WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council dedicated part of its Dec. 6 meeting to honoring Michael Fabiano, the former West Orange Democratic Party chairman and deputy mayor who died July 11, at the age of 74.
The council was joined by Mayor Robert Parisi; state Assemblyman John McKeon; state Senator Richard Codey; and a host of family, friends and township political figures in paying tribute to Fabiano. It all culminated with Assemblywoman Mila Jasey presenting a commendation to Fabiano’s widow, Patty Spango, a former councilwoman.
Before accepting the recognition, Spango had a lot to say in remembrance of her late husband. Acknowledging those gathered in the Council Chambers — many of whom were guided by the former party chairman as they ran for office — she said her husband would be so proud of all they had achieved. But she stressed that his loved ones are just as proud of “his intelligence, his dedication, his loyalty, his affection and his generosity to others.”
“He was bigger than life and touched so many, many lives — most of all mine and my children’s,” Spango said. “So at the sunset of his life, I proudly stand before you as a testament of his accomplishments. Michael, you certainly have made your mark in life, and your legacy in West Orange will continue in the service of the many, many pupils who you have mentored.”
The reason Fabiano had so many proteges, according to Spango, was because almost everyone was told to see him if they were considering an entry into politics. And he was so savvy that he could tell within five or 10 minutes of meeting someone whether that person had what it took to win, she said. Those he did decide to take on as charges were subjected to the “most intense three months of living and breathing your campaign,” Spango said, recalling how he would make his candidates campaign door-to-door daily in all kinds of weather. He was so adept at canvassing neighborhoods that she said he became known as “the best street man in the business.”
Fabiano’s rigorous efforts were effective, judging by the number of candidates he guided to victory. McKeon was like a son to him, Spango said, and he would do anything for Codey. She added that he so intensely wanted Parisi to win his mayoral run that he made her walk door-to-door for him and blanket both sides of Mt. Pleasant Avenue with signs — all while he drove behind her. It all paid off and he was so proud when Parisi won, Spango said.
In return for his guidance, Fabiano earned the respect and devotion of his colleagues. In fact, Spango said he was so highly regarded that township Democrats viewed him as the “best chairman West Orange has ever had.”
“He was a very strong and effective chairman,” Spango said. “When he retired, more people than not told him ‘You will always be the chairman.’ Thus today, and as you heard throughout the night, he is still referred to as ‘the chairman.’”
Fabiano’s friends also paid him respect throughout the evening as they reflected on his life. McKeon lauded his accomplishments as a local businessman, Mountain Top League coach, Sons of Italy president and veteran of the U.S. Navy’s Tin Can Sailors. But McKeon said that, even when taking time to discuss the many accomplishments in Fabiano’s life, the former chairman’s 40 years in West Orange politics cannot be overlooked.
“Mike really set the stage of what campaigning is in West Orange now,” McKeon said. “At the end of the day, it’s about knocking on the doors and about touching the people that we represent. There was nothing more that he emphasized to whoever he represented. And he just loved being part of that and being there with you and saying ‘Come on, five more houses.’”
Councilwoman Michelle Casalino also had stories to share, recalling how Fabiano would always joke around with her campaign manager John O’Connor while on the campaign trail for her first council race years ago. Both recognized him as someone who knew the value of the personal touch and embodied community involvement.
Fabiano indeed did know West Orange better than most, according to Council President Victor Cirilo. Cirilo said Fabiano seemed to know something about every resident, and that he represented an era from which modern politicians would do well to learn.
“It’s a throwback to when politics was a lot more personal,” Cirilo said. “It’s a different world (today). I was talking to someone this afternoon about the divisiveness and how different representation has become. Hopefully, through these types of conversations and remembrances and thinking about the way it used to be, we can go back and try to practice those values.”
Codey joked that he didn’t know what Fabiano would think if he were alive today to see Donald Trump as the president-elect, but said Fabiano was a good person who loved his family and cared more about people than about their political affiliations. Of course, he added, Fabiano also loved West Orange.
“Mike represented everything that’s good about being a citizen,” Codey said. “He worked hard all his life for himself, for his family and for his community.”
Photos by Sean Quinn