In his spare time, Albert Pucciarelli rules the skies as a pilot and can even relay his coordinates in fluent Russian. A 33-year resident of Ridgewood, Pucciarelli is clearly not your typical attorney.
Over the past several decades, the Cottage Place resident has held titles as an award-winning attorney in the hospitality industry, an executive at one of the world's largest hotels, and even served as a law professor at his alma mater, Fordham University.
Locally, he's served as president of the library foundation, vice chair of the zoning and planning boards, and even worked on the parking commission.
A parishioner who raised four children in Ridgewood with his late wife Gretchen, Pucciarelli says he's "concerned" about the quality of life in the village.
With that in mind, he's eyeing a new title – Councilman Albert Pucciarelli.
"I think there is the need for people in government to be trusted for who they are, people who have integrity," he said in a phone interview via Houston on Friday, carefully remarking he didn't feel current council members "were of bad ilk."
The terms of Councilman Steve Wellinghorst, Paul Aronsohn and Mayor Keith Killion are up this year.
Although some of the names on the ballot – twelve residents have picked up packets thus far, including all three sitting councilmen, several sources said – won't be familiar to most residents, Pucciarelli's name recognition and reputation are likely to be strengths as he mounts his campaign.
"I was on the zoning board and then the planning board combined for over 20 years," he said. "That's one of the strengths of my candidacy – I'm out there. They've [residents] had a chance to see me for 22 years in the public forum."
Although he doesn't have a campaign manager like many others to have thrown their hats in the ring in recent weeks, Pucciarelli said he's been humbled by the amount of support and help he's received lately.
The attorney stressed he won't be running on a slate or against any candidates.
"I'm running for me," he said.
Should the voting end as some suspect, Pucciarelli may be at a disadvantage.
"I hope this election is not a referendum on Valley," he remarked, rounding off several other important issues weighing on the minds of residents. "I hope it doesn't become an election of two camps."
Because of work his firm McElroy, Deutch, Mulvaney & Carpenter has done on behalf of Valley Hospital (Pucciarelli says he never personally was involved in any of those matters), the candidate would have to recuse himself on any issue related to an expansion proposal, as he has on the planning board.
The fate of the remain unknown and while he concedes his views are legally irrelevant, Pucciarelli hopes Valley's next laid plans are "less contentious."
Valley's impact on the election remains a massive wild card, but Pucciarelli's professional and volunteer experience give him a unique vantage at some of the other pressing issues in Ridgewood.
The struggling downtown is rapidly losing retail space, vacancies remain, and new housing developments are .
Pucciarelli doesn't see the CBD status quo remaining.
"We'll see changes in the underutilized business district," he said. "We won't be in the recession forever."
Big proposals are likely to crop up again and Pucciarelli said the village – with an aging population – needs to examine new housing options in a "sensitive" manner.
"With my experience on the boards I think I'd be a real help on the council level," he said.
There also needs to be greater scrutiny and sensitivity towards the budget, he says. The 2011 , one village officials said restored some cut services and eyed long-term vitality. New contract negotiations were made with police and fire with less capital bonding.
The tone has changed since the adoption of that budget, as , , and reduced property values all but promise further increases in 2012.
"We really have to stress that whenever there is a council they really have to look at that budget with a fine tooth comb," Pucciarelli said. "We have to be so sensitive raising taxes in this town. If you don't youll make it impossible for empty nesters and families to stay."
When asked, the planning board vice chair said he felt the was "outside the envelope."
"I think government employees should be treated with respect and [receive] merit-based raises as warranted but it has to be in line with the private industry," he said, adding, "We're all in the same economy, I don't see why any profession has an exemption."
Pucciarelli could not say whether the number of village workers currently employed was the right number. Residents have said at council meetings and at forums the work force is simply not great enough to keep up with extraordinary services like storms, or even the simple ones like street clearing or leaf pickup.
"The guys I see in front of my front yard...they're there early in the morning, always keep to the calendar commitments and do a good job," he said. "I have no axe to grind with employees or how many there are."
However, Pucciarelli said he'd like to closely examine the amount of village workers, which although greater this year than in 2010 when , is still relatively small.
"It's very easy in this economy to cut the capital resource that is the easiest to cut – employees," he said. "I'd want to be very judicious and careful about that."
Although there's been little discussion on any changes to Graydon under the current council's watch, Pucciarelli predicted that too would change in the next four years.
"I think will come through in the course of my tenure if I'm elected," he said. "I'm public saying we should preserve the aesthetic and historic features of Graydon so it looks as attractive as a vista as it does now," he said, adding he'd like to extend the shores even further.
Still, he says he doesn't want to be seen as a black-or-white candidate on Graydon.
"There must be intelligence out there that can provide us with a proposal that is worth considering that will render Graydon Pool cleaner and safer," he said.
Either the village begins enforcing pedestrian safety more stringently, or there will need to be some changes made to mitigate the various throughout the downtown, Pucciarelli says.
"Either we're going to enforce that...or we have to change the law and go back to a system where the car has a right of way," he said, pointing to the state law passed in recent years. "Right now there's ambiguity."
Packets are due March 5. Candidates need 200 signatures to be eligible for a council run. Elections are held on May 8. Three seats, each four-year terms, are up. Officials are sworn in July 1.
Stay tuned for our next candidate profile, Gwenn Hauck.