West New York’s most recent Board of Commissioners meeting, which got off to a calm start, was derailed by a litany of accusations and personal attacks the mayor and all four commissioners launched at each other. The meeting was the last before the May 14 election.
Mayor Felix Roque, Commissioner Gabriel Rodriguez, and Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo appended add-on resolutions to the agenda, some of which blindsided residents and commissioners alike.
Cordial, but spring-loaded
Cirillo kicked things off with a familiar add-on resolution to establish a municipal ID program. Advocates for undocumented immigrants have been pushing for the initiative in Hudson County since 2017.
This resolution was added on by Roque at the March meeting, but he got backlash over whether the policy was crafted in a way that protected undocumented residents from being identified by federal authorities.
The resolution was passed unanimously.
“I just wanted to say, Cosmo, today I’m happy with you,” Roque said, prompting applause. “I love you, man.”
Rodriguez said that the policy, when Roque introduced it, had no “thought process” behind it, which sparked more argument.
Cirillo introduced a resolution calling on the state assembly to pass bill A-4743, which would establish a second classification of New Jersey driver’s licenses available to undocumented immigrants.
The third resolution Cirillo added on would reinforce a town ordinance which prohibits posting political signs on public property, in the wake of an incident which led to the suspension of DPW employee Angel Alfonso. That, too, was passed unanimously.
The tipping point
Rodriguez, catching the public by surprise, introduced an add-on resolution to dissolve the Parking Authority.
The resolution was voted down, despite Rodriguez, Cirillo, and Commissioner Margarita Guzman voting in its favor, because it needed at least a two-thirds majority to pass.
Roque accused his opponents of having ulterior motives.
“So, by dissolving the Parking Authority, what are we gaining out of this?” Roque asked his opponents. “Are we doing this to hand out much-needed space in parking lots to developers so they have air space to build in our town?”
Rodriguez and Cirillo rebutted Roque’s claims, citing a 2017 study, approved by the commissioners, which determined that taxpayers could save $400,000 per year if the Parking Authority was taken over by the town, rather than being operated by an independent contractor as it is currently.
Cirillo, who called Roque’s claims “ridiculous,” said that the money the town would save could be used to convert current parking lots to multi-level parking garages.
Roque questioned Cirillo’s math. “A parking deck doesn’t cost $400,000. I don’t know where you’re getting those numbers from.”
“If we want to save money, we don’t need engineers [Remington and Vernick] billing over $650,000,” Roque said, referring to an annual contract with the company.
“Let’s try again in June,” Roque said, prematurely celebrating an election win after the resolution was defeated.
Cameras back on the table
Roque then stirred up a months-old debate, adding on a resolution to allocate $500,000 toward installing security cameras throughout the town.
The resolution was identical to his prior add-on, despite debate over whether officials could legally vote to spend that sum, prior to receiving bids.
“The fact that Cosmo Cirillo, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Margarita Guzman are in such a good mood today,” Roque said. ” … Let’s see what they do, here we go.”
Unsurprisingly, Roque’s opponents voted down the resolution, citing the same concerns.
Town Attorney Michael Jimenez said that the resolution authorizes a purchase which cannot be implemented before a standard bidding process is in place.
“There are public bidding laws required to go along with this,” Cirillo said. “In order to spend half a million, I would recommend we go out to bid on a project. As mayor of this town for eight years now, you should be educated enough to know how public bidding laws work.”
Roque went on the offensive.
“I asked the town attorney to modify this resolution so we can go out to bid,” Roque said. “Time is of the essence. Your time is running out. If you don’t care about the safety of our town, you’ve got a problem.”
Roque rails against media contracts
Roque introduced another add-on resolution, which would prohibit vendors from receiving contracts for both town business and political campaigning at the same time. He called out Vision Media, a Secaucus-based communications firm, which is working for both the town of West New York and the campaign of Roque’s opponents.
“They can’t do both, that’s illegal.” Roque said. “Well, it might not be illegal, but it’s very unethical.”
Rodriguez accused Roque of hiring someone to work on the sign in front of town hall, while that vendor also worked on behalf of Roque’s campaign.
The resolution, which was tabled for further discussion, did not reach a vote.
Torches and pitchforks
After a consent agenda was voted on, dozens of residents lined up with a variety of accusations against officials, turning up the heat.
Dennis DeSocio, who was appointed to the Parking Authority earlier that night, attacked the mayor.
“I’ve always been proud to say I’m from West New York, and I’m a teacher at West New York, but not anymore because of the corruption in this town with the nominations the mayor has nominated!” DeSocio yelled over a roaring crowd. “Hector, can you bring that sign in, please?”
DeSocio held up a chart, which alleged that the mayor had a number of connections to public officials with controversial pasts, including Manny Diaz, Ruben Vargas, and Rene Abreu. DeSocio also charged that the mayor was connected to Joe Ferriero, a disgraced former Bergen County Democratic Chairman.
Roque took it all in stride, thanking DeSocio for his time.
Rough and tumble
John Bender, a North Bergen committeeman, passed around Union City Police reports of a domestic dispute which the mayor was accused of being involved in, and questioned whether the accusations in the report were true.
Henry Marrero, a DPW laborer with heavy involvement in Roque’s campaign, shouted at the mayor’s accuser, “Don’t you have three domestic violence charges against you, pal?”
“Prove it. Prove it pal. Prove it, you’ve got no balls, Henry! Prove it!” Bender said. When Roque suggested the two take it outside, Ricky Solares, a Board of Education trustee, accused the mayor of trying to incite a riot. When Commissioner Colacurcio asked Bender to refrain from the language, Bender insisted that he said “galls,” not “balls.”
Referring to Marrero, Bender said, “He knows where I live,” and then walked out.
‘You’re a parasite, man’
Cirillo came under fire from another resident for holding elected office while working a full-time job as a town administrator in Guttenberg.
“Everyone here has a full time job,” Cirillo said. “You can’t come up here and single me out. I give all that I have to be here for this community, and people will decide whether they want to keep me on here.”
Roque brought Rodriguez into the discussion.
“They’re saying I’m never around,” Roque said. “I’m a businessman. I’m a doctor. I work for a living. How much do you make, Commissioner Rodriguez? You’ve never worked in your life. You’re a parasite, man!”
Paying for retaliation
Resident Kevin Livermore listed a series of political retaliation settlements from Roque’s 2011 term, $1.2 million of which the current board voted unanimously to pay with tax dollars. Livermore asked Roque if he’d promise the public that fewer retaliation suits would take place if he wins a third term.
“Can you say right now in front of of the commissioners, the cameras, and other town employees, are you willing to say there will be no more, or at least less, political retaliation if you win?” Livermore asked.
“I don’t want to comment on anything, thank you,” Roque responded.