Buena Vista Township Mayor Chuck Chiarello, who has served in local office since 1992, died on December 4.
Chiarello was known statewide as the former Atlantic County Democratic Chairman and as a past president of the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
He was serving his 22nd year as mayor.
He became active in local politics in the early 1980s, as an advocate for more traffic signals to reduce accidents on roads that had been considered unsafe. Chiarello later served on the township Environmental Commission.
In 1990, Chiarello made his first bid for public office. He lost to Republican incumbent Bill Fennen by 15 votes in a race decided by absentee ballots.
He ran again in 1991 and despite a Republican wave that year across the state in opposition to Gov. Jim Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase, Chiarello won.
The election of Chiarello and running mate Teresa Kelly gave Democrats a 4-1 majority on the township committee. They defeated GOP incumbents Sam Brunozzi and Terry Thomas by about 300 votes.
Chiarello became mayor in 1995, sworn in by Rep. Bill Hughes (D-Ocean City) on his last day as a congressman.
In 1997, he sought a seat on the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders, but lost his bid for the District 5 seat to incumbent Republican James Curcio by nearly 1,000 votes, 54%-46%.
He was unopposed for his third term on the township committee in the same election.
Chiarello was elected Atlantic County Democratic Chairman in 1998 and held the post for six years. He opted not to seek re-election in 2004.
He served as county chairman from 1998 to 2004.
In 2012, Chiarello was replaced as mayor in a 3-2 vote amidst Democratic infighting on the township committee. Later that year, he and Kelly were re-elected by a 2-1 margin.
Chiarello returned to the mayoralty in 2013 after two of his allies knocked off two rival incumbents, Peter Bylone and Richard Harlan, in the Democratic primary.
He retired from his post at the South Jersey Transportation Authority in 2012 after ten years.
State Sen. Michael Testa (R-Vineland) issued a statement praising Chiarello.
“I am saddened to hear of the passing of Mayor Chuck Chiarello. A dedicated public servant for more than twenty-eight years, Mayor Chiarello continuously prioritized the residents of Buena Vista over himself. As his health declined, he continued to diligently serve his township from his hospital bed. His unwavering dedication to his constituents is a testament to his life’s legacy,” said Testa. “I feel a close connection to Buena Vista as my parents live there. My thoughts and prayers are with Mayor Chiarello’s family during this difficult time.”
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said that Chiarello “deeply about his community, and worked tirelessly to make it a better place.”
“In his roles as Atlantic County Democratic Chairman, President of the New Jersey League of Municipalities and mayor of Buena Vista for 22 years, Chiarello was a dedicated public servant. From advocating for safer roadways to reduce traffic accidents, to improving parks and recreation for families in Buena Vista, Mayor Chiarello was always willing to take on a challenge if it could better his community,” Coughlin said. “My heart goes out to Mayor Chiarello’s family at this difficult time. He will be greatly missed.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney called Chiarello a dedicated public servant and a good friend.
“While he was a one-time leader of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, Conference of Mayors and Atlantic County Democrats, there was nothing that came before the people of Buena Vista. He brought passion and humility to his work and his life as he served the needs of others,” said Sweeney. “Mayor Chiarello will be missed, and I give my deepest condolences to his family, his loved ones and the people of Buena Vista.”
This story was updated at 1:40 PM with comment from Testa, at 1:46 PM with comment from Coughlin, and at 2:24 PM with comment from Sweeney.