West New York’s 2019 mayoral race heats up

Mayor Roque's opponents try to steal his fire

On a Tuesday afternoon, two slates in the upcoming May election converged on town hall, in a clear sign that campaign season is heating up.

The two slates, both including factions of now-sitting officials attempting to oust one another, kicked off their campaigns on Feb. 5, in what’s sure to be an electoral slog.

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West New York Mayor Felix Roque will run on the “Continue the Progress” ticket.

Minutes after Roque’s announcement, the “New Beginnings” slate, which includes currently-sitting commissioners Gabriel Rodriguez, Cosmo Cirillo, and Margarita Guzman, handed in 5,000 petitions to overwhelmingly secure a place on the ballot. They announced their own press conference shortly after Roque’s. But the rival slates did not run into one another.

“Continue the Progress” slate

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, Roque announced his official slate on the “Continue the Progress” ticket.

At a press conference in his office that afternoon, Roque was accompanied by sitting commissioner Susan Colacurio, Maite Fernandez, Richie Acosta, and Ana Luna, who are all running on Roque’s ticket.

Commissioner Colacurcio is currently the Department of Public Works (DPW) Commissioner and has been a teacher in the town’s school district for 43 years. She served as the Department of Revenue and Finance Commissioner for three years until she switched to DPW in mid-2018.

“I’m very happy to be the commissioner of the Department of Public Works,” Colacurcio said. “It’s an area of our town that’s been neglected over the years, and finally, we’re bringing dignity to our streets.” Mayoral candidate Gabriel Rodriguez, Roque’s rival, served as the DPW Commissioner before Colacurcio.

Maite Fernandez, currently a Board of Education Trustee, touted her involvement with the town’s recreational programs; and Ana Luna serves as the Secretary of the Rent Control Board. Richie Acosta hasn’t held any government positions but did run unsuccessfully in the most recent Board of Education election.

All together now

Asked if he had difficulty putting together his slate, Roque said, “It wasn’t difficult at all. I knew these people, these were my friends. The first thing I said to myself was ‘I’ve got to find somebody who’s always been there to cater to the community.’”

West New York’s tax rates have increased only 0.1 percent over the past three years, and infrastructure and roadwork projects have been underway during the current administration. Hence the slogan “Continue the Progress.”

Rep. Albio Sires, who has publicly vowed to oust Roque, is backing Roque’s opponents.

“I have the utmost respect for the Congressman, and if he wants to go against me, I’m okay with that, I always welcome a challenge,” Roque said, citing the challenges he faced as an Army Colonel and a surgeon specializing in pain management. “I love competing, but let’s compete the right way. This isn’t about fighting, insults, and trying to degrade each other, because at the end of the day, I don’t lose, the taxpayers lose.”

Roque, who also serves as the commissioner of public safety, said the first initiative he hopes to tackle come May is a rearrangement of some town buildings. He aims to build a new public library in a building the township purchased from the Board of Education, and turn the current library into a new police headquarters.

“New Beginnings” secures ballot spot

Minutes after Roque concluded his press conference, the “New Beginnings West New York” slate arrived to deliver a batch of 5,000 petitions, well over the number needed to secure a place on the 2019 ballot.

The slate includes Gabriel Rodriguez, Cosmo Cirillo, and Margarita Guzman. Joining them are first-timers Yoleisy Yanez and Victor Barrera.

Yanez supervises special education at the West New York Board of Education, and Barrera is a former coordinator of senior citizen affairs for the town of West New York; he owns an adult daycare facility in town.

Asked about the petition drop-off being so close to Roque’s announcement, Rodriguez said, “I heard he was in the building, which is very rare, as we all know. He’s hardly in the building … I heard he was here, good for him.”

“Our goal is to be available to this community … The Mayor is not available.” — Gabriel Rodriguez

Present and accounted for

The three commissioners on the “New Beginnings” slate publicly broke from Roque in mid-2018. Gabriel Rodriguez aims to take over as mayor if his team wins the election.

“Our goal is to be available to this community,” Rodriguez said. “People want to be comfortable in this town, knowing that when they call us there will be someone there to receive that call and help them. We need to take that to the next level and have that in the mayor’s office, which is something we don’t see right now. The Mayor is not available.”

The “New Beginnings” team garnered those 5,000 petitions two weeks after they kicked off their campaign, at a press rally attended by local and county officials, including Rep. Sires.

“It’s a testament to how great the community is that’s backing this team,” Commissioner Cirillo said. “We have real public servants here, you can see it in the fact that in just over two weeks 5,000 petitions were submitted.”

“We’ve tried time and time again to work with this mayor,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not a matter of us not working with him, he wouldn’t work with us.”

The winners of West New York’s municipal election will be determined on May 14.

For updates on this and other stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.

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