Meet Kurt Peluso: Advocate for Young Families
A brief background on new councilman Kurt Peluso and what inspired him to run for office
Democratic Councilman Kurt Peluso has already shown he’s not averse to lending a voice to those he feels are without one.
Last Tuesday, Peluso went to bat for the taxpayers of Fair Lawn against what he considered the Republicans’ fiscally irresponsible municipal appointments. By bringing attention to the issue publicly, Peluso got new borough attorney Ron Mondello to agree to reduce his salary by 20 percent.
Peluso, 28, said it was during his time at Fair Lawn High School that he first realized he could be an advocate for others. When the school opted to switch prom night from a Thursday to a Friday, Peluso said he became the spokesperson for Jewish members of the school’s student body who wouldn’t be able to attend a prom held on a Friday night for religious reasons.
“I was kind of disgusted with the way the teachers handled it. They kind of said, “Oh well, we’re not a religious school,” Peluso recalled. “But I was like, you know what…you don’t have to be a religious school, but you need to show respect for the holidays. By doing it on a Friday you’re not really showing that respect.”
In the end, Peluso was unable to effect his desired change, but he said the experience gave him the confidence to lead going forward.
“It really showed me that I can do that kind of stuff, that I can speak for other people,” he said. “And I think a lot of people need that voice. That’s the first time I kind of found myself in that role and it’s a role I’ve kind of been in ever since.”
Throughout high school, Peluso’s dedication to athletics – he was captain of the track team and a first team all-league pole vaulter – kept him from engaging in organized school politics. But after a serious knee injury during his freshman year at the University of Rhode Island ended his pole vaulting career, he shifted his energy toward public service.
“It was always something I was interested in -- serving people,” Peluso said. “My whole family, that’s what we do. We volunteer.”
Peluso’s first taste of political life came during a one-year stint on the URI student Senate. So it wasn’t all that big of a leap when he decided to enter municipal politics in Fair Lawn last February.
“I just see the council as another form of volunteering,” said Peluso, who helps coach Fair Lawn High School’s track team and has also been an All-Sports and Senior Center volunteer. “You’re really working for this town and it’s just another way for me to serve the community.”
Peluso said he was initially hesitant to get involved politically in Fair Lawn, but that as the tickets took shape he realized he would have something unique to offer.
“I realized that no one with a young family was running,” said Peluso, the father of two young children. “I think not having someone on the council that represents young families is really doing a disservice to Fair Lawn, so…that’s a big push of why I said ‘Yes.’”
Peluso believes his full-time job as director of the Meadowlands YMCA has prepared him for a seat on council.
“I put together programs, I look for grant money, I do a lot of hiring, a lot of, at times, firing, I work with budgets and I work with a bunch of different communities for shared services,” explained Peluso, who said he’s worked closely with the Rutherford Police Department and Board of Education, and the Lyndhurst Health Center in recent months. “Everything I do in my job goes with this position on council.”
As a representative for young families in town, limiting property taxes while maintaining social services is his top priority.
“Raising my own family here is very expensive,” Peluso said. “My wife and I both work full-time and part-time jobs just to make ends meet, and I know a lot of other families have the same struggles. So I want to make sure that property taxes are maintained, but at the same time our social services don’t diminish.”
With last week's successful stand against granting the borough attorney a pay raise, Peluso's efforts to protect taxpayers are already paying dividends.
"We really have to scrutinize over every dollar we have; we can’t be handing out increases, and just hope they’re turned down," he said. "Not every attorney is like Mr. Ron Mondello."