Ever since West New York Mayor Dr. Felix Roque and his son Joseph’s May 24 arrest and arraignment for allegedly hacking into the website of his political opponents, local opinions of the mayor have varied widely, and political alliances have been forged and broken.
The pair could each face up to 11 years in prison and $600,000 in fines if convicted on several counts related to computer hacking. The FBI’s criminal complaint stated that Roque and his son allegedly obtained information about the persons behind a “Recall Roque” website, and that Mayor Roque allegedly contacted those people and made statements to intimidate them, including claiming he had a friend in the CIA.
The Roques were set to attend a preliminary hearing scheduled for June 4 in U.S. District Court in Newark, but it had been rescheduled for Friday, June 8. The results were not available by press time.
“I’m innocent until proven guilty and I’m very happy with the judicial system.” – Felix Roque
Mayor Roque was elected in May of 2011 in a surprise victory over Mayor and former Assemblyman Sal Vega. Once in office, Roque began tracking down and cleaning up alleged corruption in Town Hall, so it shocked many that the doctor and military veteran himself was arrested by the FBI.
“Roque...amigo, el pueblo está contigo” (“Roque, our friend, your people are with you”) was the constant chant and the words written on the T-shirts worn by the nearly 100 residents who stood outside of West New York Town Hall during a candlelight vigil on June 1. Roque was no stranger to vocal supporters, as he first came to public attention by leading a group of residents who wanted to recall Vega nearly two years ago after a tax increase.
At the vigil a week ago Friday, the mayor addressed the public for the first time. Deputy Mayor Silvio Acosta, Commissioners Fior D’Aliza Frias and Ruben Vargas, and several town workers also attended the vigil.
“I am an honest man,” Roque said in Spanish, perched above the crowd on the top of the Town Hall steps. “Never during this illegal infraction have I broken the law, and I will always work for my people.”
Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez, a former assemblywoman, and Commissioner Count Wiley were not in attendance. Sources have said that certain local politicians would like one of those two to replace Roque if he is recalled or required to resign.
Roque’s two sisters, Hilda (also a doctor) and Ida, stood by in support.
“We are keeping strong as a family and we’re also trying to help the community,” Hilda Roque said after her brother’s speech. “The truth will come out. I think this will make him stronger, and I think this is an avenue for him to show the people that he’s here to help them.”
“Justice will prevail,” Ida Roque said. “We’re living in a democracy. It’s an obstacle, but it will demonstrate his strength as a leader.”
“It is this country that gave me my opportunity,” the mayor continued in Spanish as his son stood behind him, “Not only to be a doctor, but to be in the military, and I tell you that for 38 years I’ve served this country as a colonel. I made a promise, and my promise is to you: I’ve heard what you’ve said, you’ve put me in this position, I will serve you, and I am going to stay here.”
The 13th annual Hudson County Cuban Day Parade and its near 200 participants marched through North Bergen, West New York, and Union City along Bergenline Avenue on June 3 in celebration of the country’s heritage. Everything went smoothly, said parade organizer Emilio Del Valle, until Roque allegedly broke the rules.
The parade began at 79th Street, which is where all prospective participants are supposed to gather, Del Valle said Tuesday. He quoted from the parade rules and regulations handbook which read, “No person, vehicles, floats, or contingents that arrive late will be permitted to join the event.”
While Roque and approximately 100 West New York residents gathered on time, they gathered on 67th Street and Bergenline Avenue and marched in front of the parade.
Roque told the Reporter on Tuesday that when he approached Del Valle the day of the parade with the intent to march through his town with gathered residents, at first he was informed that he would not be able to march at all. Then, Roque said, Del Valle told him he’d have to march at the back of the parade.
“The Cuban community has been humiliated by dictatorship many years, and we came to the land of the free that allows us to march and express our beliefs,” Roque said. “We won’t take that from another dictator. [Del Valle] needs to get his ideals back in line.”
Del Valle said he felt that Roque’s insistence on joining the parade at 67th Street was disrespectful to the parade, the community, and to Cuban Americans.
“[Roque] thinks that he is above the law at all times,” Del Valle said. “He’s been charged with a crime and hasn’t been proven guilty yet, but he can’t just do whatever he feels like doing, and he cannot use this parade for political reasons.”
De Valle added that Roque’s act was worse than when then-mayor Sal Vega attempted to deny the Cuban Parade a permit in West New York and to prohibit residents from marching in the line in 2007. “[Roque] complains he left Cuba because of Castro’s dictatorship, and now he’s starting to imitate it,” he said.
“I like Emilio and I think he’s a good guy, but I don’t agree with his actions,” Roque said. “I’m innocent until proven guilty and I’m very happy with the judicial system, because if I was in Cuba I would have been shot and dead already.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org