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Councilman Bennett Mayoral Run Prediction Falters

Apr 18, 2022
Federal District Court Newark NJ

Kevin Canessa of The Observer newspaper in an Editorial entitled “EDITORIAL — Predictions for 2022 — who will be the biggest winners and losers?” stated among other predictions that “Jim Fife deliberates and decides not to seek another term as Harrison’s mayor. In his place, Third Ward Councilman Larry Bennett becomes the party’s nominee for the position. Bennett goes on to become Harrison’s new mayor and faces massive responsibilities in deciding how to expand public safety in a town whose population continues to balloon.

On Monday, April 4th, 2022, Harrison Mayor James Fife filed a Petition to run for Mayor of Harrison in the Democratic Primary Election to be held on Tuesday, June 7th, 2022.  Harrison 3rd Ward Councilman Laurence “Larry” Bennett did not file a Petition for Mayor as predicted by Kevin Canessa instead Councilman Bennett chose to remain a candidate for his current seat as Councilman of the Third Ward in Harrison.

Although his prediction did not come to fruition, Kevin Canessa had some insight and basis for his prediction.  After the late Harrison Mayor Raymond J. McDonough passed suddenly on February 12, 2014, from a heart attack in Town Hall, Mayor Fife was to be an interim Mayor serving the remaining of Mayor McDonough’s term.   Mayor Fife, however, has stayed in office beyond what he promised as he was supposed to be an interim mayor only.

Mayor Raymond J. McDonough (1949-2014)

Mayor James Fife was appointed by the Council as interim Mayor and was sworn in thirteen days after Mayor McDonough’s passing on February 25, 2014, at a fifteen-minute Town of Harrison Mayor and Council meeting with the consent of the eight Town Council members to complete the rest of the late Mayor Raymond McDonough’s term. 

After completing the interim term, Mayor Fife requested to extend his interim term for an additional four-year term for the reason that he wanted history to record that he was an elected Mayor not just appointed.  The eight Town Council members agreed with the condition that Mayor Fife would at the end of his additional four years as Mayor, allow an open Democratic Primary.

 Mayor James Fife

Mayor Fife was to renege on a promise a second time by seeking a  2nd Four Year Term in 2018.  In 2018, then 2nd Ward Councilman Anselmo Millan sought Mayor Fife’s blessing to run in an open Democratic Primary in Harrison.  Councilman Millan also sought the support of the Harrison Democratic Chairman James Doran (4th Ward Councilman & Director of Personnel /Human Resources/ Compliance and Crisis Management at the Harrison Board of Education). Millan did not get a warm reception for exercising his constitutional right to run for Mayor.  Councilman Larry Bennett was also suppose to run for Mayor in 2018 in the same open Democratic Party Primary Election. Bennett backed out and remained in his Third Ward Council seat.

What happened after the meeting between Mayor Fife and Councilman Millan  is the subject matter of a Federal Civil Rights Complaint pending in the United States District Court in Newark (NJ) entitled Anselmo Millan v. Municipality of Harrison, James A. Fife, individually and in his official capacity. The allegations of the Complaint center around the actions Mayor Fife took upon learning that then-Councilman Anselmo Millan intended to file a Petition to run in the Harrison Democratic Primary as a candidate for Mayor. 

Millan states in his Federal Civil Right Complaint that Mayor Fife violated his constitutional right to run for Mayor with his actions post his meeting with Mayor Fife namely that Mayor Fife removed then-Councilman Millan from his town office by “locking him out” of the office which was at the Harrison Senior Citizen Center on Harrison Avenue and also changing the lock of the outside door.  Mayor Fife’s action effectively prevented Councilman Millan from performing his duties as the sitting 2nd Ward Councilman.  Mayor Fife then disparaged Councilman Millan’s character in an attempt to discredit him.  Mayor Fife went from praising Councilman Millan on his exceptional work on behalf of the Town of Harrison to disparaging public comments.

US Federal District Court in Newark NJ

Mayor Fife continued with retaliatory acts against Councilman Millan.  Millan alleges that three close political supporters were terminated from their jobs directly by Mayor Fife and/or at his request by individuals who had close ties to Mayor Fife.  One supporter worked for the Town of Harrison, another for the Harrison Board of Education and a third worked at the  Hudson County Community Action Medical Clinic in Harrison.  Mayor Fife appoints Harrison Board of Education members and is close friends with Harrison 4th Ward Councilman James Doran who is the Director of Personnel for the Harrison Board of Education and the Chairman of the Harrison Democratic Party.  Mayor Fife sits on the Board of Hudson County Community Action Medical Clinic in Harrison and has close political ties to its then Director.

The Complaint states that Mayor Fife had advised then-Councilman Millan that he (Mayor Fife) was seeking re-election and that he expected Millan’s support, Millan “politely and respectfully refused t to engage in such conduct only because he had the right to refuse it and did not agree with it, …[Mayor] Fife advised him that such position was not the best position to take.” Councilman Millan despite the retaliatory actions against him and his supporters mounted what the Chairman of the Harrison Democratic party, James Doran stated at Mayor Fife’s 2018 Election Victory Party, was a very touch campaign or as he put it, “it has been a brutal campaign”.   The victory was not a landslide despite the acts of retaliation and intimidation of loyal supporters, town workers, local business owners, and residents.

Then-Councilman Millan contends that if his constitutional rights were not violated and those of his supporters that he would have been elected Mayor of Harrison in 2018. But winning the election is not part of what former Councilman Millan has to prove to win his case.  All Councilman Millan has to prove is that Mayor Fife locked him out in retaliation for Millan exercising his constitutional right to run for an elected office, the office of Mayor of the Town of Harrison.

Last year, Mayor Fife sent out the message to anyone including 3rd Ward Councilman Larry Bennett by preemptively announcing in 2021 that he was seeking a third term in office. 

Former Councilman Millan has continued his public service even during the Covid 19 pandemic.  He has with the assistance of volunteers of Harrison Fest Committee non-profit corporation held Turkey Drives and Holiday Partys in out-of-the-box places like his home driveway under Covid protocols. 

Former Councilman Millan did not submit a Petition to run in this year’s Democratic Primary.  It is not clear whether former Councilman Millan will run in the November General Election.

What is clear is that Harrison Mayor James Fife does not want to give up what was supposed to be an interim gig as the Mayor of Harrison.

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