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‘Not me, us’

Kevin Hernandez is running for Freeholder of Union City

A foster-home kid himself, Kevin Hernandez wants to fight for children.

The June primary will proceed in New Jersey via vote-by-mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic, after Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order mandating the changes.

In Hudson County, the only major election this cycle is the Board of Freeholders. The current freeholders face primary elections on July 7, when many may face credible challengers. Prior to the move, the primary was slated for June 2.

A local Union City man is running for Freeholder against incumbent Fanny Cedeno, who has been endorsed by the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO).

Kevin Hernandez grew up in Union City and has lived there all his life. He is one of the progressives running on a ticket organized in part by Union City attorney Hector Oseguera, a specialist in anti-money laundering. The ticket includes candidates challenging every incumbent freeholder in the county.

On the federal level, Oseguera will challenge Rep. Albio Sires, who has been in Congress since 2005.

The progressives are on the ballot under Column A, running on the slogan “Not Me, Us.”

A platform for change

Hernandez is running on a platform that addresses what he considers to be Hudson County’s most urgent needs, including fixing infrastructure, implementing countywide renting control, vetoing ICE contracts, funding programs for vulnerable youth, creating a county emergency hotline, and helping subsidize bus fares for students.

Hernandez wants to make transportation infrastructure a priority, eliminating patronage contracts and other wasteful spending.

“The Board of Chosen Freeholders is responsible for our county roads, but these roads are the most dangerous and some of the most poorly-maintained roads in the area,” Hernandez said. “The status quo is clearly not getting us the results we need.”

Hernandez wants to be a strong voice for tenants at the county level by implementing countywide rent control.

“Gentrification plagues our entire county, not any one town in isolation,” Hernandez said. “Skyrocketing rents in Jersey City Heights and Hoboken, in turn, drive up our rents in Union City.”

Helping the vulnerable

Hernandez wants to spearhead grants to fund programs for vulnerable youth. As a foster care adolescent, his initiative is personal.

Hernandez recently met with a manager at a program that houses foster care children and found conditions disgraceful. He was appalled that no one had provided the foster home with cleaning supplies, masks, or gloves during the COVID-19 health crisis.

During the ongoing pandemic, Hernandez believes that public officials have a responsibility to invest in the well-being of the next generation.

He also wants to create a hotline in Hudson County for health emergencies and testing requests. The hotline will have more than seven workers available to take calls.

“During the COVID-19 crisis many North Hudson residents struggled to get an appointment for COVID-19 testing because there were not enough available representatives to take calls in the lone countywide testing facility in Secaucus,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez appreciates the North Hudson mayors for creating a joint North Hudson testing location, but he says it was the responsibility of the freeholders and county executive to provide a countywide solution. Their response was “woefully inadequate,” he said.

Last, Hernandez wants to subsidize bus fares for students taking NJ Transit buses. As a high school student, he often took the bus from various foster homes across the county and sometimes had to run to school when he couldn’t afford the fare.

“So many of our young people are juggling multiple responsibilities and worries,” Hernandez said. “Transit shouldn’t be one of them.”

Transparency is key

Hernandez told the Hudson Reporter that the primary difference between him and his opponent is budget mismanagement stemming from contracts that, if elected, he would vote against.

According to Hernandez, four out of the six freeholders voted in favor of $25 million contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE has been targeting undocumented immigrants in sweeps across the county.

Hernandez would veto the ICE Jail Contract that “has residents of Union City scared for their loved ones being deported.”

“I believe the only people who should be deported are violent criminal offenders,” he said.

Hernandez said the main message of his campaign is transparency, connecting with voters on a personal level.

Hernandez wants to stay in touch with constituents frequently once in office. He proposed a monthly town hall to connect with residents, something not often done by freeholders.

Hernandez wants to make local politics more open, and he has commended Union City Mayor Brian Stack for doing just that.

Hernandez aims to apply that on the county level. He’s not accepting money or donations from corporate Political Action Committees (PACs).

Campaigning during COVID-19

Hernandez said his campaign petitioned for signatures to be on the ballot for the primary for only a few days in person before Gov. Murphy issued his stay-at-home order and social-distancing measures.

But Hernandez said he and his campaign have adjusted to the new normal. More than 95 percent of his campaign was electronic, and it wasn’t easy, he said.

People don’t like to sign things electronically, Hernandez noted, making it more difficult for him to get the required number of signatures to be on the ballot.

Hernandez said that out of 300 people, 100 people would normally sign an in-person petition. Now, it has taken more than 700 calls to get 100 people to sign the petition electronically.

Nevertheless, he got the signatures needed.

Made in Union City

At age 14, Hernandez was placed in the foster care system, forcing him to learn self-reliance. He was raised by Dominican parents, but his origins are Mexican and Colombian.

He became highly engaged at Union City High School, working several summer jobs throughout Hudson County. Hernandez excelled in American Legion, Mock Trial, and Marine Corps JROTC.

Hernandez was scouted by a coach at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for running the 800 meters. Hernandez left West Point with a strong recommendation letter and transferred to Rutgers Newark in spring, 2018, where he is now pursuing a degree in criminal justice.

He works part time time in security at Allied Universal in Edgewater. He will also get his Juris Doctor from Rutgers Law School in Newark.

“I grew out of the foster care system and was fortunate enough to overcome social status barriers, from working at a very early age to advocating for myself my entire adolescent years,” Hernandez said. “Whether it was in high school, at the Military Academy, or at Rutgers, I always had to go after what I wanted with full motivation and ingenuity.”

“I’ve also had firsthand contact with our Hudson County Freeholders,” he continued. “In 2016, I attended a panel and asked a question, and none of the freeholders could even answer me. I want to run for office to give back to my community and make a positive difference in the lives of others, particularly vulnerable youth, and people who are in desperate need of help with COVID-19-related incidents.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.