In a development likely to send shock waves through Hudson County politics, West New York Mayor Dr. Felix Roque, a political maverick who in his short tenure has had conflicts with Democratic party leaders on a number of fronts, has told the West New York Reporter he is seriously considering running for state senator in 2013 against Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-32), perhaps the most powerful Democratic politician in New Jersey’s most populous county.
Sacco, mayor of North Bergen and named Number 1 on the Reporter’s list of most influential people in the county in January, is a major Democratic Party power broker, a man whose endorsement is much-coveted by those seeking political office, and whose displeasure is feared.
Roque appears to be pondering whether to challenge Sacco in next year’s Democratic primary.
“I’ve never done anything to please any politician,” Roque said Thursday. “My goal has been to be an honest Hudson County Democrat, but more importantly, an honest West New York Democrat.”
"This is what makes America a wonderful democracy,” Sacco’s spokesman Philip Swibinski said. “Everyone is free to run for office if they like. Senator Sacco is focused on fighting for positive legislative solutions that help people and isn't concerned about an election more than a year away."
Roque’s announcement follows a flurry of media reports that ran two weeks ago alleging that his medical practice, home, and West New York Town Hall were raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of an alleged probe into insurance fraud, reports which Roque says were motivated by a Hudson County political machine that is out to ruin him for being a political maverick.
In an exclusive interview, Roque told the Reporter on March 23 that although he did receive a visit from the F.B.I., none of the published allegations were true.
Sources close to the mayor have since revealed a bit more about the nature of the investigation. They claim the F.B.I. is allegedly looking into the possibility that Roque – more specifically, one of his two sons, who has not yet been named – may have disabled and/or hacked into a website labeled recallroque.com created by supporters of former Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega, who Roque defeated.
They also claimed that Roque’s son’s computer was confiscated.
Off the A-list
Roque’s announcement is the latest in a series of conflicts between the mayor and the Hudson County Democratic Organization and the network of attorneys, developers and public relations professionals who depend on the HCDO for lucrative contracts.
According to Politicker.com, on Tuesday HCDO Chairman Mark Smith rejected a list of names Roque submitted for his town’s committee candidates while Sacco’s recommendations for West New York are slated for the “A-list.”
“I’ve caused a lot of friction in the north,” Roque said in another exclusive interview on Thursday. “In my opinion he’s my senator and I grant him my respect, but lately he’s been trying to take over my town.”
Because of this, Roque added, his once-rejected idea of running against Sacco in the 2013 Democratic primary for state senator has become a distinct possibility.
“I will not rule out running against Sacco in 2013, especially after the low blow he gave to myself and the people of West New York,” Roque said. “Think George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm.’ We need a senator who will take care of everybody, not a Napoleon.”
Roque mentioned state Sen. Brian Stack (D-33), a long time rival of Sacco’s, as an example he’d be pleased to follow.
“I will not rule out running against Sacco in 2013.” – Felix Roque
Roque said he said he was not allowed to discuss the specifics of the F.B.I. investigation. “They did not come to my office, they did not confiscate my computer, and they did not speak to my employees,” Roque said. “I said to the authorities, ‘I bet you a cup of coffee that one hour after this meeting this will be all over the news.’”
There was also no subpoena, he added.
“I have the ultimate respect for law enforcement,” Roque said. “They will not need a subpoena, because I believe in transparency and integrity, and I am here for one purpose: to serve the people of West New York.”
The Reporter stated March 22 on its website, www.hudsonreporter.com, that sources close to the Vega campaign confirmed they turned over information to federal authorities which Vega’s campaign had gathered in an alleged effort to discredit Roque.
Other sources said the alleged release of the information to the feds was in retaliation for Roque’s endorsement of Republican State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-13th) who will likely be the Republican challenger for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Senator Robert Menendez, who had had backed Vega’s unsuccessful reelection effort.
On Wednesday, Media Coordinator Special Agent Bryan Travers of the Newark branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigations said he could not comment on the matter at all, and declined to confirm or deny there was an investigation in West New York on March 22. The FBI routinely refuses comment on alleged ongoing investigations.
Payback for his independence
“This is a very corrupted political machine,” Roque said in response, “and I believe that ‘El Padrino’ (The Godfather) is behind it.” He declined to specify who he meant, but continued, “The political machine is trying to take me out because I’m not their team player. The fact that I endorsed a good friend with good morals and ethics [Kyrillos] rocked the political vote.”
He went on to say he has terminated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of preexisting construction and legal contracts with the likes of Paul Swibinski, Harold Demellier, Daniel Ortega, and North Bergen Council Herb Klitzner. Roque believes these actions may be the underlying incentive for the attempt to incite the investigation.
“I have irritated many contractors and many attorneys,” Roque said. “And now, what is West New York receiving from the county? Nada.” He went on to say that his both his recommendations for West New York residents for county jobs and West New York students’ admission into High Tech High School have all been turned down.
(For more details on the Vega campaign’s efforts and on the canceled contracts, read Al Sullivan’s “Between the Lines” column in this week’s Reporter newspapers)
“I’ve learned to live in the fox hole,” Roque said. “If they want to try and take me on, bring it on. I’m ready. I will always do what’s right for the town. I have nothing to hide.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.