One of New Jersey’s most powerful elected officials will run unopposed for a sixth term as mayor of a small Bergen County municipality with a population of 7,626.
No Republican filed to challenge Democrat Paul Sarlo, the chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, in the 2019 Wood-Ridge mayoral race. That leaves him with some breathing room once a state budget is approved – probably sometime later this month.
Sarlo was first elected to the Wood-Ridge Borough Council in 1995, at age 26, when he ousted Republican incumbent Peter York. Another GOP councilman, William Wolfsohn, beat Sarlo’s 65-year-old running mate, John Wolf. In those days, Wood-Ridge was a politically competitive town; Republicans had a 5-1 majority on the council when Sarlo ran the first time, and a Republican mayor.
By 1999, the Wood-Ridge council had become all Democratic and Mayor Paul Calocino – who had had on re-election with 54% four years earlier – declined to seek re-election.
Sarlo ran for mayor against Nicholas Valdez, a former councilman and retired police officer, and won with 60% of the vote.
In 2001, Republican John Kelly (R-Nutley) have up his Assembly seat to run for Senate. Assembly Majority Leader Paul DiGaetano (R-Nutley), seeking to become Speaker with the retirement of Jack Collins (R-Elmer), picked East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella to run for the open Assembly seat.
Demcorats ran Sarlo and Wallington Mayor Walter Wargacki for Assembly in the 36th district.
While DiGaetano won re-election, Democrats picked up the open seat. Sarlo ran 1,257 votes ahead of Wargacki and 1,417 ahead of Cassella. Over the years, Cassella and Sarlo have become personal friends and political allies; earlier this year, Cassella became a commissioner of the North Jersey District Water Commission, an appointment he received at Sarlo’s request.
Sarlo’s rise in the legislature was meteoric.
During his first term in the Assembly, Gov. James E. McGreevey appointed State Sen. Garry Furnari to serve as a Superior Court Judge. Sarlo was unopposed in a 2003 special election convention to take the Senate seat.
In the general election that year, Sarlo faced Kelly and won 53%-44% — a margin of 3,071 votes in McGreevey’s mid-term election. He raised over $900,000 in his bid for a full term in the Senate.
Sarlo was on the ballot twice in 2003. He was re-elected mayor with 69% in a rematch against York, his 1995 opponent
That was the last time Sarlo faced local opposition in Wood-Ridge, except for a write-in candidate that received 15 votes in 2011.
He is one of three Senators to also serve as mayor, along with Brian Stack (D-Union City) and Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen).
Sarlo chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee after John Adler was elected to Congress, and then took over Budget and Appropriations.
He won 57% in his 2007 re-election against Michael Guarino, followed by re-elections wins of 63% in 2011, 60% in 2013, and in 2017.
The last time his name was on the ballot, Sarlo won 70% of the vote in Wood-Ridge.
To put that number in some perspective: Donald Trump won 52% in Wood-Ridge the year before.