Less than 24 hours after a chaotic board of commissioners meeting where battle lines were drawn, West New York officials hosted dueling celebrations in town last night.
“To this community, [Congressman] Albio Sires has, and always will be, mayor. Perhaps one of the best mayors to have been mayor in this town and that was proven on Election Day,” West New York Democratic Committee Chair Jonathan Castaneda said at a victory party at La Patrona Fusion Restaurant.
“For the record, I’m not saying that any other mayor hasn’t been a good mayor – I want to make that very clear because then we start … but Albio Sires, our United States congressman … he was among the best.”
Castaneda, along with Adrienne Sires, the congressman’s wife, and Joseph Rodriguez, the husband of Freeholder Caridad Rodriguez (D-7), won the local board of education race with ease on November 6th – despite that two other tickets were on the ballot.
Albio Sires, facing no serious competition, focused most of his time and energy on getting U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) re-elected and neither race ended up being particularly close (although Menendez faced a far more aggressive and spirited challenger).
Back at the hyperlocal level, tensions among the West New York electeds hit a crescendo on Wednesday evening, with Mayor Felix Roque picking a fight with three of the other four commissioners after they unceremoniously removed him from the Department of Public Safety.
Based on the what was said just 24 hours later, it doesn’t appear that Roque’s re-election bid in May is going to get any easier (not to mention the over 200 people in attendance who are supporting a change in administrations).
“I can’t tell you how proud I am to work with two outstanding people that I know have West New York through and through their hearts and really care about the job they’re doing,” Public Affairs Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo said of his colleagues standing with him – Margarita Guzman and Gabriel Rodriguez.
” … There was a committee fight back in June, so thank you to all of our outstanding Democratic committee members who stepped up and fought for what was right. We showed them then what West New York was all about, we showed them now what West New York was all about and we’re gonna show them in May what West New York is all about.”
In the infamous battle to decide the next chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, Cirillo, Guzman and Rodriguez supported Amy DeGise, the daughter of Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, while Roque and Commissioner Sue Colacurcio backed state Senator (D-33)/Union City Mayor Brian Stack.
DeGise won in definitive fashion and Roque has been feeling the aftermath, on and off, ever since.
Nevertheless, everyone tried to maintain a positive tone last night, despite the next inevitable political slugfest likely mere days away.
“When you see the congressman, you give him a hug, not because it’s the holiday season, but because he deserves it,” Rodriguez began.
“So lastly, I want to thank my family for always being there for me, for always being by my side, for supporting this board of commissioners, who continues to work together – despite the negativity that is thrown upon us.”
About a half mile down the road at Son Cubano, Roque hosted a belated birthday party (his birthday is November 20th) where several of his supporters included dozens of West New York police officers.
“I can tell you that I’m definitely not a politician, but I am a union leader, and I’ve dealt with many politicians in 30 years. When the mayor tells you that the mayor cares about the police department, it’s not a politician speaking, it’s a friend of the police department,” said PBA President Tommy Mannion.
“Myself and Mayor Roque have had many fights, and the only time he really fights with me is when he’s trying to protect the taxpayers and the residents because every once in a while we get carried away but we understand and come to a happy medium.”
Speaking with HCV outside the venue, the mayor reiterated remarks he made at Wednesday’s meeting: that although Rodriguez may now oversee the police department, that change will exist on paper only (Roque is now the head of parks and public property).
“This is not about politics, this is all about practicing good government and taking care of the taxpayers because as public officials that’s what we got elected to do, is taking care of them. And I can tell you: in West New York, we have one of the lowest crime rates in years,” Roque stated.
” … We’re happy. They’re great people. So they can take the title away, but the reality is they’re still here and I still wear their badge,” he added, showing off a WNYPD pin on his suit lapel.
In light of all the praise Sires has received in recent weeks, Roque didn’t mind expressing a dissenting opinion on that subject, either.
“I can tell you that to me, the best mayor’s always been Anthony DeFino. And the reason I’ve said that is I remember my family coming in from Cuba and Mayor DeFino always taking care of everybody – not only the Cuban Americans who came in, who was always there for every community,” Roque explained.
” … I can tell you, I cant say much about Albio Sires. All I can say is I had, and I gotta say had, a lot of respect for him not really knowing he’s not the person who I thought he was. To fire at me, to say in public that he’s gonna pick the next mayor I find it distasteful and disrespectful.”
The mayor added that those types of politics should only exist in foreign countries such as Nicaragua, Venezuela, Honduras and Cuba, later stating that Sires needs to be less focused on West New York and more focused on getting things done in Washington, D.C.
Dignitaries in attendance at La Patrona included Assembly members Angelica Jimenez and Pedro Mejia (D-32), Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, BOE Trustees Adam Parkinson and David Morel, and Superintendent of Schools Clara Brito-Herrera.
Meanwhile, officials who went to Son Cubano included Colacurcio, BOE Trustees Lorena Portillo and Damarys Gonzalez, Police Director Robert Antolos, Parking Authority Executive Director Amiris Perez and former BOE Trustee Steven Rodas.