Although many people have predicted the demise of West New York Mayor Felix Roque’s political career, he isn’t ready to give it up just yet.
Roque has been meeting with people in hopes of putting together a full ticket in order to fend off a challenge by a ticket allegedly backed by Rep. Albio Sires.
Roque has always something of a political rogue when it comes to political power brokers in Hudson County. Backed by Sires, state Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, and others in his original run for mayor in 2011, Roque has managed to alienate many of the traditional power brokers ever since.
Roque, during his first two terms, managed to survive two criminal trials. He was charged in 2012 for allegedly helping his son hack into the political website of a political opponent (for which he was found innocent and his son convicted of a misdemeanor). Later, he survived a state probe into his medical practice, one of the few who were found not guilty of accepting payments to steer patients to a particular medical testing facility.
In 2012, Roque angered U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez by allegedly endorsing Menendez’s GOP opponent, something he later took back. While Roque made peace with both Menendez and Sires by having the school board name two schools after them, the political elite ceased to completely trust him. Sires and state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco began to install their own people into the Roque ticket in the 2015 election. While Roque won reelection that year, he no longer controlled municipal government – the other four commissioners did.
Roque might have gone onto secure another reelection in 2019 as a figurehead. But earlier this year, he sided with Stack in a failed bid to unseat County Executive Tom DeGise and to take over the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO). While the politically powerful Stack was able to make peace, the much less powerful Roque is not so lucky. The big question until recently revolved around whether Sacco would lead the attack against him in next May’s municipal election, or Sires.
As it turns out, Sires appears to be leading the charge, since he maintains a significant degree of popularity from his tenure of West New York mayor a decade ago.
Roque, however, is not willing to concede defeat just yet and has been meeting with potential candidates for town commissioner – including some who have opposed him in the past.
Roque said he holds no grudges against those who oppose him politically, although it is unclear if he can rely on Stack to back his reelection as he has in the past.
“Brian is my friend. I have my business in Union City,” he said. “While I supported him to become the HCDO chair, I’m not upset that Amy DeGise won. I respect her and Tom DeGise, and I’m glad Brian mended fences with them.”
Roque said he has also tried to repair the damage done and hopes he has. But he acknowledges that his conflict with Sires may be irreparable.
“This is West New York, and Albio should not be the person who picks the next mayor,” Roque said, then referred to his growing up in Cuba under a Castro regime where party bosses, not voters, picked leaders.
“This has left me with a bad taste in my mouth,” Roque said. “I am upset, partly because he was once my friend, and has decided to disrespect me and the voters of West New York. Over the last eight years, I think I’ve done a good job as mayor. We have low crime, stable taxes, and we’ve paved the streets.”
Roque said he is talking to other candidates who hold a similar position about party bosses.
“I am running for reelection and I’ll announce my ticket in December,” he said
(Allegedly) buying votes in Hoboken
The recent charges of vote-buying in Hoboken only dredge up ghosts haunting the 2013 municipal election, when back-stabbing and campaign conspiracies appeared to be all the rage.
Then-Mayor Dawn Zimmer had already convinced voters to do away with runoff elections in the 2012 referendum. This raised serious questions about the sudden appearance of a third party – funded by developer Frank Raia (who also ran for council on the ticket) — that seemed to design to split the old Hoboken vote and ultimately allowed Zimmer and her candidates to win the 2013 mayor/council election despite having far less than 50 percent of the overall votes cast.
Zimmer defeated challengers Tim Occhipinti and Ruben Ramos. The vote count suggested that Ramos would have won had the third party not participated.
Some believe Raia ran the ticket as a favor to Zimmer in order to re-obtain his seat on the North Hudson Sewerage Authority – a deal that fell through later when some Zimmer council members appeared to betray him and vote for another candidate instead.
However, the current continuing investigation into an alleged vote-by-mail scheme appears to be focused more on the 2013 rent control referendum that failed than on any of the particular candidates.
Lizaida Camis was recently charged by federal officials with using the mails to “promote a voter bribery scheme,” apparently involved mail-in voting. Voters simply have to complete an application and submit it to county officials. She is charged with approaching at least three voters and allegedly offering to pay $50 for their votes.
While federal officials have yet to disclose which campaign she worked for, many believe she did so on behalf of Let the People Decide, a political action committee backed by real estate interests dedicated to doing away with rent control laws. The referendum was defeated by 122 votes, although real estate interests later filed suit to overturn the vote – a suit ultimately rejected by the courts.