The Two Godfathers – and Lora – Clash in a Northern River Town

Hector Lora

PASSAIC – You can still get a good pair of cowboy boots here, that remnant of old country rough-necking serviceable apparently for wading through the ongoing pastures of local politics.

It’s tough ground – at least politically.

Three out of the last four mayors wound up behind bars in Passaic, the last of them a particularly promising history-maker now awaiting sentencing on a bribery jam-up, which is what did in the two men before him. Now a field of contenders takes shape in an effort to succeed the doomed Alex Blanco, this country’s first Dominican to serve as mayor of a municipality, and at the heart of it stands a grudge match consisting of Acting Mayor Hector Lora versus Police Director Richard “Richie” Diaz.

There will be other competitors, but it boils down to these two men and their attendant machines and minions.

On a dismally bleak Sunday evening, up the street from where a DPW shovel scraped at sidewalk ice with little energy and less purpose, Lora kicked off his campaign on North Main Street surrounded by members of the Democratic Party establishment. Under the approving eye of veteran campaign manager Ryan Yacco, the room impressively packed in everything you love about Passaic County politics: orthodox Jews shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians, Puerto Ricans arm in  arm with Dominicans, the survivors of last campaigns and handfuls of new faces, local bureaucrats sprung from cubby holes and street drift.

“I don’t visit these streets, I was raised on these streets,” said Lora, a former freeholder who in May seeks a full, four-year term as the establishment’s answer to Blanco – and the antidote to Diaz.

Before serving as chief of staff to Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), Lora played pick up football games up here, and found in the church a way to help other people as a pastor. He is a dynamic and engaging individual who wades into public life with a natural knack that Blanco probably lacked. When he leaps onto a stage, he pulls English and Spanish double duty with grinning ease. As for his rival, an insider near the coffee urn in Lora headquarters sized up Diaz with a shrug. “More of the same,” he said, as if Diaz is closer than Lora to the now toxic Blanco by virtue of a longstanding friendship and his time in at the PD during the Blanco years.

A remark like that repeated forces a laugh from Diaz, who sees Lora as the establishment’s darling and himself as the candidate in the race with an undeniable independent streak. The first Latino chief of police in the history of Passaic County, Diaz, 52, insists he doesn’t have anything personal against Lora. He just maintains that the younger man will let Schaer – long the Wizard of Oz figure in Passaic – continue to direct the show.

Diaz came up with Blanco. They ran for the school board together. They were real friends. Diaz walked Blanco around back when his friend ran for mayor in 2008. He organized and helped build a campaign apparatus that Lora now partially enjoys, he argues. “Lora hasn’t put a coalition together,” Diaz told InsiderNJ. “He’s just got some elected officials who are there because of my sweat. He just walked into it and now he’s taking credit for everything.”

No one can offload Blanco.

Diaz is the godfather of one of the former mayor’s sons. But then again, so is Schaer.

They’re both welded to the past – each in his own way, but Diaz maintains that the Schaer machine’s forced retirement upon him last September when Diaz began making moves toward a run for mayor over the fast crinkling Blanco now gives him added heft as a new brand, despite all his former friends’ best efforts to brand him a stained city hall fixture.

“Citizens are tired of those types of politics,” said the lawman, who first joined the police force as a 22-year old out of the Marine Corps. “That room the other day when Lora kicked off his campaign, that was filled with elected officials. I have more street people.

“I have a lot of respect for Gary Schaer,” Diaz added. “But he’s been there too long, and he refuses to let anyone voice any dissent or difference of opinion. The council is like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There should be checks and balances.”

Diaz insists he’ll be able to break through on the strength he has on the street corners and in the nooks and crannies of the barrios of the home town he came to from Puerto Rico over 30 years ago.

He’ll have to cut through the leadership cadre that tossed him out of City Hall, and the deep organizational ties nurtured by master player Schaer, who has a strong young ally in his acolyte Lora.

“I don’t want to do this campaign alone and I don’t want to do this mayor thing alone,” the acting mayor told InsiderNJ at his kickoff. “I want to do it with you, whether you’re Republican or Democrat or regardless of your race or background. Let’s put all those distinctions aside and agree that it’s one city.”

Police Director Richie Diaz
(Visited 96 times, 1 visits today)

One response to “The Two Godfathers – and Lora – Clash in a Northern River Town”

  1. If the BCRO wasnt so busy fighting over what enbalming fluid to use in their headquarters they could win LD36 by getting their usual numbers in South Bergen and then campaign to Latinos in Passaic about just how bad Gary and his cronies have been for the town. Theyd be shocked how many votes theyd get.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

News From Around the Web

The Political Landscape