Department of Public Works employee Angel Alfonso has accused his supervisor, Silvio Acosta, of penalizing him after he removed Mayor Felix Roque’s campaign posters from public property.
Alfonso, 79, who has worked for the DPW for 15 years, said that removing any kind of poster from public property is part of his duties.
At an April 10 press conference, Alfonso said that as a result of carrying out a 20-year-old town ordinance, which prohibits placing posters of any kind on public property, he was demoted from a supervisory position and suspended by his superiors. He said it was an act of political retaliation.
A few hours later, Roque dismissed Alfonso’s accusations, saying that Alfonso was suspended after refusing to operate a street-sweeping device. Roque maintained that Alfonso was never demoted, and that his title had consistently been ‘Laborer 1’ since Roque had first entered office.
Alfonso, who was accompanied at the podium by Commissioner Gabriel Rodriguez who was acting as his translator, recounted the events.
Alfonso said that he tore down a number of “Forward with Roque” posters that were taped to high posts on Palisade Avenue, something he does as part of his job. He said that he removed the signs on his way to work.
“When I reported to work, my director, Silvio Acosta, told me that he saw a picture of me taking down signs,” Alfonso said. “Commissioner Susan Colacurcio wanted me to step down from my position as supervisor, and operate a street-sweeping device instead, which I didn’t know how to drive and have never been trained to use. I was shown a letter that indicated I would be suspended for five days, by [Department of Public Works] Commissioner Colacurcio.”
Rodriguez said that Alfonso had also taken down a number of Rodriguez’s campaign posters that had been illegally placed, as well. Rodriguez is running for mayor against Roque.
“He’s also taken down our ‘New Beginnings’ signs when they were put up illegally on public property, as well,” Rodriguez said. “He was told that he was suspended because he never received a direct order to take Roque’s signs down. I wonder if the mayor would have acted the same if his signs weren’t removed.”
Alfonso likened the ‘abuse of power’ to that which he experienced during his time as a political prisoner in Cuba. He came to the United States in 1979, after he received a 20-year prison sentence in 1959 for joining the revolt against Fidel Castro’s regime.
Since the suspension, Alfonso has continued to clock in at the DPW on the advice of a union representative. He said that he is not sure if the suspension will have an impact on his pay, but he is currently filing a grievance against his superiors.
Roque tells it differently
Roque, in refuting Alonso’s allegations, sent The Hudson Reporter photos that he claimed depicted Alfonso tearing down his campaign posters, which were placed on private property. Roque also sent an image of a police report which alleges that Francisco Torres, Roque’s campaign manager, called to report a theft at 6100 Washington St.
The report alleged that Torres spoke with responding officers and accused Alfonso of illegally removing a poster from the side of a private building.
Roque said that Alfonso was not suspended for removing posters, but for refusing to operate a street sweeping device.
“Mr. Alfonso has operated the ‘Green Machine’ for years,” Roque said. “The director of the DPW directed Mr. Alfonso to operate this piece of equipment on April 10, and he refused to do so, making him insubordinate. It must be emphasized that operating the Green Machine is part of the duties and responsibilities of Mr. Alfonso’s civil service classification of Laborer 1. Our employees do not choose what their work assignments are.”
Alfonso told reporters that he refused to operate the street sweeper due to a medical condition that prevented him from operating heavy machinery.
Roque was adamant that Alfonso had never received a demotion from his current title, Laborer 1, for as long as he’d been mayor.
“Angel Alfonso holds the civil service title of Laborer 1,” Roque said. “Furthermore, at no time during my tenure as mayor did Mr. Alfonso get demoted.”
Spokespersons for the Rodriguez’s “New Beginnings” slate did not clarify the nature of Alfonso’s alleged demotion when asked via email.
Labor union stands by Alfonso
At a raucous board of commissioners’ meeting on April 15, Jenelle Blackmon, a Communications Workers of America union leader who represents town workers in West New York, stood by Alfonso, saying that he was retaliated against for political purposes.
Roque, meanwhile, continued to maintain that Alfonso was suspended for refusing to operate a street sweeper.
Alfonso reiterated accusations similar to those he’d made a week earlier.
“Since when does West New York issue a Mercedes Benz to pick up posters?” Roque asked “I have you on video. Why do I have you on your day off taking down posters? He went to private properties. I have pictures.”
The public comments portion of the meeting touched off a shouting match among members of the public in the packed town hall, before Alfonso’s allotted five minutes had run out.
For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com, or follow us on Twitter @hudsonreporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.