniel’s brother, was re-elected as the councilman for the 2nd Ward and Democrat Robert Mathieu won the race for the 5th Ward. With the Democrats winning back one of the seats they lost in the 2017 election, that leaves three Democrats and three Republicans on the six-person council.
Signorello, whose father is on the Board of Education and who serves as the fire chief in the borough, won despite being a newcomer to politics.
Although Hokanson said he failed to gain the backing of the RPDP for reaching across party lines, Signorello said Hokanson “fell out of favor with the Democratic Party is because he stopped working with the Democratic party. I’m not saying that you have to agree to everything the Democratic Party has to offer. As a matter of fact there’s a lot of things about the Democratic Party that I don’t agree with, locally and nationally.
“But, you are part of a party and as a mayor you are the figurehead of that party and you should be showing up to the meetings. That’s something Carl didn’t do for the past two or three years.”
Signorello said he celebrated on election night at Frenchy’s Bar and Grill, which his grandfather opened in 1964. He said he and friends and family celebrated by renting a karaoke machine.
“I take the results as a referendum on his (Hokanson’s) time in office. There wasn’t a heck of a lot that got done. I’ll also give him credit for getting that (many votes) because it’s hard to run in New Jersey as an independent. The fact of the matter is, there was a clear desire for fresh ideas and fresh blood from both parties. I think he represented the old guard in Roselle Park and people were looking for a change, that was clear in the nomination of both parties, that was clear in the results, in my view.”
Hokanson said he is looking forward to spending time with his grandchildren. He has one granddaughter, and his son and daughter-in-law are expecting twins.
“So maybe I’ll be a full-time mayoral grandparent,” he said. “I’ll be serving a different constituency.”