Political Season – Huzzah!

How can I not be excited! It it a political season and I am a political junky. Proudly as Democrats abroad, Jack and I voted in the New Jersey Primary absentee and early. Now, we get to vote again in the Pontelandolfo local election. Politics is in my DNA!

Rossella Mancini For City Council

Hoorah, we get to vote for Rossella Mancini, our cousin and the other force behind the Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program. Those of you that know my family or have followed me for a while, know that politics really is in our DNA. Tante anni fa, my nonno, with a group of other Italian immigrants, started the Flagtown-Hillsborough Democratic Club. My dad, John Guerrera, was a democratic icon in Somerset County, NJ, serving as Mayor of Hillsborough, on a variety of boards including the Board of Elections and Tax board, the Executive Director of the County organization and a political operative for many national and state wide campaigns.

Dad’s Head Shot for his Senate Run

That means when I was old enough to lick a stamp and close an envelope, I was involved in a bunch of political stuff too. It was addictive.

Politics in Pontelandolfo reminds me of the door to door campaigns that my Dad ran in the 1960s and 70s and that I ran in the 70’s and 80’s. It was a kinder gentler kind of campaigning and one that truly engaged the electorate. Here, campaigns by law are limited to 30 days. HEAR THAT USA ONLY 30 DAYS OF POSTERS, PHONE CALLS AND ADVERTISING. What a welcome change.

Rossella, accompanied by friends and family has been visiting homes, talking about the platform of her ticket and getting honest – historically they have been honest – responses. Here, folks will actually tell you they will vote for you, or if not, who they intend to vote for and why. I have been with her on some of these house calls and actually heard a pal of mine tell her that he liked her a lot but was voting for his other pal’s son. Talk about a divergence from the American system.

Having lived in Asbury Park, NJ before they changed the form of government, I sort of understand how it works here. Every 5 years, someone who wants to be sindaco – mayor – asks 10 people to join him/her on La Lista. The 10 people on the list could become the consiglio, council-people. Here is the rub – only 7 will serve. The other three spots will be comprised of the minoranza – people from the loosing tickets who were top vote getters for their ticket. Each of the voters in a city of 15,000 people or less – we have way less – only get to vote for one person. The cumulative total of all votes cast for people on one list, determines the winning list. Automatically that person who is denoted as sindaco becomes the mayor and the top 7 vote getters are on the council. The other three – out of luck. What does that mean? It means, if you want to have a seat at the table, you have to get more votes than other people on your ticket!

Now this is PC – voters in towns with more than 15,000 residents can vote for two people and one – by law – must be a woman! Huzzah! The law is called Quatarosa and recognizes how few women were represented in local government. It truly was an old boys club. The list that Rossella is on has three women on it.

There is another piece of the election that I find difficult to understand.  If I were a pazillionaire, I could swing an election. The most recent census says that Pontelandolfo has 2,288 residents, including children, and 3082 registered voters! WHAT!!!! That is 794 more voters than residents. Normally, about 1500 people – who are actual local residents – vote in local and federal elections. The rest of the registered voters could be young people working in other parts of the EU or some of the thousands of Pontelandolfese who immigrated to Waterbury, Connecticut or Montreal or Argentina. Shazam, it looks like they never purge the voter’s list. Absentee voting is not allowed. For a local election you have to physically be in Pontelandolfo, make your way to the polling place, write your candidate’s name in a blank and wander to the local bar or home to wait for the results.

What this literally means is, if I could charter a plane with my 500 best East Coast Pontelandolfese pals and they accepted my free ride so they could vote in the local election, one could change the outcome. Like I said, SHAZAM!

The other piece that is strange to us New Jersey voters, is that if a race is uncontested – only one list is formed – there is no election. Someone from a higher level of government will come in an appoint your officials. No uncontested elation’s here – even if second list is composed of smoke and mirrors.

There is so much I have to learn about politics, life, traditions and culture. Guess I need to hang out here for a few more years.  Meanwhile, this Sunday, I will be voting for Rossella Mancini for city council!

Ci vediamo! Vote early and often!

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Names – Connections to our Past.

As I move from continent to continent, I often tap into my philosophical self.  Maybe the air pressure in the plane makes my head woozy doozy or maybe, just maybe, flying from New Jersey to Italy provides me with the quiet time to reflect on what is important or not.  A few years back, I lobbied to get a street in Flagtown, NJ named after my family.  Some folks looked askance at the concept and told me that sticking your name on something was pretentious.  Actually, they said it was *&^%! stupid.  I beg to differ. Who we are and what we have become is based on those who came before us.  What better way to help those who come after us to discover their heritage than with a named place and all it connotes.  It becomes a visible touchstone to the past.

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A year or so ago, my friend Dr. Adele Gentile, invited me to an event that was a link to her past and the history of Morcone – the village next door to Pontelandolfo.  We went to the dedication of a Morcone Library section named for her dad, Dr. Girolamo Gentile.  I was touched to be invited and honored to go.  Also, I had seen her dad’s and her last name on streets and buildings in both Morcone and Pontelandolfo and wondered just who this man was. Her father, as you can see by his name on the  walk-in clinic wall,  was incredibly loved and respected as a doctor by the citizens of Morcone and the area.  People tell me he was a “doctor of the past.”  The Doc who went out in a blizzard to make  house calls and took care of everyone equally.  I also discovered that night that Dr. Gentile was intuitive and did everything he could to help his patients. If that meant find them shoes to go to school or wood for their stove, he would do that too. An avid reader and perpetual student he left a huge collection of books dealing with medicine, science, fiction, non-fiction etc. Adele and her brothers donated them to the Morcone Library.  It made sense to name a section of the library after Girolamo Gentile, not only because of the wealth of information shared in the books but because he was an incredible force in a community and should be remembered.  Justifiably, the library was packed the night of the dedication. People swapped tales about Dr. Gentile. We hope that medical professionals of the future will ask who he was and take a lesson in going the extra mile for a patient.

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All over Pontelandolfo there are streets named after people.

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OK, my great grandmother’s surname was Rinaldi, but that is not why I chose this picture. The Rinaldi brothers were massacred during that heinous night, August 14, 1861, when in the name of Italian unification,  hundreds of Pontelandofese  were killed in their sleep.  We hope that when visitors see the names of the streets in Centro Storico they might ask a question or too.  Before becoming involved in my little village I had no idea that Southern Italy wasn’t enthralled with unification. The mass slaughtering could be a reason.  That sure as heck wasn’t in my American history books.

At this point you might be wondering why I felt it was important to get at minimum a street in Flagtown named after my family – Guerrera.  The specific location is particularly meaningful because my grandparent’s subsistence farm was just a spit away.  Actually, I grew up on a piece of their property across the street.

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May 4, 2015 Ribbon Cutting and Opening of Guerrera Court, Flagtown, NJ 2015

Guerrera Court is specifically named in honor of my pop, former Hillsborough Township Democratic Mayor, John F. Guerrera and Flagtown Postmistress, my life saving aunt, Catherine Guerrera.  To me that sign honors all of us Guerreras who lived, worked and contributed to our community.

I orchestrated that the ribbon be cut by former Republican Mayor, Bill Jamieson.  During the 1960’s, Jamieson and my dad served the township from different sides of the political aisle, often arguing vociferously at meetings and then heading  to Farley’s Tavern in Flagtown to share a drink and strategize for the good of the community.  According to Jamieson, “John was a progressive leader who moved boulders to bring Hillsborough into the 21st century.”

My dad was a powerful force and cut a bella figura!  A Democratic operative, he was active in county, state and national campaigns.  He is credited with starting our community police force, seeing that sewers were installed, a Municipal Utilities Commission  formed, zoning  updated and lots more.

Born in Pontelandolfo, Italy, my resilient aunt, Catherine Guerrera, had contracted polio at 2.  She, my grandparents and uncles immigrated to America. In 1926 they bought a 15-acre subsistence farm in Flagtown.  After graduating from Somerville High School in 1933, Aunt Cat discovered that jobs for the handicapped were limited. My ballsy aunt sat down and penned a letter to then First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Zap!  The letter was answered. The Roosevelt Administration assisted in her having numerous operations done by the famous Dr. Kessler himself. She was later appointed the first postmaster of Flagtown and paid only a commission. Her tenacity and work ethic built the post office to first class status.

Now as folks buy a house on that street or drive by they might just wonder who that family was.  It is a visible link to our community’s past. They might ask the who, what, where and why.  I know I would.

Ci Vediamo.