The Hudson County Board of Freeholders was a regular love-fest at its first meeting of the year. On Thursday, Jan. 3, they voted to name Hoboken Freeholder Anthony Romano as the new chairman, West New York Freeholder Jose Munoz as vice chair, and North Bergen/Secaucus Freeholder Thomas Liggio as pro tempore.
The freeholder board votes on the county budget (which affects county taxes), as well as policy related to county institutions such as the county jail.
Although it’s not set in stone, the nine freeholders have over the last few years rotated leadership yearly.
This year’s elections were uncontested and full of high hopes for the upcoming year, even though some alluded to past differences of issues.
“First I want to thank God that a boy from 10th and Willow in Hoboken and schooled in Jersey City rose to such a distinguished position,” Romano said after being sworn in as chairman.
Romano paid tribute to outgoing chairman Jersey City Freeholder Eliu Rivera, who not only had to deal with sometimes cantankerous conflicts between freeholders, but also issues of ill health. For a time he was he had been hospitalized and was frequently forced to carry an oxygen tank to meetings.
“I want to thank my predecessor Eliu Rivera,” Romano said. “A lot of people don’t like the adversity he went through to make sure he attended all the functions as a chair, which he did in a fantastic way. The man has a heart of gold and I think we owe him a debt for his leadership.”
“My old uncle used to say about a chair, that a chair is only as good as the legs its stands on.” – Freeholder chairman Anthony Romano
Paying tribute to his fellow freeholders with nicknames such as “the four wise men,” “the poet laureate and watchdog,” “my running mates,” and “my sister Doreen,” Romano said he hoped 2013 would evoke a spirit of cooperation on the board.
“My old uncle used to say about a chair, that a chair is only as good as the legs its stands on,” Romano said. “I think we do need to remember that we need to function as a team.”
The swearing-in ceremony was conducted in a room filled with elected officials throughout the county, including Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, with whom Romano worked closely during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy; Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith; Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell; Anthony Vainieri Jr., who was representing State Senator Nicholas Sacco; Assemblywoman Angelica M. Jimenez; and numerous other county and local officials.
“We look forward to working with everyone in the county. We know we work in conjunction with our mayors and state officials, and federal officials,” Romano said. “We have obviously seen with all the tension that’s going on in Washington that there is a need and what people want is for public officials to work together. This county has great directors and workers from top to the bottom. We appreciate all of them.”
He said the theme he hopes to follow this year is working with everyone, despite political differences.
“We look forward to working with everyone. Every city is important. We have to do what’s right for the people of this county,” he said. “We have to get things done.”
Munoz won’t take his role lightly
Freeholder Munoz, who is often outspoken at freeholder meetings, quoted poet John Dunne and President John F. Kennedy as he gratefully accepted the post of vice chairman of the freeholders, and also honored outgoing chairman Rivera – despite sometimes cankerous confrontations over the last year.
He called it a great honor to be appointed vice chair, and an appointment that he does not take lightly.
Quoting Dunne, he said, no man is an island, that what he does is with the support of his constituents and the cooperation of his colleagues.
“2012 was a very difficult year for all of us,” Munoz said, “with a storm that left destruction in its wake, and an economic crisis that left many people fearful of their future.”
He said recognizing these and other issues, he felt he has made the right decisions that reflected the needs of the people in his district. “We have a balanced budget. We cut spending to make government more efficient, but we still have more to accomplish, and more challenges to overcome.”
He challenged the freeholders to do better than the board has done in the past.
“I ask that we respect the differences in each other,” he said. “But this board cannot accomplish what needs to be accomplished alone. We rely on our employees and individual citizens.”
Liggio hopes to serve as elder statesman
Liggio said this was his second time appointed to the position as pro tempore
“The first time I had the position, I was fairly new on the board but now, coming back to this position, I see myself in two roles,” he said. “The first role is to fill in with the absence of the chair and the vice chair, which is very rare. And my second role is, being one elder statesman on the board now, to give advice and counsel to the chair and vice chair if they should need it.”
Rivera rose to the task in 2012
Outgoing chairman Rivera said it had been a tough year, but that he believes the freeholders did good things during his tenure as chairman.
“Although we had our ups and downs in 2012, we know that with the help of God, 2013 will be a better year for all of us,” he said. “I want to thank my entire community to supporting me I did the job as best as I could, but this did not happened without that support.”
Freeholder Bill O’Dea predicted that budget issues are going to be more difficult in the upcoming year as well as other issues, in light of Hurricane Sandy, and how to better prepare the county for the future.
“Even when we disagree, we have proven that as a board over the last seven years we have been able to come to a consensus through debate and discussion and help shape very good changes in policy that have affected the direction of the county in a positive way,” O’Dea said.
Union City Freeholder Tilo Rivas also said 2012 was a tough year but celebrated Rivera. “He did great job as chairman,” he said.
Jersey City Freeholder Jeff Dublin said Rivera had a lot of obstacles over the course of year, but served as an inspiration for Dublin.
“He is a fighter and a tough guy,” said Dublin, who was also reappointed the county’s representative to the New Jersey Association of County to which he is expected to be as president this year. Bayonne Freeholder Doreen DiDomenico was named alternative member.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.