At 97 years old, Vito Perillo is at the peak of his political career.
Although there are no official records to prove it, Perillo is believed to be the oldest mayor in the United States. It’s a designation that brings him pride.
“The thing about my age is that, when people read about it and hear about it, they’re encouraged,” he said in a recent interview with People magazine. “They say, ‘If he can do it …’ ”
His first foray into politics was at the age of 93, when he was unexpectedly elected mayor of the New Jersey borough, which is about 40 miles south of Newark, in 2017. He said himself he didn’t think he had a chance of winning.
Perillo was drafted into the Navy after high school, and subsequently spent 38 years working as an electrical engineer for the Department of Defense before retiring in 1980. He was compelled to run for mayor late in life, he said, because he grew increasingly agitated by his property tax bill, the town administration’s spending practices, and scandals facing the police department.
“I felt drastic improvements could be made to our great town,” Perillo said.
Perillo was entirely new to politics, but led a dedicated campaign, knocking on every door in the town, which has about 18,000 residents. During his first campaign season, Perillo wore out two pairs of shoes.
To his surprise, though, it all paid off: He beat out a two-term incumbent who had spent nearly 20 years working in local politics. Perillo’s win propelled him into the national spotlight.
He said he was “profoundly grateful” for the opportunity to govern the town, and promised to slash municipal taxes and revise a contract with the police department — both of which he succeeded in accomplishing in his first term.
During his recent reelection campaign, Perillo touted those and other positive changes he made throughout his four years in office, such as investing in the borough’s infrastructure and equipment, paving more than 10.6 miles of roads and sidewalks, acquiring a new park “where residents are enjoying pickle ball and family time,” and erecting a “long overdue” traffic light.
He also prides himself on keeping town services, both big and small, running smoothly: “In the four years I’ve been here, we haven’t missed one garbage pickup,” he said.
Tinton Falls residents were satisfied with Perillo’s record, as he earned 2,209 votes in Tuesday’s election, according to unofficial results from the Monmouth County Board of Elections. His closest contender, retired schoolteacher Ellen Goldberg, trailed behind him with 1,898 votes.
Now that the election is over, Perillo is excited to get back to work.
“I promise to do my best every day to ensure every member of our community can be proud to live in Tinton Falls,” he vowed.
Perillo, who was born in the Bronx in 1924, has lived in Tinton Falls for more than 60 years. He settled in the town with his late wife, Mae, in 1960, and resides alone in the same three-bedroom home where they raised their two daughters, who still live close by. His wife of 64 years died in 2013.
Although Perillo has a busy job overseeing a $24 million budget and keeping up with his mayoral duties, he appears to be a doting grandfather to four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He was the best man at his grandson Mike’s wedding, and reserves every Wednesday afternoon for a lunch date with his 28-year-old granddaughter Marlana.
“He’s been a stellar father and grandfather,” said Perillo’s daughter, Anna Mae Perillo, in an interview with The Washington Post. “He is my hero.”
His drive to continue working “is so inspiring,” she added. “He doesn’t want to be known as the oldest mayor, he just wants to be known as a good mayor.”
He’s said he isn’t on any special diet, and he believes his commitment to physical activity has contributed to his long life. In addition to regularly playing golf, the mayor is also a member of the local Y.M.C.A., where he exercises twice a week, using “about 10 to 12 machines.”
“I think that’s why I’m here today,” he told the New York Times in a 2018 interview.
But beyond maintaining a vigorous workout routine, Perillo said, being mayor is truly what keeps him young. He plans to continue his public service at least until the end of his four-year-term — when he’ll be 101.
Perillo drives to town hall each day in his Honda Accord, always wearing a suit and tie.
“I love my job,” he said. “It keeps me alive, actually. It keeps me going.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include an interview with Vito Perillo’s daughter, Anna Mae Perillo.
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