It was tough getting the three Republican candidates for the town council together in one room.
Steve Malfitano has a demanding position with Morgan Stanley, Fred Sciliano is a partner in a multi-million dollar construction firm, and Ron Belmont runs the Recreation Department, which comprises a third of the town’s employees and a third of the town budget. Plus they all have families and busy social lives.
I finally rounded them up on a Saturday afternoon and we gathered in my living room over coffee.
I had met and spent time with Malfitano when he was mayor, and I have spoken with Sciliano over his years as incumbent councilmen.
Belmont was a new face, although we had spoken several times by phone. I had heard all good things about him and what he has done with the Recreation Department in Harrison over the last 35 years. I was also very impressed that after retiring he stayed on as a consultant, managing the department for a dollar a year, so I was definitely looking forward to meeting him in person.
I was also interested to see how they would interact as a team. The dynamics of Harrison, where everyone knows each closely, is equally reflected in our politics.
It was Malfitano and Councilman Joe Cannella who actively solicited Sciliano to be on the board originally. Sciliano then served on the town board, under Mafitano's administration, for several years. If elected this November they would be on equal footing.
Belmont’s position is even more complicated. He is running against his current boss for the position of mayor and has his ex-boss on his ticket, who will, if elected, be effectively working under him.
“I still call Steve ‘Boss’” said Belmont, laughing. “Steve says I’ve got to stop that.”
What can I tell you? The intricacies of the connections in our town continue to keep me entertained.
Anyway, they all seemed relaxed in each other’s company, with their interaction within the team mirroring their personalities.
Sciliano is quiet, only speaking out on issues he feels he can contribute solidly to, such as infrastructure, energy and construction. However, ask him a direct question and he answers strongly and confidently.
Malfitano is more like me – extroverted and a talker and very able and quick to respond to anything you throw at him. He is the first to respond to all questions to the team.
Belmont is closer in temperament to Fred – thoughtful, quiet and happy to give others the spotlight while he stays in the background.
So given that, how did Belmont end up running for mayor, with Steve and Fred on his ticket?
“It all started at my retirement party in January,” Belmont said. “I gave a speech that was a bit long.”
Malfitano interjected. “It wasn’t just long – it was presidential! It was fifty-five minutes and counting.”
Belmont conceded, with a laugh.
“Okay, it was very long, but at the end there was a standing ovation and everyone started yelling for me to run for mayor,” Belmont explained. “It made me start really thinking about it and I pulled Steve aside at the party and told him that I actually might consider it.”
Belmont is quick to point out that his candidacy is not about any personal political aspirations.
“My grandfather settled in Harrison in the 1800s. My father stayed here all his life and had a grocery store in West Harrison. My mom is 94 and still lives here,” he said.
“I grew up in Harrison and have worked for the town ever since I graduated college. I have a real passion for Harrison. I’m no politician. I have no motivation except to make the town better.”
Belmont’s focus is on restoring the prominence, pride and respect he feels the town has lost recently. He feels this could best be accomplished by ensuring that everyone who works for the town feels appreciated and part of a team.
“You can’t give out bonuses or additional monetary rewards in public service positions. What you can do is embrace the employees and volunteers who are working together for a better town,” Belmont said.
“I don’t sit in an office. I want to get out there and see what I can do to help and support everyone on the same team.”
Malfitano had already expressed interest in returning to public office. He had thrown his hat into the ring for County Legislator and when that didn’t work out, he happily looked toward the open council seat.
He said he was excited about working with Belmont.
“I have no interest in running for the top job – my career makes that impossible – and Ron and I have worked together successfully for years. Ron was in on every one of my planning meetings. We worked together on Pasadoma Park, the MTA project and the Master Plan Committee,” Malfitano said.
Malfitano’s main focus would be to change the negativity he now sees and hears around town.
“The town image has really gone downhill and it all comes from the top. It’s all about leadership. We need to portray a different image and I think Ron can make that happen,” he said.
Sciliano was more reticent about signing on for another term.
“Being on the board is a big commitment in terms of time and focus and it takes away from time with my family,” he said. “ But I was encouraged by the party to run again, my kids are grown and I decided there was more I would like to do.”
Sciliano said the last few years were some of the toughest years to be a council member.
“We spent the first two years after I was elected putting out fires from multiple lawsuits the town was facing. The second two years were focused on the economy and the town’s financial difficulties. I’m hoping in this next term I can really make a contribution to the infrastructure updates that are needed around town,” he said.
The fourth candidate on the Republican ticket is Joe Acocella, who will be running for another term as town clerk, despite ongoing health problems.
“Joe did a great job. He did a lot of it from home, but he’s done great things for the office and we’re glad he will be running with us,” Belmont said.
Belmont feels strongly that the Republican ticket represents the perfect combination of skills and experience for voters to get behind.
“I’m not one to boast, but we have the best team. It’s superior in every way,” he stated. “I have thirty-five years of town management experience, Fred is our infrastructure guy and Steve is the finance guy. We were all born and raised here and have a passion for the town and its residents.”
And the bottom line for the Republicans?
“It’s all about restoring the pride and respect. We’re here for the right reasons and we want to make Harrison a better place,” Belmont said.
Next in the series: A look at the differences in the Republicans’ and Democrats’ positions on hot topics