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Democrats Frank Rodgers and John Kelley were the apparent winners of Caldwell's municipal election, squeaking by their Republican counterparts by only a handful of votes.
With all seven districts reporting Tuesday night, it appeared that Democrats took back two seats on the current all-Republican council. Rodgers was on top with 851 votes, followed by Kelley with 830 votes. Their opponents, Republican incumbents Joseph Norton and Douglas Piazza, showed 823 and 824 votes respectively, according to unofficial results.
However, it was not immediately known if the Republicans would challenge the outcome of the election. If the election results stand, the Republicans will still retain a majority control of the council.
Kelley and Rodgers’ camp gathered at Kelley’s home on Hillside Avenue, with several former Democratic members of the Caldwell Council, as well as former Mayor Susan Gartland, in attendance.
Rodgers, who changed out of his suit into a Caldwell football sweatshirt before the election night party, said he wasn't sure what the outcome would be.
"I'm feeling really good," he said. Pointing to his running mate John Kelley, he added, "that's the difference."
Rodgers lost a close race for council last November in a special election to fill an unexpired term.
Kelley, who has never run for elected office before said, "I didn't know what to expect."
"Frank and I are a good team," Kelley said. He said voters wanted to see checks and balances in the borough's governing body, which is currently made up of six Republican councilmen and a Republican mayor.
Former Democratic Caldwell Mayor Susan Gartland, who supported the candidates in their campaign, said, "There are people to watch what happens on the council and to challenge anything that is not totally proper."
She added about Rodgers and Kelley, "I think both of them will be great assets."
In the upstairs room at the Cloverleaf Tavern, supporters of both Norton and Piazza were shocked and disappointed at what appears to be a close loss for the incumbent Republican candidates.
"I am actually very disappointed that the town chose to ignore the time, energy, efforts and visions that we had for this town," said Piazza. He said he was suprised residents chose to "go with the unknown" and questioned whether his opponents had the same "time, passion, and commitment" for the town as he said he and Norton have.
Norton, although disappointed, said the election was just too close to call and he was not ready to concede. "You never know, we are not conceding anything," he said.
But he said if he comes up defeated, he is satisfied with what he was able to accomplish during his three years on the council.
"I can sleep soundly at night knowing that this town is in a lot better shape financially for its residents than it was three years ago when I first stepped into office."Caldwell Council Candidates
Votes Francis X. Rodgers (D) 851 John T. Kelley (D) 830 Joseph Norton* (R) 823 Douglas Piazza* (R) 824
* Denotes incumbent
Councilmen and , both Republicans, ran unopposed in the West Caldwell municipal race. This will be the fourth three-year term for Aiello and the third for Otterbein. With all nine precincts reporting, Aiello received a total of 1,139 votes and Otterbein received 1,141 votes.
In an interview with Patch before the election, Aiello said, "There are plenty of projects that we have planned over the next few years. The current council will be proactive in developing a master plan to address the township’s future needs while also being cognizant of the current economy and I will continue to contribute wherever I am needed."
Looking ahead to his next term, Otterbein, who currently serves as Council President, said, "I expect to continue to support upgrading our infrastructure and recreation facilities, completing the fire headquarters renovation project, enhancing our technology capabilities, and maintaining the services that create a safe environment for both our residents and the business community."
Councilman and Councilwoman, both Republicans, ran uncontested in North Caldwell. Chiaia received 519 votes and Santomauro received 529 votes, with all precincts in Tuesday night.
Chiaia said his vision for the future of North Caldwell includes a "rezoning plan for a section of town which would provide mixed-use commercial and residential, to create a town center, with the integration of recreation areas, the development would include restaurants, a liquor license, and a COAH element that satisfies the town’s remaining obligation."
He added, "I would also like to see the Walker's Pond area become a town-owned park, with a walking path and skating in winter."
Santomauro said in her fourth-term shared services will continue to be a major focus of her work on the council.
"In addition to contemplating additional combined services with like-minded towns," she sad, "we hope to keep taxes at, or as close as possible to, current levels while maintaining the high level of services our residents expect."