WEST NEW YORK – The town’s Board of Commissioners took measures towards repealing a controversial ordinance banning certain types of signs, banners, and flags Wednesday night, ending a nearly half-year struggle between Mayor Felix Roque, who had said the ordinance was an effort to clean up the town’s business district, and his opponents, who claimed it was a politically-motivated attack on their rights to free speech.
The repeal was introduced by a vote of 4 to 1 and will be up for final adoption at a May 15 commissioners meeting.
Though the ordinance was most hotly contested by the town’s various political bodies, including the anti-Roque Residents for a Better West New York group, it became clear that business owners, who would have been forced to purchase permits to display signs that would cost up to $150 per person, would be those most affected by the measure. It was their discontent, Roque said, that caused him to reconsider the ordinance.
“We’re representatives of the people,” he said. “If they have problems with something, we have to take that into account.”
Town Attorney Gilberto Garcia said in a phone interview Thursday morning that the decision to repeal the ordinance came after Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-West New York) successfully filed petitions to have the ordinance placed on the ballot of a special election that would be held in July. The cost of such an election, said Garcia, would outweigh the benefits of implementing the ordinance.
“A special election just for this one issue, which is really not all that important, could cost the town anywhere from $70,000 to $100,000,” he said. “At the end of the day we have to be practical.”
Jimenez said she considered the repeal to be a major victory for the town’s business owners.
“I’m extremely proud of the work of the many residents who helped stop this controversial law,” she said in a statement. “This is a great victory for the town’s merchants but also for the freedom of speech of all West New York residents.”
Still, it remains to be seen whether Roque’s conciliatory actions would be followed by other steps to repair the town’s broken political system, which was thrust into the spotlight last week when Commissioner Count Wiley announced the official start of an effort to recall Roque, who was indicted on hacking charges last May and will go on trial next month.
But Wiley, Jimenez, and Frank Ferreiro, who heads the Residents for a Better West New York, have all portrayed Roque as a leader unable to take criticism. Ferreiro, who owns the mobile advertising business TV on Wheels and had been using those trucks to display anti-Roque propaganda, has said since February that the ordinance was aimed specifically at him.
However, Garcia said that in the spirit of compromise, he hoped the repeal of the ordinance would signal the start of a new chapter in West New York politics.
“You know, the mayor said it last night, and I really think he’s right. We do everything on a competitive level, and everyone is very adversarial with each other,” said Garcia. “This was never meant to be something that was supposed to be made political.”
– Dean DeChiaro