You don’t have to be a politician to have local influence. The Hudson Reporter’s second annual list of the county’s most influential people surveys government leaders, lawyers, activists, and artists – all of whom had some power over the lives of our residents in 2012.
This influence can be felt in ways both good and bad, but the influence has had tangible impacts.
Whether the influence was positive or negative is your call, but here’s our list of the 50 most influential people (or entities) in 2012.
1. Gov. Christopher Christie (+, 11)
The darling of the national GOP, Gov. Christopher Christie’s influence can be felt in every corner of New Jersey, including here in Hudson County.
Over the past two years the governor has phased out the tax sharing portion of New Jersey’s Urban Enterprise Zone Program, cutting millions of dollars in funding that had been designated to spur business development in urban communities like Jersey City, Bayonne, and Union City. Christie led the charge to have the salaries of school superintendents tied to the size of the school districts they head, rather than experience. This may have encouraged some district heads to leave their positions, including in Secaucus. Calls from the governor that public workers have their leave benefits capped have led to massive retirements from municipal employees in Jersey City and elsewhere. Ironically, this trend now leaves these cities scrambling to cover the terminal leave benefits owed to these retirees.
Still, even Christie – who is up for re-election this year – needs friends in heavily Democratic Hudson County. Thus, the governor has carefully cultivated local officials – notably Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Union City Mayor/State Sen. Brian Stack – as allies. Both Zimmer and Stack have benefitted from their alliances with Christie.
2. U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (+, 5)
Robert Menendez, once the most powerful political figure in Hudson County in the 1990s, saw his local power wane after he went from congressman to U.S. senator as the county’s political structure broke into petty fiefdoms. Over the last year, however, Menendez appeared to be rebuilding his powerbase with key alliances that could include Jersey City Councilman Steven Fulop, who is running for mayor. Not only did Menendez orchestrate his own impressive reelection bid in 2012, but also put down a rebellion in the Democratic organization in a primary battle for the 10th Congressional District, getting Donald Payne Jr. elected over Nia Gill. With the support of at least two of the three Hudson County members of Congress as well as a number of mayors, Menendez is expected to install one of his allies to head the Hudson County Democratic Organization in June.
3. “Stacco” (Two political opponents: State Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, and State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack) (-, 1 and 2, respectively)
The moniker “Stacco” is an apt description of two of the most powerful people in Hudson County, who are warring over control of the local Democratic Party. Nicholas Sacco and Brian Stack have squandered their power in a petty feud full of name calling and false accusations. At the heart of the conflict, there is real money, as the two princes of political power strive to control contracts and other resources. While the feud has deeper personal roots in an effort to curb Stack’s rise to the pinnacle of power, the battle has since forced Hudson County political people to pick sides and will likely play out in a bloodier than usual mayoral contest in Jersey City in 2013 as well as a fight over control of the job-rich county sheriff’s department. Each side has been accused of creating a citizens’ group to go to meetings and complain in the other town. While both men seem invincible because of their solid voting base, their power countywide has diminished, and could cause the brokering of a new political powerbase that will not require a loyalty test.
4. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer (-, 3)
Dawn Zimmer proved herself this year in Hoboken and around the globe – and just in time for the November 2013 mayoral election. Zimmer garnered national (and international press) during Superstorm Sandy, bringing attention to the unique flooding the town received. One week later, every measure Zimmer supported on the November 2012 election ballot won, including three public questions and a school board slate she backed. Zimmer closed the year in D.C. rallying for congressional change regarding flood insurance policies in urban neighborhoods. She was ranked third last year and has probably increased her power over the last year, while also using it wisely – but dropped a notch because of gains made by Christie and Menendez.
5. Superstorm Sandy and the fragile infrastructure she exposed (new)
Hurricane Sandy bore down on Monday, Oct. 29, making direct landfall on the Jersey shore as a category 1 storm. In Hudson County, the waterfront communities lost power for a week or more. The Hoboken PATH station was flooded, as were some major businesses. Nearly 1.7 million of PSEG’s 2.2 million customers in New Jersey lost power. FEMA, like most other entities tasked with preparing for the imminent recovery efforts, underestimated the range of devastation the storm would cause, and faced serious difficulties. The aid it offered the storm’s victims soon became a political issue, when the agency reported in early January that its funds would soon run dry if Congress did not pass legislation to appropriate additional aid. On Jan. 4, Congress granted $9.7 billion in additional aid.
6. State Sen. Sandra Bolden Cunningham (=, 6)
Rumors continue to swirl about what Sandra Cunningham will do next: Will she run for mayor of Jersey City in 2013? Or will she wait to run for county executive in 2014? Or perhaps she will simply stay where she is and run for reelection as state senator? Over the last nine years, Cunningham has grown in personal strength from someone carrying on the legacy of her deceased husband, former Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham, to a powerful political force of her own with ties to political leaders throughout the state. Nearly every political faction will court her in 2013.
7. State Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) (+, 22)
After serving in a leadership role in the Assembly as the Chairman of the Budget Committee for the 2012-2013 legislative session, Secaucus resident Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) has risen in power significantly as an influential voice for Hudson County on state matters. He has been critical of Governor Chris Christie throughout the past year on matters related to transparency, tax cuts, state revenue, and most recently on privatizing the state lottery. Prieto has also proposed a number of revenue-generating options for the state to consider that could help alleviate the tax-sharing issues between two of the Hudson County towns he represents – Secaucus and Kearny. He is also a likely candidate for the role of speaker of the house. He has served New Jersey’s 32nd legislative district since 2004. At the local level he serves as the construction official for both Secaucus and Guttenberg.
8. New Jersey State Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa (+, 27)
Jeffrey Chiesa was sworn in as the state’s 59th Attorney General a year ago. Since then he played a pivotal role in uncovering the Department of Public Works scandal that struck North Bergen which began with former superintendent James Wiley. In November, Chiesa, the Christie Administration, and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs accused several businesses of allegedly illegally overcharging consumers during Hurricane Sandy.
9. New Jersey’s top law firms (+, various entries)
Hudson County has long been the financial Mecca for politically connected legal firms, and the last few years have seen their resurgence. Contracts from the county and local towns have been divvied up among Chasen, Leyner & Lamparello, Scarinci Hollenbeck, McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, and Florio Kenny. More minor politically connected firms over the last few years have gobbled up smaller pieces of the public legal pie in every municipality from Bayonne to North Bergen. While pay-to-play laws have made it more difficult for these firms to directly contribute to political campaign coffers, somehow they continue to get business in Hudson County, proving their influence goes deeper than campaign contributions.
10. New Jersey’s developers (-, 9)
With the economy on the rise in 2012, the giants of industry in Hudson County continued to spread their influence by snatching up much of the area’s remaining unused land, earmarking millions of dollars worth of projects in Jersey City, Hoboken, Secaucus, and Weehawken. The familiar names are all present and accounted for, with the KRE Group securing rights to the renaissance-minded Journal Squared (J2) project in Jersey City and SJP Properties expanding its presence on Hoboken’s waterfront. Just north, Hartz Mountain Industries and Roseland Properties have all but formed a monopoly on development on River Road, leading the charge to build up the Gold Coast. Both corporations also laid claim to the county’s western coast, buying up and developing properties in Secaucus along the Hackensack River.
11. Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, chairman, Hudson County Democratic Organization (+, 18)
As chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, Mark Smith has a lot of power in an overwhelmingly Democratic county. But over the last year, he has dealt with political feuding among fellow Democrats and been forced to pick sides in a number of races, both local and statewide. In two instances, Smith has managed to anger Sacco and Menendez over his choices, possibly dooming his career as chairman. But he has some serious choices to make if he is to keep the peace in the county in 2013, especially in trying to prevent an all out political war between “Stacco.” Sacco and Stack appear to be lining up on different sides in the 2013 Jersey City mayoral election between Jerramiah T. Healy and Steven Fulop, and Smith may be forced to pick a side as well, although strangely, he appeared to have one foot in each mayoral camp coming into the New Year.
12. City Councilman Steven Fulop, Jersey City (-, 4)
Despite weathering a few political hits over the past year, Ward E City Councilman and 2013 mayoral candidate Steven Fulop remains the most powerful force on the Jersey City Council and is a viable contender for the city’s top elected position. In April his endorsed slate of candidates won three seats on the Jersey City Board of Education – the third year in a row that happened. Following a special election for the Ward F City Council seat in November, Fulop and his allies won control of the City Council after his endorsed candidate defeated the incumbent. For his upcoming mayoral campaign in May, Fulop has outraised his chief opponent, Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, and has built an impressive political machine ready to take on the Hudson County Democratic Organization establishment. In his spare time he competed in the inaugural New York City Ironman and helped raise an estimated $250,000 for military veterans. Ranked No. 4 on this list last year, Fulop slipped slightly due to the outcry over his alleged behind-the-scenes involvement in school board governance.
13. Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner (+, 17)
Weehawken Mayor and Chairman of North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Richard Turner continued in his role as North Hudson’s elder statesman in 2012, navigating the tumultuous waters between Sacco and Stack. Meanwhile, he maintained the economic growth of his own township, overseeing private and public development initiatives along Weehawken’s waterfront, including a $50 million luxury development. Following Hurricane Sandy in October, he was at the forefront of one of the county’s less-publicized recovery efforts, rallying support for neighborhoods in the township devastated by the storm.
14. Hoboken City Councilwoman Beth Mason (+, 41)
Hoboken 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason leads the opposition to Mayor Dawn Zimmer on the City Council. Mason has been a very vocal opponent of Zimmer and Zimmer’s City Council majority in recent years. Mason was a supporter of the school board ticket that lost to the Zimmer-allied slate in November. Just because she lost, doesn’t mean she lacks influence. She has been active in her civic duties for years, funding arts groups and starting an art gallery in Hoboken. During Hurricane Sandy, her civic league provided a generator and food at the uptown Hoboken headquarters. The league went on to fundraise for Hudson County with the creation of HudsonCountyRecovers, an organization Mason got flack for at council meetings because it’s countywide instead of citywide. Mason is rumored to be considering a run for Assembly, and with the money she has spent on campaigns over the years, it will likely be a well-funded bid.
15. U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8th Dist.) (+, 31)
No one was surprised when Rep. Albio Sires defeated his 25-year-old opponent for control of New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District, mostly because the opposition, Michael Shurin, focused much of his campaign on the legalization of marijuana. However, Sires has adjusted to his new district (he formerly represented the 13th, before redistricting), continuing to be a prominent Latino voice in Washington, while simultaneously advocating for improvements to his constituents’ daily lives.
16. Paul Swibinski, Vision Media Marketing (+, 20)
The father son PR power duo Paul and Phil Swibinski, who represent the township of North Bergen and various politicians, have had a whirlwind of a year. While they had to handle the Department of Public Works scandal in that town, they’ve also promoted positive news in the school district and about the community pulling together during Hurricane Sandy.
17. Anthony Vanieri, aide to Nicholas Sacco of North Bergen (new)
Much like Mayor Nicholas Sacco, Anthony Vainieri is known for having three titles: Chairman of the Board of Adjustment, mayor’s aide, and the manager of Vaineri Funeral Home in North Bergen. Vaineri’s influence is on the rise as he even attended a recent freeholder meeting in place of Mayor Sacco. Nowadays Vaineri seems to be Sacco’s right hand man.
18. Craig Guy/Harold “Bud” Demellier Jr. (-, 7)
Although many believe the power of the county executive’s office has been diminished by the uprising of political forces elsewhere in Hudson County, Craig Guy and Harold Demellier maintain power largely because they are tied to so many political camps, and do so much behind the scenes for so many. As director of roads and public properties for the county, Demellier earned gratitude from a number of people for his response to problems caused by Hurricane Sandy. More than likely, both men will survive and even thrive if administrations change in 2013, as many see these two as the real power behind Hudson County government.
19. Rent control activists (new)
Hoboken tenant activist group Hoboken Fair Housing Association (HFHA) banded together to fight a referendum on the November ballot that sought to do away with rent control, either temporarily or permanently, depending on the building. They beat out a well-funded group of taxpayers. In Bayonne, tenant advocates are trying to overturn a measure that is phasing out rent control in that town.
20. Hudson County’s internet community (+, 40)
A $2 million lawsuit against several Hoboken bloggers in 2012 may well show the growing influence the internet has had on the political and social world of Hudson County, where a younger, hipper population more attuned to new technology has learned how to make their voices heard in new ways, replacing the old street corner soap box with blogs and Youtube presentations. While the trend started out in areas where newcomers have arrived, the reverberations are being felt in many other parts of the county, shaking the political foundations of some very traditional power bases such as Union City, West New York, even down in very traditional Bayonne. This trend will only become more and more viable as the internet grows and people discover that they have a new platform on which to air their gripes.
21. Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy (new)
Two months after winning re-election in May 2009, Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy looked like he would hobble through his current term as a lame duck following the high profile-arrests of several aides and political allies. Few people expected Healy to run for another term in 2013. The mayor was excluded from the Hudson Reporter’s 2012 Most Influential list partly because he appeared to be down for the count. Healy surprised many residents when he announced a year ago that he would seek a third full term as mayor. Despite his weakened political stature, Healy could well eke out a victory over his chief rival, Councilman Steven Fulop, who makes some voters nervous. Healy’s longtime, pre-Newtown stance on gun control, continued opposition to Spectra Energy’s natural gas pipeline, surprising additions to his City Council ticket, and status as a familiar entity could help him edge past Fulop in May.
22. Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli (+, 34)
While Secaucus retains its calm, suburban atmosphere amidst neighboring political battles, indictments, and scandal, Michael Gonnelli has been anything but quiet on matters affecting his town, especially when it comes to ensuring its fair share of local revenues. He successfully took on Freeholder William O’Dea for parking fees generated by Field Station: Dinosaurs. Gonnelli also generated support among area mayors to vote in favor of a Meadowlands tax sharing formula change that could reduce the town’s share from $3 million to $723,504. Gonnelli is seen as handling Hurricane Sandy favorably both before, during, and after the storm. With little if no opposition for an upcoming municipal election and dominance in local affairs since he assumed the position in 2010, Gonnelli has pretty much secured his re-election.
23. U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell: (D- 9th Dist.) (New)
Bill Pascrell positioned himself as the “fighter” last year and helped unseat long-time U.S. Rep Steven Rothman (D-Englewood), who had served the town of Secaucus and others for the past 16 years. Redistricting meant that the two powerhouses faced each other, but Pascrell won the Democratic primary and then won again in November.
24. Ron Simoncini, president, Axiom Communications (-, 28)
Ron Simoncini and his Mile Square Taxpayers group advocated hard in 2012 in favor of Hoboken public question No. 2, to remove rent control in certain buildings. Though Simonicini ultimately lost by a 52-vote margin, he managed to exercise influence over a town full of renters and collect 8,196 votes.
25. Hudson County Improvement Authority CEO Norman Guerra (-, 16)
Although the Hudson County Improvement Authority started out as the county’s response to recycling, trash removal, and school transportation, over the last several decades it has become the equivalent of a Swiss banking system that has allowed many municipalities and other groups to draw down loans and balance budgets they would not have been able to do otherwise. As chairman, Guerra will continue to wield quiet power behind the scenes and influence the local economic conditions over the next year, and will have a huge influence over which projects can get funding in the future.
26. North Bergen Business Administrator Christopher Pianese (new)
Chris Pianese helped to determine the new location for the shared building that houses the Municipal Court and the Parking Authority at 4225 Bergen Turnpike. He helped Mayor Sacco assess damage after Hurricane Sandy and is involved in many major decisions in the town.
27. West New York Mayor Dr. Felix Roque (-, 14)
Dr. Roque made a surprising splash in 2011 when he ousted former Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega, but his first year in office hardly went as expected. After making reforms in West New York’s municipal government, he and his son were charged in May by the federal government with hacking into a political opponent’s web site. He has not yet resigned, but political challengers like Town Commissioner Count Wiley are eager to replace him.
28. Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO James Kirkos (+, 29)
With Wrestlemania scheduled for April, the Super Bowl coming to town in 2014, and the American Dream completion on the horizon, Jim Kirkos has been very busy in playing a lead role to help promote business growth in the region. As president of the Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau he has helped organize local business leaders in presenting a united front, and in helping to promote the area as a destination.
29. Hudson County Freeholder William O’Dea (-, 12)
With his eye on a possible move from being a maverick freeholder to the coveted county executive seat, William O’Dea will likely feature prominently in the battle over the Jersey City mayoral seat in 2013. O’Dea’s powerful organization in the west side of Jersey City could bring Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop the necessary support needed to overcome Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy. This aligns O’Dea with Menendez, Sacco, and others.
30. West New York Commissioner Count Wiley (new)
West New York’s other doctor-turned-politician, Commissioner Count Wiley turned on Mayor Roque, his former ally, after Roque’s indictment, and spent much of 2012 stirring up controversy at town meetings. While his record is tainted the same as Roque’s (Wiley was censured after a scandal involving a paint gun and his arrested father James), Wiley comes across as more charismatic than his opponent, and has seemingly used his suave people skills to gather powerful allies to his cause.
31. Triple Five Worldwide Group (new)
Developers Triple Five Worldwide in 2011 stepped forward to complete American Dream, formerly known as Xanadu, the entertainment/retail complex on Route 3 in East Rutherford. They secured a number of approvals in 2012. The project will bring jobs and revenue to the area in the next few years.
32. Hudson County Freeholder Chair Anthony Romano (new)
Rumored as possible candidate for a number of seats that include mayor of Hoboken and county sheriff, Anthony “Stick” Romano now has a platform as chairman of the freeholders to build support for future political endeavors. In 2013, he distinguished himself from other traditional Hoboken political figures by working more closely with Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, especially in regards to Hurricane Sandy relief. He may be able to draw on resources that other freeholder chairmen could not, and build a body of good will among Hudson County’s mayors.
33. Robert Cotter, director of city planning, Jersey City/Robert Antonicello, director, Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (+, 35)
Robert Cotter, Robert Antonicello, and their staffs at Division of City Planning and the Redevelopment Agency are collectively responsible for mapping out and approving every development project in Jersey City. This year, those included hotels and residences. With the economy beginning to improve, long dormant projects in the Journal Square area are finally beginning to take shape under the guidance of Cotter, Antonicello, and their staffs.
34. Riaz Wahid/Esther Wintner, Jersey City activists (new)
In Jersey City, when politicians of all stripes feel a thorn in their side or a pebble in their shoe, it usually has something to do with Esther Wintner and Riaz Wahid. Something of a Batgirl and Robin duo, in 2012 the pair was responsible for lobbying the U.S. Justice Department for a $1.85 million grant that enabled the Jersey City Police Department to hire 15 new officers; getting the city to audit luxury residential developments that have received lucrative tax breaks; forcing the local school board to consider pay to play reform; forcing the city to strengthen its own pay to play law; and exposing questionable spending by the school board. During Hurricane Sandy they helped find indoor shelter space for the homeless and delivered water and food to elderly shut-ins. The two are also co-founders of the Jersey City Homeless Advocacy Group.
35. Captain Bill Sheehan, Hackensack Riverkeeper (-, 30)
As the Hackensack Riverkeeper (so designated as part of a national nonprofit group), Bill Sheehan has dedicated years to fighting for wetlands restoration, protecting the Hackensack River habitat and its wildlife, and putting an end to the use of outdated Combined Sewer Systems (CSO). Last year Sheehan (a Secaucus resident) and his crew took over 3,000 people onto the river on educational tours. In one of his latest battles his organization has taken on the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with a lawsuit to get cities like Jersey City, North Bergen, and Bayonne, which still have CSOs, to stop dumping overflow sewage in the river during heavy rains.
36. Dr. Marcia Lyles, superintendent of schools, Jersey City (new)
Since taking the helm of the Jersey City Public Schools just days before the start of the 2012-2013 school year, new superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles, who previously worked in school districts in Delaware and New York City, has been busy. In November she addressed parents and gave what amounted to a “state of the union” for the school system. As part of this address Lyles laid out what she called a “mission and mandate” for the district and paid special attention to academic programs that are working but are limited in their success. Despite considerable acrimony on the school board and among parents prior to her hiring, Lyles has won the support of many skeptics who initially questioned her commitment to public education and ability to adjust to Jersey City.
37. Dr. Mark Toback, Superintendent of Schools, Hoboken (new)
Hoboken Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback is new(ish) to the Hoboken school system, but supporters have commended the changes he’s made in the district in the past two years. Toback became a focal point of the 2012 school board election. The Hoboken school board majority is currently held by Kids First, a faction that Mayor Dawn Zimmer supports, and which is strongly allied with Toback.
38. Allen Pascual/Robert Dandorph (new)
North Bergen’s school district has been strengthened with the support of Superintendent of Schools Robert Dandorph. Scores are up for statewide tests. North Bergen High School District Director of Student Personnel Allen Pascual has also helped implement new programs in the district. He also serves as commissioner of revenue and finance.
39. Dr. John Fauta, Superintendent of Schools, West New York (new)
Not many school superintendents can say that, in one year, they rubbed shoulders with the governor, a senator, two football players and a former president of the United States (Clinton), but not many school superintendents are John Fauta of West New York. The longtime top educator in West New York, a staunch ally of Mayor Felix Roque and the county’s most outspoken voice for healthier food in public schools, made headlines this year by garnering several awards for his district’s healthy food and physical education initiatives.
40. Bob Hurley, head coach, St. Anthony Boys Varsity Basketball Team (+, 38)
The legendary longtime coach at St. Anthony in Jersey City – and Basketball Hall of Fame member – is often asked for advice on several different matters, not just about basketball. Last year he was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame as well.
41. State Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-West New York) (new)
Since stepping in to serve in the State Assembly in 2011, Angelica Jimenez of West New York has served as a powerful ally to State Sen. Nicholas Sacco and Assemblyman Vincent Prieto. Jimenez also easily swept the local vote to take over the West New York Democratic Party Committee chair after Mayor Felix Roque was arrested. A regular presence throughout Hudson County, Jimenez has made strides to solidify connections.
42. Uta Brauser/Christine Goodman/Sean Hollingsworth (-/=, various entries)
This trio remains at the forefront of Jersey City’s arts community. Last year couture designer and painter Uta Brauser re-opened her Fish with Braids gallery and continued to host the regular Creative Grove events at Grove Plaza. Christine Goodman’s Art House Productions continued to offer venue space for small dance, theater, and film groups in need space to show their work, and kept running quarterly JC Fridays events. Jersey City last year had one of its biggest and most successful Artist Studio Tours in years under the tutelage of Sean Hollingsworth and the folks at ProArts.
43. Amanda Nesheiwat, Chairwoman, Secaucus Environmental Committee (new)
As head of the Secaucus Environmental Committee, Nesheiwat successfully pushed for a ban on Styrofoam and fracking. She has also reached out to neighboring Jersey City to collaborate on a number of issues. A twentysomething star on the rise, Nesheiwat is a leading voice for her generation on environmental issues representing Secaucus both near and far from Trenton to Qatar.
44. Peggy Wong (new)
North Bergen’s Peggy Wong has long been an advocate in her pursuit to protect the Palisade Cliffs from developments. Wong and fellow advocates have even provided transportation to and from Planning Board hearings related to the proposed Appleview development near the Guttenberg border.
45. Diana Davis (new)
Chair of the Republicans of Hoboken, Diana Davis has worked for years in a predominantly Democratic town in a predominantly Democratic county, finally seeing some local respect for the right. She was mocked and even spat at during her early days of collecting signatures on Washington Street, but 2012 was a year she saw a payoff. Hoboken saw higher percentages for Mitt Romney than other Hudson County towns.
46. Bill Sorvino, founder, Golden Door International Film Festival (new)
Two years ago, when actor Bill Sorvino said he wanted to launch an annual independent film festival in his native Jersey City, some folks in the movie industry called him crazy. But Sorvino successfully launched the Golden Door International Film Festival in 2011 and brought an expanded festival back for a second year in 2012, proving his critics wrong. The festival is already set to return for a third year in October.
47. Nivia Rojas (=)
Currently in her 13th year as the head of Union City’s school-based youth services, Rojas serves as a shining example as to the most effective ways to use state funding to assist urban youth. The program provides mental health services, recreational activities, and family counseling to students in the county’s most densely populated school district.
48. Richard Rivera (-, 13)
Rivera, a prominent civil rights advocate, has been a player in Hudson County politics for some time and even placed 13 on this list last year, but his alliance with Mayor Felix Roque seems unwise given the mayor’s impending date in federal court. Stepping in as a civic volunteer following Hurricane Sandy, Rivera positioned himself to be Roque’s aide and go-between with other commissioners, but a recent vote at a public meeting called his future in that capacity into question.
49. Theater and arts groups (new)
Hoboken and Jersey City have their share of artists and theatrical “players” who are frequently mentioned in Reporter stories, but North Hudson deserves a look too. In its 33rd year, North Bergen’s Park Players continued to put on accessible and enjoyable evenings of musical theater in 2012, performing a revue in February and a full show in March. Meanwhile, Frank Licato and Greg Erbach founded Hudson Theatre Works, an offshoot group looking to put on off-Broadway quality shows in North Hudson with the support of local government. Elsewhere in the county, there’s the Hudson Shakespeare company, based in Hoboken; Mile Square Theater; Hobart, which is the only cooperative gallery in Hoboken, and the many other art galleries around the county. (Read the Midweek Reporter at hudsonreporter.com each Thursday for articles on these groups and their projects).
50. Brian Barrett (new)
Union City’s new top lawman inherited an office mired in scandal after the retirement of former chief Charles Everett, but has responded with professionalism and a staunch commitment to public safety that has resulted in the city’s police department reclaiming its former status as one of the most effective in North Hudson. Barrett made a name for himself throughout the year as a hands-on officer, personally leading a manhunt for a kidnapping and assault suspect (an arrest was made hours after the alleged incident).
Honorable Mentions Rich Hansen – Athletic director at St. Peter's and the football coach. Anything that happens in Hudson County sports goes through him because he's the president of the newly formed Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League.
Robert Anderson – Former president of the teachers’ union in Secaucus and now a school board trustee, Anderson successfully kept pressure on Superintendent Cynthia Randina and organized teachers and community members to oppose her.
Carmelo Garcia – Executive director of the Hoboken Housing Authority and a member of the Hoboken School Board. Has been working on the “Vision 2020” plan for the future of the projects.
Secaucus’ Indian community – The Indian community in Secaucus has made strides to become a more visible presence, from the Indian Caucus of Secaucus, which holds a number of cultural events each year, to the vocal parents who live in developments such as Riverside Court and Creekside Manor who successfully lobbied for their children to get courtesy busing to school.
Guttenberg Police Department – The Guttenberg Police Department has been aggressive at ridding the streets of drugs with several high-profile busts. When residents in The Shades in Weehawken were in distress and in need of assistance, Guttenberg aided in rescuing residents that were trapped in their homes.
North Bergen Free Public Library Director Sai Rao – Sai Rao has converted the library to a community center as well. For the “Read To Achieve” program, New York Knicks player John Starks read to the audience.
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