Sarlo was born in Passaic on August 31, 1968 to pipe fitter and construction supervisor Anthony Sarlo and Providence Munofo. He grew up in Wood-Ridge and graduated from Wood-Ridge High School. Sarlo received both a B.S. and an M.S. from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Civil Engineering.
He is chief operating officer Joseph M. Sanzari, Inc., a general contractor specializing in heavy construction, site work and utilities. Sarlo has overseen more than $150 million in projects and has worked with a skilled workforce of more than 200 men and women. He worked on the Route 4 and Route 17 interchange in Paramus, which was completed two years ahead of schedule. He is an active supporter of the construction of LG Electronics USA's headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, abutting The Palisades.
He married Concetta Maria Sarlo in 1997 and has two sons. His brother Thomas is a councilman in Little Ferry.
Before his service as State Senator, Sarlo spent one term in the General Assembly, the lower house of the New Jersey Legislature, from 2002 to 2003. He and Wallington, New Jersey mayor Walter Wargacki sought to unseat Republican incumbent Paul DiGaetano and take the second seat that was vacated when John Kelly decided to challenge for the State Senate (which he lost). Although the Democrats did not gain both seats Sarlo was able to finish second in the voting and won a seat. After he was appointed to the State Senate he was replaced by Frederick Scalera.
As an Assemblyman, he served as Vice Chairman of the Labor Committee and as a member of the Appropriations Committee. Additionally, he was a member of the Assembly Light Rail Panel and the Assembly Task Force on Fiscal Responsibility. While in the Assembly, Sarlo was the prime sponsor of the bill creating a $29 million grant to establish a statewide bio-terrorism response plan. He also sponsored legislation to restore the Office of Public Advocate and to provide benefits and incentives for members of volunteer fire departments and rescue squads. He has also taken leading roles on legislation related to the health and welfare of women and children.
Sarlo was appointed as state senator when former District 36 Senator Garry Furnari, an attorney and mayor of Nutley was appointed to the New Jersey Superior Court. Sarlo had been the choice of Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Joe Ferriero to succeed Furnari.
In the 2003 general election, Sarlo was challenged by former New Jersey General Assembly member John V. Kelly. Sarlo outspent Kelly by a nearly three-to-one margin in a pivotal race at a time when the Senate was evenly split between the two major parties and a change in party for any one seat could tip control of the upper house. Democrats won full control of the Senate and Sarlo won election to a full term in office by a margin of 53–44%. Sarlo was re-elected in 2007 by defeating Michael Guarino and in 2011 by defeating Donald DiOrio.
In the Senate, Sarlo serves on the Labor Committee (as Chair), the Legislative Oversight Committee (as Chair), Budget and Appropriations Committee (as Vice-Chair) and the Judiciary Committee. On November 23, 2009, the New Jersey Senate Democrats chose Sarlo to replace Barbara Buono, who was chosen to be Majority Leader, replacing Stephen Sweeney, who will be President of the New Jersey Senate, on January 12, 2010. Sarlo is Chairman-designate of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. Sarlo began his chairmanship on January 12, 2010. He was also on the 2011 New Jersey Apportionment Commission, the committee delegated to redraw the state legislative districts following the 2010 Census.
Sarlo has been a long-time proponent of the EnCap plan. He sponsored a bill in 2004 that enabled three Meadowlands communities to negotiate their own deals with EnCap. The results were three agreements that would turn over 40% - 50% of all future tax revenues.
A judge knocked Sarlo's 2007 GOP opponent, Michael Guarino, off the ballot, ruling that the outspoken critic of the EnCap redevelopment project had not collected enough valid signatures to qualify for a ballot position. Even though Guarino was knocked off the ballot because of a lack of signatures, he got more than enough write in votes to win the GOP nomination.
Sarlo served five years on the Wood-Ridge Borough Council (1995–2000). Since 2000 the Senator has served as the Mayor of Wood-Ridge Borough. He has been the Borough Engineer Borough of Carlstadt since 1998.
He simultaneously holds a seat in the New Jersey Senate and as Mayor. This dual position, often called double dipping, is allowed under a grandfather clause in the state law enacted by the New Jersey Legislature and signed into law by Governor of New Jersey Jon Corzine in September 2007 that prevents dual-office-holding but allows those who had held both positions as of February 1, 2008, to retain both posts.
Each of the forty districts in the New Jersey Legislature has one representative in the New Jersey Senate and two members in the New Jersey General Assembly. The other representatives from the 36th district for the 2014-2015 Legislative Session are:Assemblywoman Marlene Caride
Assemblyman Gary Schaer