Third ward residents will have a new councilman in the coming weeks as the state Senate confirmed Councilman Mark Ciarrocca's as a judge of the state Superior Court Wednesday night.
Ciarrocca will likely resign in the coming weeks in order to assume his judgeship. The resignation comes with six months remaining in Ciarrocca's second term on the Council. No timetable for his resignation has been announced.
Ciarrocca's confirmation by the full Senate was an almost forgone conclusion following his by the Senate judiciary committee following a 10-minute hearing Wednesday morning. The full Senate vote came as part of Senate action on a slew of nominations submitted by Christie in the final days of the annual legislative session. The Senate is expected to recess Thursday evening and not come back into session until after the November election.
Following Ciarrocca's official resignation being submitted to , the town's Republican Committee will have 15 days to submit a list of three candidates to the Town Council for appointment to Ciarrocca's seat for the remainder of the term, which expires on Dec. 31. The Council will then have 30 days to appoint one of the three to the seat. If the Council does not make an appointment, the Republican Committee will then have 30 days to appoint one of the three. Patch has learned that a meeting of Republican committee members in the third ward is being scheduled to consider Ciarrocca's seat.
Town Republicans will also need to select a replacement for Ciarrocca on the November ballot. Ciarrocca last week following his nomination. Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, the town Republican chairman, said the interim councilmember will likely be the candidate for the full term. The replacement candidate will face off against Democrat Matt Sontz and independent Greg Kasko.
Ciarrocca's confirmation also opens up two plum positions on the Town Council. Ciarrocca has served as finance committee chairman and acting mayor. Mayor Andy Skibitsky has not indicated who will replace Ciarrocca in the two posts. Councilman Sam Della Fera is the finance committee vice chairman and Councilwoman Joann Neylan is the town's alternate acting mayor.
The acting mayor's position includes presiding over Council meetings in Skibitsky's absence, along with performing any of the mayor's duties in the mayor's absence. These duties include overseeing town government, signing and vetoing ordinances, performing ceremonial responsibilities, conducting weddings and civil unions and quelling disturbances to the peace. As alternate acting mayor, Neylan has in the absence of Skibitsky and Ciarrocca.
Ciarrocca will also vacate positions on the Council's public safety committee and the Downtown Westfield Corporation board of directors to assume the judgeship.
Ciarrocca has long been considered one of the most powerful members of the Council and had long been rumored as the Republican frontrunner to succeed Skibitsky should the mayor not seek a third term in 2013. Ciarrocca has long been active on public safety, budget, recreation and education issues. He has been one of the leaders of a series of joint meetings between the Town Council and Board of Education on shared governance issues over the past few years. In recent months he has been under fire from two Central Avenue residents regarding the placement of a pedestrian activated stoplight on a resident's front lawn. Ciarrocca has advocated for Central Avenue traffic safety issues for his entire tenure on the Council.
Ciarrocca is a former president of Contact We Care and has been active as a coach in the town's PAL football program.
Ciarrocca was first elected to the Council in 2003, defeating Democrat Dave Haas, who was serving a one-year appointive term. He defeated Sontz in 2007 with 60-percent of the vote.
Ciarrocca, an attorney in Union Township, is a graduate of Westfield High School, along with the Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee College Law School. He and his wife, Janet, have two sons, Robbie and Jack.
Ciarrocca is the fourth Westfield resident to become a Superior Court judge in the last two years. Former Councilman Jim Hely a seat on the bench in the summer of 2009, while local attorney and former federal prosecutor in January 2010. Hely, Walsh and Kirsch were nominated by former Gov. Jon Corzine.
Ciarrocca was one of four Union County residents nominated by Christie for judgeships last week. On Monday the Senate confirmed assistant county prosecutor Regina Caulfield of Berkeley Heights for the bench, along with Superior Court Judge Frederic Kessler of Cranford for a tenured term on the bench. Kenilworth Mayor Kathi Fiamingo is the only one of the four to not have her nomination acted on by the Senate.
Ciarrocca was nominated as part of a deal between county Democrats and Republicans to fill the four vacant judgeships in the county. Superior Court seats are traditionally split between the two parties.
Ciarrocca will assume a seven year term on the bench, with the ability to be nominated for a tenured term in 2018. A tenured term would allow Ciarrocca to remain on the bench to his 70th birthday.