In the past 24 hours of so, complete and total bedlam has broken out in West New York as Mayor Felix Roque and the board of commissioners have been slugging it out over whether or not the town needs a new $500,000 security surveillance system.
At last night’s board of commissioners meeting, Roque introduced an add-on resolution authorizing the installation of an add-on video surveillance crime prevention system.
Roque rationalized that the equipment was necessary in light of the murder of a 19-year-old Union City man near the intersection of 61st Street and Park Avenue back in December.
“I had a company that came in and did a study and basically they identified hot spots in the area, where crime is more prevalent. And when we can invest more in surveillance [that means we can] use our police force in other locations,” the mayor said.
Department of Public Affairs Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo agreed with Roque that public safety is always a top priority, but noted that the sudden introduction of such a costly initiative should require further review from municipal officials.
” … Just quickly going through it, you’re estimating the costs of the cameras to be approximately $500,000, and given that you’re asking us to vote on an item of half a million dollars, having just looked at this,” Cirillo began.
“And there are public purchasing requirements that would go along with this, possible bids that may be required because of the price tag on this, I think it would be irresponsible of us to take a vote blindly.”
The resolution failed 2-3, with Roque and Department of Public Works Commissioner Sue Colacurcio voting yes, and Cirillo, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Gabriel Rodriguez and Department of Revenue & Finance Commissioner Margarita Guzman voting no.
Despite that fact, Roque called a 2:30 press conference today at the spot where Steven Flores, the aforementioned Union City man who was fatally shot two months ago, where he said he would reintroduce the resolution next month.
He also touted his track record of hiring nearly three dozen new police officers during his two terms in office, reiterating that public safety has always been a high priority.
“These cameras will assist our great police department in the fight against gangs, drug dealers and other criminals making our community even safer,” he said.
“It is for this reason that I introduced a resolution in conjunction with Commissioner Sue Colacurcio to authorize the purchase and installation of these cameras.”
Just when it appeared that the presser was going to be relatively uneventful, especially by West New York election season standards, Rodriguez came out of nowhere to blast Roque for “politicizing this young man’s death.”
Needless, to say, his interference did not sit well with Roque and Rodriguez was more than happy to stand and trade on this issue.
“Last night, I introduced it, sadly enough, one of my commissioner, Gabriel Rodriguez, whose in front of me, decided that this is not important for the taxpayers,” Roque started in.
“That’s not true mayor,” Rodriguez fired back.
“I’m not talking to you,” Roque retorted.
“I think that you should be embarrassed that you’re trying to politically posture, spend $500,000 in the name of cameras, when only 24 months ago, another kid was killed,” Rodriguez exclaimed.
Things got worse before they got better, as Roque appeared to be making an early exit before he and Rodriguez engaged in some more verbal warfare.
“You should be ashamed of yourself for voting against a resolution that you should’ve voted yes! You’ve voted for other things, you don’t care about this community, don’t give me the garbage you have to say: enough! At ease! Done!,” Roque shouted.
“You should be embarrassed of yourself,” Rodriguez repeated.
“Ah, go back to work,” Roque said, as Rodriguez again accused him of political posturing.
After the smoke settled, Roque and Rodriguez expectedly both doubled down on their respective positions when speaking to HCV.
“We need to act John. This is one of those things [where] we’ve been doing the research for the last couple of months. We need to act. I can’t wait for him to decide, or anyone else: I’m the leader, I’ve got to make the decision – this is called a command decision,” Roque, a retired U.S. Army colonel, said when asked to explain why he was advocating for more cameras now.
Rodriguez of course did not find that to be an acceptable answer.
“First of all: this is not his commission. Secondly, it was done inappropriately and illegally. Things have to be done through the laws of purchase order and through bidding – that was not done.”
One of the few officials caught in the middle of the melee was Police Director Robert Antolos, who agreed that adding more surveillance cameras in town would not stop crime in its tracks, but they would still be a helpful investigative tool.
“If we had a camera here, it would not have stopped the murder. It would’ve helped ID [during] the investigation. The problem is we had 35 witnesses who would not cooperate: that’s where I think there’s a problem,” Antolos said shortly after Rodriguez’s arrival.
Roque is seeking a third term in the May 14th municipal elections, heading the “Continue the Progress” ticket, while Rodriguez is on top of the “New Beginnings West New York” slate.