Anyone who was expecting a political battle royal at last night’s West New York Board of Commissioners meeting, the last one before the May 14th municipal elections, was not disappointed as both sides let it all hang out.
The roughly two-and-a-half hour meeting, which only vaguely resembled a governmental function at times, was littered with personal attacks on all five commissioners – who are all up for re-election – that ranged from being called inept, unethical and flat out corrupt.
However, the meeting didn’t immediately start out as a full-fledged donnybrook, as Public Affairs Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo introduced two add-on resolutions seeking to start a municipal ID program and urging the state to commit to something similar.
While some found it odd since Cirillo and Public Safety Commissioner Gabriel Rodriguez initiated a vote to have the measures tabled last month, explaining that they didn’t want it done hastily, both resolutions passed by a unanimously (5-0) this time around.
Public Works Commissioner Susan Colacurcio actually commended Cirillo, for following Mayor Felix Roque lead that is, prompting an unexpectedly warm response from the mayor.
“I just wanted to say Cosmo, I’m happy for you. Today … I love you man,” Roque said with a smile and applause from the audience – which was probably as full as it had ever been in the past eight years.
However, that was about as long as cordial decorum would last, with under a month left in a bitter campaign that has already seen Roque and Rodriguez, his main challenger, unload heavy shots routinely.
At that point, Rodriguez introduced an add-on resolution to dissolve the parking authority, which was seconded by Cirillo.
Back in June, the commissioners okayed local legislation that would allow the town to conduct a study to see if it made sense to dissolve the parking authority.
Five months later, in October, they approved a resolution that simply said that they were in receipt of the report, which said dissolution would save the town approximately $400,000.
Roque, who opposed the concept back then, was quick to once again voice his displeasure with the idea.
“Last time there were studies made by the parking authority, they were actually making profit, they were actually making money, whereas before it was bankrupt. So I just don’t understand: is this a hidden agenda to give developers air space,” Roque stated, calling the process corrupt and causing another big reaction from the audience.
Cirillo, who is running on Rodriguez’s New Beginnings West New York ticket, said he would let Rodriguez respond – but not without getting his two cents in first.
“If you think saving taxpayers money is corrupt, then you don’t understand the definition of corruption,” Cirillo exclaimed.
Roque initially demanded to hear further explanation from Cirillo before Rodriguez interrupted to inform his political opponent this was his resolution.
“If you were paying attention, you would know I proposed it. But you’re not paying attention,” he began to his own loud ovation.
” … The reason that we’re doing this is, if you’ve read the report that you’ve had in your possession for six months, and we approved it, you would know that the report shows this would save the Town of West New York over $400,000.”
Rodriguez continued that it would also help to build new parking spaces, while also saving the jobs of the union employees at the WNYPA.
“While you’re over there talking about corruption … which is another conversation onto itself, you’re not talking about parking which is one of the biggest concerns of our residents,” Rodriguez said to more applause.
Always willing to embrace a good old fashioned political slugfest, Roque said that the town could easily save more money by cutting back on town engineers, particularly Remington & Vernick, and attorneys, putting Scarinci & Hollenbeck in his crosshairs – the firm Corporation Counsel Michael Jimenez is a part of.
While the vote received the all too familiar tally of 3-2, with Cirillo, Rodriguez and Revenue & Finance Commissioner Margarita Guzman voting yes, Jimenez said that the resolution failed since it required four affirmative votes.
Despite the fact that there had already been enough mayhem to suffice for at least a few months, the action was just getting started as now it was Roque’s turn to introduce some resolutions on the fly.
Arguably the most notable one would have prohibited vendors from receiving contracts from the town and related political campaigns simultaneously.
He didn’t make it a secret who had caught his attention on this one, either, calling out Secaucus-based public relations firm Vision Media.
“Are they marketing your campaign: yes or no?,” Roque asked Guzman, insisting that was a conflict of interest since they are already paid to do communications for the town.
“You asked the town attorney for this information, you already have it,” Cirillo jumped in.
“That doesn’t have anything to do with the town, don’t mislead the public,” Guzman then answered.
“They’re marketing for the town and marketing for you,” Roque shot back. “That’s illegal … it might not be illegal but it’s very unethical.”
The resolution never received a vote since a superseding motion to table by Cirillo and Rodriguez passed 3-2.
From there, anyone who hasn’t been following the current West New York election cycle received a free refresher course.
Roque again introduced his resolution aiming to implement a $500,000 security surveillance system, again it was tabled when his colleagues said it did not follow the proper request for proposals process.
The public portion of the meeting also opened up old wounds, with many speakers going straight for the throats of their perceived enemies.
“I have always been proud to say I’m from West New York, I’m a teacher in West New York, not anymore! Because of the corruption in this town with the nominations the mayor has nominated!,” said Dennis DeSocio, a longtime resident who was appointed to the parking authority board earlier in the meeting.
While he spoke, he referenced a chart that had been lingering on Facebook for weeks, referencing people such as Manny Diaz, Renee Abreu and Ruben Vargas, who have all been convicted of federal crimes and have a role in either Roque’s administration or campaign.
He also alluded to former disgraced Bergen County Democratic Organization Chair Joe Ferriero, which Rodriguez did directly two weeks ago, though Roque previously told HCV that he’s never met him and he isn’t part of his re-election bid.
John Bender, a North Bergen committeeman, was another speaker that appeared fit to be tied at the mere sight of Roque and got into a shouting match with fellow North Bergenite Henry Marrero – a DPW workers who is heavily involved in the mayor’s campaign.
“Hey John, don’t you have three domestic violence charges against you pal,” Marrero screamed out after Bender pressed the mayor on an alleged domestic incident from last year.
“Prove it. Prove it pal, prove it. Prove it. You’ve got no balls!,” Bender shouted in response.
Roque seemed undeterred by the exchange and was happy to respond to Bender in kind.
“Maybe you’ll be able to meet my girlfriend one day, she’s a lot prettier than you. Say hi to Joey Muniz for me,” the mayor said, sending a message to the high-level North Bergen political operative who also consults for Remington & Vernick.
While the majority of the public commenters voiced frustration with Roque, Rodriguez wasn’t given a free pass, as at least a handful of people confronted him as well.
“Angel Alfonso, the guy who was just standing here not too long ago, he’s obviously a supporter of yours, right? He was the same employee responsible for directing DPW employees to neatly remove construction debris from your father’s private house,” Francisco Torres, Roque’s campaign manager, inquired.
“That’s false,” Rodriguez said, though that didn’t stop Torres from repeating the question several times.
A Univision report from February 2018 had made similar allegations, though both the community at large and the board of commissioners pushed back against the story at the time.
Meanwhile, Alonso had accused Roque of political retaliation earlier this week after he was suspended. He said it was for removing a Roque campaign sign for a utility pole, though the mayor’s camp said it was for refusing to perform work responsibilities.
One the final speakers of the evening, West New York resident Kevin Livermore, read off a list of lawsuit settlements stemming from Roque’s first term, which appeared to have come from a July 2016 report by HCV detailing a 15-person settlement worth $1.2 million.
The current board of commissioners approved that resolution unanimously.
When Livermore asked Roque if he could assure the public that such instances of alleged political retaliation would not occur if he is elected to a third term, he didn’t provide a concrete answer.
“At this time, I don’t want to comment on any of that, thank you,” he responded.
A special thank you to everyone who watched the meeting live on our Facebook page in real time: this was our most viewed live video to date. It can still be viewed below: