Dina Grilo took office on Friday as the mayor of East Newark, six months after unseating Hudson County’s longest-serving mayor in the Democratic primary.
Grilo, a 47-year-old financial services executive, defeated Joseph Smith by a vote of 175 to 144. The 31-vote plurality was a 10-point victory, 55%-45%, in a municipality with a population of 2,406 and about 650 Democrats.
The 78-year-old Smith was first elected mayor in 1987. Grilo was his first challenger in 16 years.
“She ran a strong campaign and she’s a rising star in the Democratic Party,” said Democratic strategist Michael Soliman. “It’s not easy to beat an incumbent in Hudson County.”
Smith’s departure makes Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner the dean of the Hudson County mayors.
Grilo was unopposed in the general election, and most of Hudson’s political elite were in East Newark for her swearing-in, including North Bergen mayor/State Sen. Nicholas Sacco, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-West New York), Assemblyman Pedro Mejia (D-Secaucus), and Hudson County Democratic Chair Amy DeGise.
“Over the past several months, Dina Grilo has gracefully stepped up to serve the people of her hometown,” said Amy DeGise. “She has demonstrated herself as a dedicated and ambitious leader who is ready to continue moving East Newark forward. Mayor Grilo is truly an inspiration and role model for young women who are interested in running for local office. The entire Hudson County Democratic Organization is proud to stand with Mayor Grilo and we are confident she will fulfill her role masterfully and with dignity. We look forward to working together and are excited for everything she will bring to the table to benefit the residents of East Newark and all of Hudson County.”
First Lady Tammy Murphy was also in East Newark to watch Grilo become the only woman mayor in Hudson County.
Smith spent eight years on the borough council and lost a 1983 Democratic mayoral primary to incumbent Raymond Graham, Sr. by fifteen votes. He switched parties four years later, beat Graham in the general election by 61 votes, and then quickly switched back to the Democrats.
In 2003, Smith faced a primary challenge from William Lupkovich and beat him 239 to 119 – a 2-1 margin. That was his last contested race.
Five years ago, two incumbent councilmembers backed by Smith were challenged in the Democratic primary. They won by about 150 votes each – a margin that is almost 2-1.
Smith has had relatively few controversies as a small town, urban Hudson County mayor.
Grilo is a first generation American born to Portuguese parents. She now leads a town that is 61% Hispanic and includes a significant Portuguese population.