Stretched thin by family and business commitments, Deputy Mayor Greg Gallo and Councilman Mike Testa will not seek re-election this fall.
Gallo, who was first elected to council four years ago, said a combination of serious illness among close family members and a hectic work life conspired to cause him to reverse course a few weeks ago.
“Prior to that it was all systems go (on a re-election campaign),” said the Republican councilman. “The triggering event was one of my close family members has sort of declined further … and it just became obvious that I would not be able to do a good job on the campaign part. I need to focus on my family and my growing business and finishing the term.”
It’s no secret that if you’re doing it right, holding public office is essentially a part-time job, and that’s how Gallo said he approached the position when he was elected four years ago.
“There’s no requirement that says how much time a council person should or shouldn’t spend. But I do everything in my life ... in detail,” said Gallo, who spent two years on the Planning Board and currently sits on the Economic Development Advisory Committee. He estimated he spends anywhere from eight to 10 hours a week on the low end, all the way up to 20 hours a week, wearing his deputy mayor hat.
Though township council’s plate is currently packed with a number of incomplete projects—the municipal complex and , to name a couple—Gallo isn’t worried about leaving office with unfinished business. He believes some of those projects will reach a degree of fruition in the next several months.
And looking back on the last four years, Gallo said he’s proud of what he and his fellow council members have accomplished, rattling off a list of successes that included outsourcing the town’s emergency dispatch (“It saved the town a fortune, and there was no degradation in safety or service”), renegotiating all but one of the township’s union contracts, and reducing spending below where it was in 2008.
‘There is life outside part-time volunteerism’
Testa explained his motivations for turning down a second run closely mirror Gallo’s, and it came down to maintaining a work-life-civic duty balance.
“I’ve got four kids—one going to college, another on the horizon (of college),” Testa said. “I’ve got a couple businesses … Like everybody else, they require more and more attention. I’ve got to be honest with myself and my family. There is life outside of part-time volunteerism.
“Like Greg, I don’t do anything halfway,” he added. “I’m fully invested when I do things, so to be able to kind of steal time from one or the other, at the expense of one or the other, is just not right.”
Though Testa and Gallo came to their decisions independently, Testa said he was influenced by the deputy mayor’s bow out. Gallo, Testa and Mayor John Button ran as a team four years ago, and Testa had hoped they’d do so again.
“After going through the campaign and four years … I guess I can’t see starting over with other people,” said Testa, “and if that’s one of the possible outcomes, then for me it’s an easy out.”
Button said he knew Gallo wasn’t going to run and wasn’t surprised when told Wednesday night of Testa’s decision.
“I regard both Mike and Greg as not only very informed and good council colleagues, but also as friends,” Button said. “It’s a loss for the township to have that knowledge and energy go away … I’m obviously disappointed.”
Asked what his own intentions are, Button, who was also first elected to council four years ago, said, “I have to think it through.”
He expects to come to a decision soon, he said, “'cause it’s only fair.”
Councilwoman Stacey Jordan, who along with Councilman (and running mate) Chris Chiacchio took office last year, said of Gallo's and Testa's departure: "Anybody who gives any kind of time for public service, I respect them."
Walking away, but not disappearing
Like all elected officials, Gallo and Testa have been the subject of criticism during their tenure. But Gallo made it clear his detractors had nothing to do with his decision to walk away—quite the opposite.
“You almost have to expect (criticism) goes with the territory,” the deputy mayor said. “It’s disappointing that some of that nonsense occurs, because … most people that are throwing stones don’t really have command of the facts or the discipline needed to run an organization, or are more focused on politics instead of solutions. But that in no way shaped my decision. If anything, it kind of kept me focused and kept me committed to it.”
Testa said overall the impression he gets around town is most people are pleased and appreciative of the work council has done over the last four years.
“You add it up in its total, there’s a lot more positive than negative,” he said.
While they may be stepping back from public office, both Gallo and Testa said they have no intention of completely disengaging and will remain invested in the community.
“Walking away is not about disappearing,” said Testa. “It’s simply about prioritizing my time and family life and career, and then still finding a way to make a difference on behalf of things that I value for my community.”