Now Mayor Vega has added the title of Assemblyman of the 33rd District to his already distinguished career, after being sworn in this past Monday at the State House Gallery surrounded by more than 200 of his supporters.
Vega will be working alongside Assemblyman Brian Stack, also Mayor of Union City, in the state legislature for the constituents of the 33rd District, which encompasses West New York, Guttenberg, Union City, Hoboken, and part of Jersey City.
"I look forward to working very closely with Mayor and Assemblyman Sal Vega," said Stack, who attended the ceremony in Trenton. "Mr. Vega is a fine elected official whom I am proud to know for many years and have had the pleasure of working with him on the Board of Freeholders, as well as a commissioner from neighboring West New York. I feel very positive about his future as a local mayor and a legislator, and wish him much success in his endeavors as a public servant."
Sworn-in amid picketers
While there was much celebration going on within the State House Gallery in Vega's honor, there were over 7,000 public employee union members picketing against the loss of benefits outside the State House.
During his acceptance speech, Vega applauded the efforts of the individuals outside. He told listeners that his own father had been jailed for three years for doing the same thing, while fighting against injustice and tyranny in Cuba.
Vega and his family fled Cuba for the United States in 1967.
"The freedom we see displayed outside today was not allowed in my homeland," said Vega, "and it's what makes this country great and why I am both honored and humbled to serve in this body."
Vega was sworn into office by New Jersey Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts of Camden, and was joined by his mother Marta Vega and friend Dr. Mercedes Rudelli.
Vega, who is filling in the unexpired term of former Assemblyman Albio Sires (elected to Congress last month), also took the time to thank his supporter and mentors that had traveled with him to Trenton including: Sires, who was also former Assembly Speaker, former Speaker Chris Jackman, and State Senator Bernard Kenny Jr.
Protecting school money
Among his main priorities in the state legislature will be protecting funding for education, which he said, "will be vigilant in protecting against property tax reform proposals resulting in taking monies away from school districts."
Just last October the Joint Legislative Committee on Public Schools Funding Reform held a public forum on the proposed legislation, which would have effected special education funding for disabled children who have to go to private schools or outside districts.
The proposal was made by New Jersey lawmakers in an effort to cut property taxes and is still pending approval, but there will be scheduled public hearings in the coming months.
"The legislature will have to be careful and precise about approaching reform," said Vega, "because some of the proposals that have been floated could end up in severe jolts to educational systems such as the mass retirements of hundreds of school superintendents."
As a matter of fact, just prior to the session in caucus, the Hudson legislative delegation, spurred on by State Senator Nick Sacco, joined with Essex legislators to remove an assembly bill off the agenda, which would move school board elections from April to November, and create what would be considered as "super" county superintendents, which would have veto power over the budgets in the municipalities in their respective counties. The bill was another effort to control cost and get property tax reform.
However, the action resulted in a conference call with Gov. Jon Corzine, who agreed to allow modifications in the Senate version of the bill, which will then be returned to the Assembly for approval.
Vega, who was sworn in as Mayor of West New York last month, has been Commissioner of Parks and Recreation since 1999, as well as a school administrator for the West New York Board of Education. He has also been chairman of the Hudson Board of Freeholders since 1999, which he first joined in 1996.
"I am living the American dream, and my dream started and will continue in a place called West New York," said Vega, last month. "My education and my guidance from so many people, and the fact that I have been able to compete in life, have been grounded in West New York."
Vega immigrated to the United States in 1967 from Cárdenas, Cuba with his family when he was 10-years old and grew up in West New York. He graduated from Memorial High School where he was a track star and then earned a bachelor's degree in Physical Education from the University of Tennessee. Vega returned to West New York to be Memorial's athletic director in 1987.
He was first elected West New York Director of Revenue and Finance from 1991 to'95 beginning under the late Mayor Anthony DeFino, and later under Mayor Albio Sires.
In 1999, Vega became the commissioner of Parks and Recreation, as well as the Director of Public Safety. He also served on the West New York Boards of Adjustment and Rent Control.
Vega served as a Legislative Aide to State Senator Bernard Kenny, Jr., and also served as a Trustee of the Hudson County Schools of Technology, who honored him with an Appreciation Award in 1995.