Harrison mayoral contest heats up as incumbent Fife takes on old foe Milan in rematch


The Harrison mayoral contest is heating up as in one week, as Mayor James Fife, a two-term incumbent looking for four more years, takes on old foe Anselmo Millan in a rematch from 2018 where he won by 299 votes.

Harrison Mayor James Fife (left) and then-Councilman Anselmo MIllan at the Harrison Fest on September 9, 2016. Photo via Harrisonfest.org.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Back in March, Millan, a former longtime councilman, filed a federal lawsuit alleging that a nonprofit he ran, the Harrison Downtown Community Development Partnership, lost their space in the municipal senior services building after he decided to run for mayor against Fife.

He also claimed that three political allies of Milan were fired shortly after he announced his candidacy.

“The actions of Mayor Fife were taken exclusively for political reasons. Harrison
Development’s office was closed with the excuse of false accusations of improper
intentional conduct on the part of the Plaintiff,” the suit says.

“This discriminatory conduct was effectuated pursuant to an official policy practice of Mayor Fife and was undertaken by him with his final policymaking authority over such actions.”

The court matter is still ongoing and Milan’s deposition indicates that he was never involved in a disciplinary proceeding.

However, an October 24th, 2018 memo from Hudson County Department of Health and Human Services Director Darice Toon shows he was suspended for 90 days.

The memo alleges Millan “failed to perform [his] county duties and instead used county time to engage in activity which was personal in nature” on at least five different occasions.

The Hudson County Democratic Organization, who has endorsed Fife for re-election, is calling on the county prosecutor’s office to investigate Millan for perjury, through their spokesman Phil Swibinski.

“Lying under oath is a serious crime and the last thing Harrison residents want is a Mayor under investigation for perjury,” Swibinski said in a statement.

“Not only did Anselmo Millan steal from Hudson County taxpayers by performing personal tasks on county time, he has now been caught lying about it during a sworn deposition. It’s clear that Harrison can’t trust Anselmo Millan, and voters will re-elect Mayor James Fife to keep the community moving forward.”

In his own deposition, Fife admitted that he told Millan he wanted to remove his personal buildings from the municipal building on February 18th, 2018 at least in part due to political differences.

“I asked him, I said Anselmo, I’d like you to move out of the office since, you know, we are now not working together. You’re working against me. I’m running. You’re working against me. I want you out of the office,” he said.

He also noted that some tension arose between Millan and his council colleagues over the fact that Harrison Development rarely providing an accounting for the annual three-day Harrison Fest celebration, though continued that is probably not uncommon in small towns.

In 2018, when Fife and Millan were both running as Democrats in the primary with full council slates (Millan is running unaffiliated with no council ticket this time around), the mayor received 1,294 votes to Millan’s 995 – about a 13 percent margin of victory.

Four of the five ward council members on the November 8th ballot, Jesus Huaranga, Ellen Mendoza, and Jim Doran, of Wards 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively, ran with Fife last time.

Delfim Sarabando is also seeking re-election in Ward 3, along with Councilman Laurence Bennett who ran in 2018 (in Harrison, each ward has two council representatives).

This is Millan’s third mayoral bid, coming up short against the late Ray McDonough in 2006 and then again against Fife in 2018.

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