By midday on Election Day, Jim Zeoli had a feeling he was going to keep his spot in the town’s top job as First Selectman. Standing outside the voting polls before the weather went from good to worse, Zeoli began to judge his chances by the greetings of townspeople. “We were getting more and more positive responses from people and I knew that we were on the high side of things,” he said.
Zeoli wrapped up his campaign with a comfortable 1000-vote lead over Democratic contender Margaret Novicki who secured 1,919 votes. Independent Alex DeAngelo, who at 24-years-old hoped to represent a voice for the millennials, had 64 votes. Even though it was Zeoli’s seventh campaign, he was no more confident heading into this election than he was when he first sought the position in 2005. “I always go in as the underdog and I do my best to tell the truth and hope people understand what we’re doing here,” he said.
At Town Hall, it was business as usual on November 8th as the election brought little change to the town’s current slate of Town Hall employees and volunteers. Democrat Pat O’Sullivan was unopposed in the race for Town Clerk winning the post with 3,480 votes; Sandra Pierson keeps her job as Tax Collector, beating Democrat Kristin Zanjani and Town Plan & Zoning Chairman Ozzie Parente and Kevin Cornell retain their seats on the board. Although Board of Finance Republican Robert Bocek had 2,441 votes, Democrat incumbent PJ Shanley took the seat with 2,269 votes for bi-partisan balance on the board, joining incumbent Republican Joe Nuzzo and newcomer Republican Patricia Romano.
At the first Board of Selectmen meeting following the election, board members took their regular seats and congratulated each other on their winnings. “Meet the new board that’s the same as the old board,” said newly re-elected Selectman Mitch Goldblatt. “It’s a beautiful thing.” Selectman Paul Davis echoed the sentiment adding he was grateful for “the support and confirmation” of his friends and neighbors. “I’m looking forward to another two years of good, bi-partisan work together,” he said. Davis also gave a shout out to all who volunteer on the town’s boards and commissions. “The pay is not always what people would like,” he joked, adding on a serious note, “Too often people are not aware of all the hard work put in by the people who serve.”
Zeoli credited his 58 years as a resident and his experience as Selectman as giving him the edge over his opponents. “Margaret is a lovely woman and she worked very hard but she hasn’t been here and she couldn’t shoot from the hip when she was asked specific questions,” Zeoli said, referring to the ”pile of notes” she kept handy during the debates prior to the election and her many years working for the United Nations in Africa.
Novicki, who retired in May after a 22-year career with the United Nations, returned to Orange to live in her childhood home in 2013. She ran an ambitious campaign, going door-to-door to personally meet many of the residents, and positioned herself as a much-needed change in leadership who would bring fresh ideas and vision to the town. “I’m disappointed in the results but at the same time, very proud of the outcome,” she said. “I feel a lot of people in Orange supported us and agreed we need positive change and we got our message across.”
DeAngelo is grateful he got to experience municipal politics at the grassroots level. “It was great to learn the ins and outs of politics and all the important components that go on behind the scenes to run a town. I enjoyed myself. I met a lot of hard working and great people along the campaign trail that I would never have had the opportunity of meeting if I never ran. All in all I appealed to 64 Orange voters, which in my mind is pretty fantastic! That means some people heard my voice and wanted to see change, which is a winner for me.”
All the candidates expressed disappointment that little more than half of the town’s 10,509 registered voters turned out at the polls. Although 600 more people voted in this year’s election than in 2015, voter apathy plagues the town’s elections from referendums to elections. “It’s a major disappointment; I wish we had a higher voter turnout. As much as we tried to energize people to vote, it remains a challenge for all of us,” Novicki said. “Its sad people don’t take their civic responsibilities seriously enough to get out and vote.”
As they put their campaigns behind them, Novicki and DeAngelo hope to channel their new-found enthusiasm for municipal government into serving the town in some way. “Of course I want to contribute, “ Novicki said. “I met so many wonderful people in this town who are very committed to making it a better place and I am too. I can’t just walk away after this!” DeAngelo hopes there will be a place for him on one of the town’s boards or commissions. “I will definitely be involved in Orange in one way or another,” he said. “The people of Orange have not seen the last of me—that’s for sure!”
As for the future of Orange, Zeoli confides there are great projects in the works, including the approval of a new hotel on Marsh Hill Road, filling large commercial vacancies in the former Builder’s Square and across the street from Hitchcock Plaza, talking with developers interested in bringing an assisted living/care facility to town and “serious interest” in the Stew Leonard’s property. “Good things are ahead,” he said.
The 2017 Town of Orange Inauguration Ceremony for newly elected officials will take place on Friday, November 17, 2017 at 2:00 PM at High Plains Community Center.
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent