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The municipal building in Buena, New Jersey. (Photo: Borough of Buena).

Buena council seat still empty after choice to fill vacancy declines to serve

By David Wildstein, February 28 2023 12:33 pm

A seat on the Buena Borough Council remains vacant after Republicans picked a Democrat who doesn’t want to serve.

Gina Andaloro, who was elected as a Democrat in 2021 and switched parties last year, resigned on January 13.  Two weeks later, the council appointed Republican Richard Giovinazzi to replace her, and he took office immediately.

But Democrats objected, pointing to a statute that allows the party that won the seat in the last election the chance to fill a vacancy.   Republicans acknowledged the clarity of the law and voided Giovinazzi’s appointment, and he resigned on February 6.

The borough’s Democratic county committee submitted Brian Ewan, Mark Dixon, and Ernest Merighi as their candidates.  Last night, the council picked Dixon, who isn’t interested in becoming a councilman.

In an email, borough solicitor Richard Tonetta objected to a refusal by Democrats to provide resumes of the candidates.

“Given how small and tight-knit Buena Borough is, I find it hard to believe that Council doesn’t have at least some familiarity with these individuals,” Michael Suleiman, the Atlantic County Democratic chairman, said in an e-mail to Tonetta obtained by the New Jersey Globe.  “Were resumes solicited by the Republicans when the Andaloro vacancy was erroneously filled last month?”

Tonetta told Suleiman he still wants resumes.

“I don’t think Council should simply pull a name out of a hat.  I did speak to some of the council members who have some familiarity with the people, Tonetta said. “I have always felt that appointments by the governing body to any position should be done with knowledge as to who they are appointing, whether it is to a recreation commission or to Council.”

Later, at the suggestion of Republican councilwoman Marina Barsuglia, Tonetta asked that a fourth name be added to the list: Sue Anderson, a registered Democrat.

That was unacceptable to the Democrats, who don’t think the GOP has a role in Democratic candidate recruitment.

“Your request to add a fourth name, much less a name that came from someone in the Republican Party, is both illegal and totally inappropriate. It is obvious that this council does not wish to serve with any of the three individuals submitted by the Buena Borough Democratic (not Democrat as you repeatedly say) Committee, so the Council wants to put one of ‘their people’ in the vacancy, which is a clear violation of our legal rights,” Suleiman said.  “It’s also my understanding that Council members do know these individuals, so your claims are ignorant at best or disingenuous at worst.”

Andaloro, a customer service supervisor at Wawa, and her mother, Patricia, a former councilwoman and borough clerk, ran as a mother-daughter Democratic team in 2021 and unseated two GOP incumbents, Rosalie Baker and Joseph Mancuso, Jr.  Baker had served on the council for 30 years.

Patricia Andaloro also switched parties,  leaving no Democrats in local government.

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