One Ocean candidates sweep election

Staff Writer

 The One Ocean slate, from left, included Donna Schepiga, Richard Long, Chris Siciliano, William Garofalo and Rob Acerra. The One Ocean slate, from left, included Donna Schepiga, Richard Long, Chris Siciliano, William Garofalo and Rob Acerra. Mayor Chris Siciliano and each of his four running mates drew nearly double the vote tally of their opponents to win seats on the Ocean Township Council.

Siciliano and council incumbents Donna Schepiga, William Garofalo and Richard Long ran as the One Ocean slate along with newcomer Rob Acerra. They will begin the new terms on July 1.

The One Ocean candidates defeated their opponents, who ran under the Ocean Together banner, during the May 12 election.

“I am overwhelmed, to tell you the truth. Nobody knew how it would go,” said Siciliano, who was elected to a fourth term on the council. “At the end of the day, people say, ‘Hey, we are happy with what we have now,’ and recognized that our team was doing the job.”

Ocean Township is governed under the Faulkner Act, and those running for office do not declare a party affiliation.

Each candidate runs for a council seat, and the council members then elect a mayor from their midst.

Siciliano was the leading vote-getter with 3,001 votes, followed by Garofalo with 2,793 votes, Acerra with 2,775, Long with 2,614 and Schepiga with 2,490.

For the Ocean Together team, Sylvia Sylvia garnered 1,368 votes, while Bob Angelini received 1,246 votes, John Stuppi took in 1,151 votes, Gail Matarazzo received 1,090 votes and Lawrence Mishkin received 972 votes.

Siciliano has served on the council since 2003. He assumed the top spot in January when former Mayor William Larkin resigned.

Siciliano said his family has been rooted in Ocean Township for many years.

“I have two generations of family here,” he said. “They are not just running against me. They are running against my mother, father and six brothers — and that is a hard thing to overcome.” Siciliano also said he has improved transparency since becoming mayor with the broadcasting of council meetings and “Coffee with the Mayor” sessions that allow members of the public to interact with the mayor.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “First and foremost is smart growth. I want to work with [the Council on Affordable Housing] applications that are coming in and comb through them to see if it is something that works for the town.”

Other priorities for Siciliano include improving the township’s quality of life and infrastructure. He also said he would like to make drainage improvements a priority in order to reduce some of the flooding issues that have plagued areas of Ocean in recent years.

Siciliano said he also looks forward to the construction of Heritage Village, the 93-unit affordable senior housing complex on West Park Avenue. The complex will replace the chronically flooded Poplar Village.

“That will replace a lot of homes we lost from Poplar Village,” he said. “It fills that void for that income range, and they are still in Ocean.”

However, Siciliano also predicted his tenure will have some challenges.

“[Affordable housing] is going to be a challenge, and we are really going to have to start thinking about revenue streams,” he said.

Schepiga has also served on the council since 2003 and is the liaison to the environmental and shade tree commissions.

Garofalo has served on the council since 2007 and is a member of the Planning Board.

Long was appointed to the council in January, taking Larkin’s seat. He previously served as a member of the Board of Education. His prior experience includes serving as a member of the Carteret Borough Council.

Acerra, a current member of the Board of Education, ran to fill the seat currently held by Councilman W. Michael Evans, who chose not to seek re-election.

While he was happy his entire ticket came out ahead, Siciliano said he is open to work- ing with candidates who did not win the election but proposed worthwhile initiatives.

“Some of them are worthy of exploring, and maybe I can put them to work on some committee,” Siciliano said. “You got to have your eyes open and your ears, too.”