“I’m back” – that’s what Congressman Albio Sires announced Tuesday afternoon in front of the West New York Public Library, introducing his slate of candidates for West New York commissioners. Sires is running for mayor of West New York, seeking to return to the post which he occupied from 1995 to 2006. Born in Cuba, Sires immigrated to the United States as a child, making West New York his home. West New York itself is host to a large Hispanic community—the 2010 census reporting that about four of every five West New Yorkers identifies as Hispanic or Latino—and the officially non-partisan slate which Sires is championing reflects that.
As Sires extolled the praises of his commissioner candidates, all of whom claim Hispanic heritage, he said that he had some “unfinished business” from when he was mayor and wants to get back to work. It is said that “all politics is local,” and for West New York’s Cuban son, the example could not ring more true. He introduced each of the commissioner candidates at the windy and brisk press conference with paternalistic pride. Victor Barrera, the first Ecuadorian-American Commissioner for West New York, touted his work on senior services as well as parks and recreation improvements. Adam Parkinson, President of the West New York Board of Education, said that his mother, born in Cuba, was actually a student of Sires when the congressman had worked as a teacher at Memorial High School. Marielka Diaz, a Dominican-American small business owner, library trustee, and board of education trustee, is a young and ambitious woman who also comes from an education background. Marcos Arroyo, a Dominican immigrant, has been a rent control advocate and put in a quarter-century into housing and building management concerns around the state.
Yoleisy Yanez said that she would not be seeking re-election, but she would endorse the Sires team as they move on with their campaign. “I’m very proud, as an elected official and as a woman, of the work that we’ve been able to accomplish, not only me, with my team on board with me, or with Victor, and everybody else. With that being said, I want to inform everyone officially that I’m not going to be seeking reelection for the next term. I have been an educator for 20 years, and I have a huge responsibility to programs in the district that depend on special education. That is a very demanding job and I have to invest myself in that because my work as a commissioner requires a lot of time and dedication… You have to be a 24/7 commissioner, and that’s what I did. So, again, I’m not seeking re-election, but I’m here today to endorse the Albio Sires slate since it’s a great team. All of them have experience with public service.”
“When I left Congress,” Sires said, “I said to myself, I have a lot of things that I want to accomplish. One of the things that I want to accomplish is to go back to West New York, and finish some of the things that I wanted to do when I was here [as mayor]. Before I left for Congress, I was given an opportunity to serve this country in the Congress of the United States. That is not something you turn down. But I am back now, and I’m standing right here in front of this library. This is one of the projects that we wanted to get accomplished years ago, and it hasn’t been accomplished. This library is about a hundred years old, not even ADA compliant. Today, libraries are more like community centers and that’s one of my goals—to build a center for this community.”
Other goals Sires outlined were work on the waterfront, infrastructure, and overpass development to address traffic, and to turn the current public library into a police station, with a new library and community center elsewhere.
“I want to make sure that we give the police department a place where they can come and feel proud that they’re walking in,” Sires said. “We will make this the police station, one which officers deserve, rather than going down to a basement, where they are now. There are a lot of things that we want to accomplish. In order to accomplish that, I need a team, and the team that I put together is one I’m very proud of.”
For some, politics serves as a platform for petty self-aggrandizement. For some, politics is a noble vocation. Not exclusive to either condition, for some, politics is a raison d’être, no more escapable than a fish’s need for water. Sires’ record appears to demonstrate that beyond question. Adroitly and naturally swimming and navigating the currents of public service, while in office as mayor, Sires would later simultaneously serve in the New Jersey Assembly from 2002-2006. At the end of his four years in the Assembly, Sires finally left his mayor’s seat when he was elected to the US House of Representatives. There, he took over from another Hudson County Cuban-American, one Robert Menendez, now New Jersey’s senior US senator. Sires represented the 13th and 8th Congressional districts during his time in the federal legislature. Now, as he departs, curiously enough, the congressman’s seat will return to another Robert Menendez—the son of New Jersey’s aforementioned US Senator.
“I have to say that going around getting signatures, people are very positive,” Sires said, “especially with people that remember my time as mayor here. They’re very positive that I’m coming back. I am looking forward to finishing those projects, the things that are best for West New York.”
As Sires seeks to step “down” from federal office to return to municipal office, keeping close to home, current-Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez seems to aspire to follow in Sires’ footsteps. Rodriguez has launched a bid for the New Jersey Assembly. Should he be elected to that office, it would prove a fascinating political phenomenon establishing that the West New York executive is a bridge to the state legislature. West New York itself is home to about 53,000 residents, caught in the shadows of the New York and Newark skyscrapers. But as a seat of power, this crowded waterfront municipality has the potential to position itself as a concrete venue to Trenton: an echo of a few decades prior, where the mayoralty of neighboring Union City established Menendez’s political ascension.