“When it’s your shot, it’s your shot,” West New York Commissioner Count Wiley said the night of Sept. 13 at the Knights of Columbus on 60th Street, just blocks from Town Hall. Around 100 residents gathered for a hot dog and to hear an alternative political opinion to the current administration.
Wiley had already announced his intention to run a recall election against his former ally, Mayor Felix Roque, who was arrested this past spring. Wiley then plans to run for mayor.
Wiley has invested $50,000 of his own money into his campaign.
“I’m here to announce the total recall,” Wiley continued. “I didn’t quit on you, West New York, so don’t quit on me!”
One couldn’t help a feeling of deja vu that evening, since the commissioner once helped current Mayor Felix Roque attempt to hold a recall election against former Mayor Sal Vega.
This time, his campaign was aimed against the mayor he once stood solidly behind.
Wiley had spent the past 10 years working as a chiropractor until Roque called upon him to take a stand against the Vega administration in 2010. While the recall election failed on a technicality, their slate took the office by storm in the May 2011 election.
“I didn’t quit on you, West New York, so don’t quit on me!” – Count Wiley
The matter has led many town officials and residents to lose faith in their mayor as loyalties are tested, a series of raucous and dramatic commissioners’ meetings continue to ensue, and people vie for power and the favor of a now-divided administration.
In June, Roque and the majority of the five-member board voted to reassign each commissioner to a new department, removing Wiley from the Department of Public Works, which was when he formally decided to attempt a recall election.
“This is not an opportunity for me,” Wiley said Thursday night. “This is an opportunity to change the future of West New York for you.”
Will his father’s actions affect his campaign?
Even if Wiley is successful in obtaining a recall election, he may not be the only person running to replace Roque. And he has reason to be concerned about potential opponents. A recent legal incident involving his father (who served as the head of North Bergen’s Department of Public Works since 1995) may complicate matters, potentially jeopardizing Wiley’s ability to garner support from local politicians and obtain the votes necessary for the win.
James Wiley pleaded guilty on Sept. 11 Jersey City’s Hudson County Superior Court to second-degree conspiracy to commit official misconduct after having used North Bergen town employees to work at his house and perform campaign duties and personal chores for him. James Wiley retired from his position on Aug. 31.
When asked after the event whether Count Wiley thought his father’s actions would affect his chances as mayor, Wiley answered simply, “No, it won’t.”
“I love my father to death,” he said. “I don’t condone what my father did. He is an individual as everyone else, but I have no control over the decisions he made. It has no bearing on anything I would do in West New York and my records prove that. Whatever decisions I have made have been for the people and not for myself.”
As for his father’s future, “We’re here to support him because that’s what a family does,” Wiley said. “He did something wrong and he’s paying the price for it.”
Resident George Rivela stood outside of the Knights of Columbus with Wiley’s business card taped to his shirt pocket and handed out flyers to passers-by. Seriously displeased with the way Vega was running the town, Rivela had been “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Roque and had supported the mayor, but things changed.
He wants to see more business brought to the town and more resources offered to local children. Roque’s full-time medical practice, he said, detracts from his effectiveness.
And so does Roque’s political inexperience, Rivela said.
“He’s like a Chihuahua who is up against pit bulls,” he added.
One of the speakers that evening was Mauricio Clavel, host of local New York radio show known as “El Show de Mauro.” He has also identified himself as “Victim 5” listed on the federal complaint against Roque and his son who allegedly ran the website aimed at undermining the mayor’s administration.
“All of the promises the doctor made in the past, we have not seen,” Clavel said in Spanish. “He has delivered nothing yet, has mistreated residents, and forgotten the people who helped him. Now we have the chance to change all this.”
What Wiley must do
To begin a recall election, Wiley and his team must get 25 percent of registered voters – approximately 5,200 residents – sign a petition. To obtain the signatures, he must ask several local registered voters, or “petition holders,” to go door to door.
Each page of signatures must be certified by a notary public, and all of the signatures must be submitted to the town clerk for review.
The clerk will then set up a signature review committee to make sure they are valid. If the required 25 percent is approved, the entire package is then sent to the county, who then sends out ballots for prospective mayoral candidates and the recall election may begin.
Wiley plans to officially begin collecting signatures on Oct. 15, and will run the entire operation from a campaign office he said he will have set up by then.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org