“When I started out, I was with the mayor 150 percent,” said West New York Commissioner Count Wiley last week, explaining why he wants to replace Dr. Felix Roque as mayor. “I fought for him, I hugged him, I kissed him, I stood next to him and lent him my support. I thought we would to the best for the community together. I didn’t mind if he got credit for any of the good I did. I wanted the people to look up to their mayor. But now he’s changed. He’s not the same man I ran for office with.”
Wiley announced in June that he would be running against Roque, although he wasn’t sure if this will be in a regularly scheduled election or a recall. Roque was recently arrested by the FBI for alleged computer hacking, related to a website set up against him called RecallRoque.
In West New York’s form of government, residents elect five commissioners to run the town, and those five choose a mayor from among themselves. Roque and his team were elected in May of 2011.
Wiley said didn’t start out intending to oppose Roque. But he said he has been pushed by circumstances into stepping up.
“I’ve been loyal to the mayor, but my politics is for the people,” he said. “When the mayor turned against me, it went right to my heart.”
Wiley and Roque came into conflict during a June reorganization meeting, when Wiley protested what he sees as a demotion from commissioner from the Department of Public Works to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Wiley pushed for changes
But looking back, Wiley said he’s seen signs where the mayor’s agenda did not line up with his. One area, he said, was the hiring of attorneys.
“They seem to think they are working for one man rather than all five commissioners,” he said.
He said he has also seen conflict was over several issues he raised such as putting more of the cost of the city’s trash collection on local business owners rather than on the taxpayers. He said there are about 300 businesses that get their trash picked up by the city, and Wiley said he wanted the contract altered to privatize that portion.
“They are mostly not residents of the city and they don’t live in West New York, and yet taxpayers have to pay for their trash pickup,” Wiley said.
“You can’t show up at city hall one day a week, stand in front of the cameras and then go home; you have to be there to greet people.” – Count Wiley
“But the mayor is on the side of the business owners,” Wiley said. “I don’t understand it. This was a contract that was devised under the previous administration, who we would against to defeat. I thought we wanted to change this culture of waste and mismanagement.”
In his role as commissioner of public works, Wiley said he has already revamped the city’s recycling program for an annual savings of $30,000.
Wiley said he had raised other concerns such as the frequent breaking down of street vacuuming equipment and the high cost of maintaining it. He said the machines need to be replaced.
“We’ve paid so much to repair them over the last year, we could have already bought three new machines,” he said, noting that other pieces of the city’s fleet also need to be upgraded. “Now the mayor has put me out of Public Works where we did great things. We used to get a lot of complaints from the public. Now we don’t. In fact, we were supposed to be honored by OSHA as the most improved department in the state. We also got back the respect of the people.”
Now that Wiley is in a new job, he said he has already started to deal with issues such as graffiti in the parks.
“I’ve been walking around talking to the police about how to deal with these things,” he said. “I’ve been talking to the people. I’ve always admired that aspect of Brian Stack [Union City mayor] because he never lost touch with the people. If you call him, he returns your call within 24 to 36 hours.”
This is a philosophy Wiley said he will embrace, and is already out handing out cards so that they can call him. He is also spending a lot of time in city hall.
Believes he’s more in touch
Wiley would not go deeply into the subject of pending charges against Mayor Roque.
“He’s made his bed,” Wiley said. “I’m just glad I had no part in any of that. I think it is wrong to intimidate people.
While Wiley and Roque were elected by a popular uprising from the people of West New York, Wiley feels the Roque administration has not reciprocated, often not helping the people who need it most in the city, whether it is being around to answer questions in City Hall or assisting people in dire need.
“You can’t show up at city hall one day a week, stand in front of the cameras and then go home; you have to be there to greet people, which is what I’ll do as mayor,” Wiley said.
He said the poorest of the city need additional help, and while churches are doing their best with their food pantries, the city can help them do more.
In deciding to run for mayor, Wiley said he is building an organization and hopes to raise the quarter million dollars he estimates his campaign will need.
“I don’t know if this will be a recall or not,” he said. “At some point, the mayor is going to have to step down and the people will need a new leader.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.