WEST NEW YORK – Running against an established figure is never easy.
For Cosmo Cirillo, the challenge is even more complicated.
His opponent for mayor in the May 9 election is Albio Sires, who spent the last 16 years representing the town and most of Hudson County in the House.
Congressmen do not usually leave the halls of Washington to seek a return to local office, but that is precisely what Sires is doing.
Sires was mayor for about 10 years beginning in the mid-1990’s and also served in the state Assembly before moving to Congress. Old timers may recall that before his political career began, Sires was a high school basketball star on a team (Memorial) that won the Hudson County championship, a notable distinction in an area rich with hoop history.
Cirillo, 36, is about half his opponent’s age, and at the moment, serves on the town’s five-member board of commissioners. The current mayor, Gabe Rodriguez, won the job in 2019 with the support of Sires.
But then things got switched around, which is hardly unique for Hudson County Democrats.
Rodriguez is now running for the state Assembly in LD-33, clearing the way for Sires to run for mayor. The Assembly seat Rodriguez is destined to get is now held by Angelica Jimenez, who was – to be blunt – pushed aside by county Democratic leaders.
But she may not be through; Jimenez is running for commissioner on Cirillo’s ticket.
And to confuse things even more, let’s recall that Sires’ departure from Congress opened the House seat for Robert Menendez Jr., the son of the senator.
How – and if – all this shuffling means anything on the streets here is debatable.
But Cirillio said in an interview last week at a Hudson Avenue restaurant that when he goes door-to-door, voters wonder why Sires gave up his job in the House to run for mayor.
His opponent’s intentions notwithstanding, Cirillo says he’s certain of one thing:
“At some point, there comes a time when new leadership has to take over,” he said.
Cirillo noted that even while in Washington, Sires kept his hand in West New York politics, saying he “picked” the last three mayors.
The two before Rodriguez were Felix Roque and Sal Vega. Roque lost a reelection bid four years ago after he had a falling out with Sires.
Cirillo mentioned that Sires wants to bring back Richard Turner as administrator. Turner is a long-time mayor of neighboring Weehawken.
His obvious point is that a new direction is needed. Hence, the name of his team’s campaign – West New York Forward 2023.
Voters will elect five commissioners and the commissioners will then select the mayor. The reality is that both teams have said they will pick Cirillo or Sires as mayor, depending on who wins – or has a majority. It does not happen often, but it is possible for candidates on both tickets to win. Voters select individuals, not slates.
Cirillo has been involved in public life since he served on the local school board when he was only 20 years old. His full-time job is administrator of Guttenberg, a small town wedged between West New York and North Bergen.
Regarding the election, he said:
“My strategy is the same thing I’ve been doing for 20 years,” he said. That would be meeting the people.
Cirillo is proud of his work in town recreation, noting that, “I go to games, I go to practices, I travel with the teams.”
He said two things he is determined to do if elected is to have “walk-in office hours” in town hall and community meetings in different neighborhoods.
This, so far, has not been a nasty campaign and Cirillo did not make any ad hominem attacks against Sires.
Although he did say of his opponent, “I don’t believe he’s going to put in the same level of work and dedication” as I will.
There seems to be one major policy issue in this race and it has to do with a vacant piece of land, which is a rarity in these parts, on Broadway and 64th street.
Cirillo and his team want to build a community center and a three-level parking deck on the site. Parking, as all visitors to North Hudson know, is a perennial concern.
Team Sires disagrees. They say West New York needs a new school and that location is an ideal place for one.
Cirillo wants to expand education services by refurbishing the interior of some older school buildings that are not being fully utilized.
The nitty gritty of it all is that about 7,000 people will vote, according to Cirillo.
Both teams presumably are going door-to-door. An interesting dynamic may be residential developments along the Hudson River waterfront. One would assume that many townhouse residents there have scant knowledge – or interest – in town politics.
Sires said months ago that he wants to develop better access between the waterfront and the rest of the town.
Cirillo said that his team had a “meet and greet” in the waterfront area – the first time that’s happened.
Afterwards, he said the neighborhood may need a police substation and a dog park.
Dogs, he said, are popular in the area.
Editor’s Note: A story on the Sires campaign will appear shortly.