Vito Perillo, a 93-year-old World War II veteran, pulled off a big upset win this week, ousting the incumbent mayor of a town on the Jersey Shore.
Perillo, who served in the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific, was inspired to run because of Tinton Falls’ high property taxes — an issue vexing just about every property owner in New Jersey.
So Perillo tells PEOPLE he wore out 1 ½ pairs of shoes walking to every home in the borough as he campaigned on promises of transparency and lower municipal taxes.
A first-time campaigner who never ran for any office before, Perillo knew he was a longshot against Mayor Gerald Turning, 63, Tinton Falls’ former police chief and borough administrator. But no matter.
“If anyone’s 93-year-old grandfather came to them and said, ‘I want to run for mayor,’ they would think he was a bit crazy,” says Perillo’s grandson, Michael Perillo-Gentile, 28. “But they don’t know my grandfather.”
When the results came in Tuesday night that Perillo had defeated Turning, “I was elated, I felt good,” Perillo tells PEOPLE.
“More importantly I was happy for my family, I could see the smiles on their faces,” he continues. “The fact that I worked so hard made it that much nicer.”
Perillo, a retired electronics engineer for the department of defense, will be 97 at the end of his term.
He heard just one disparaging comment about his age.
“From the present mayor,” Perillo says, “who said at 93 it was kinda late to get into politics or something to that effect, that I wasn’t up to doing the job — but I knew better. I say nonsense.”
PEOPLE emailed Turning for comment, but has not yet received a reply.
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Perillo tells PEOPLE that one of the reasons he entered the race was due to information his daughter showed him about a pair of whistleblower lawsuits involving the police department that cost Tinton Falls over $1 million in settlements.
“Very wasteful (in spending taxpayer dollars) and there is no transparency,” he says. “I want the people to know what’s going on.”
Perillo lost his wife of 64 years, Mamie, three years ago. A father of two daughters, as well as a grandfather and great-grandfather, he remains spry thanks to workouts at the YMCA and twice-monthly golf games with his grandson.
Age, to him, is really just a number.
“If you want something bad enough and you work hard enough you can achieve your goals,” Perillo says. “You gotta keep active and not sit around all day.”