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WEST NEW YORK – This town is a pretty crowded place, so it was probably no surprise that late Tuesday afternoon found the city’s two political factions staking out ground only a few feet apart from each other.
Mayor Felix Roque, who is seeking his third term, went first, introducing the fellow members of his five-person slate for May’s city commission election. Roque, who has survived two criminal indictments, (Nothing tops Hudson County for sheer political color) was in a reflective, almost philosophical, mood.
He fears nothing, he said, as he sat in his office in the town’s more than 100-year-old municipal building on 60th Street. Roque explained that fear left him as a child when he arrived in West New York from Cuba and was forced to adjust to a new country, a new life and a new language.
The mayor, who is a physician, went to a local elementary school, but then attended New York Military Academy in upstate New York. He mentioned that Donald Trump attended the same school, which depending on your political preference, is either a very positive or very negative connection.
A few minutes after Roque wrapped up, the five-person opposition slate was walking into the clerk’s office to file its nominating petitions.
Let’s unpack this a bit.
Under West New York’s form of government, five people run for the city commission and for the right to head one of five departments – public affairs, public works, public safety, parks and recreation and finance. The commission also selects the mayor.
Three people on the current commission are running on an opposition slate against Roque called “New Beginnings.” The leader of that group and the man destined to become mayor if they win is current commission member Gabe Rodriquez, who also works as an accountant manager for the West New York Board of Education.
After filing their petitions, Rodriquez led his team down the steps of town hall for a sidewalk press conference. He said the opposition slate had gathered more than 5,000 signatures on their petitions, which he called a milestone.
Asked about some of the biggest issues in town, he said parking. Few who visit West New York would disagree. Many streets are narrow, there are lots of people and, of course, lots of cars. Notwithstanding that reality, Rodriquez said the commission should at the least try to come up with creative ways to ease the parking crunch.
There’s also transparency.
“Our goal is to be available,:” Rodriguez said. “The mayor is not available.” Rodriguez said it’s rare for Roque to be in his office.
Looming over the race is Congressman Albio Sires, a West New York resident, and Roque rival.
Rodriquez said the congressman is a strong supporter of the New Beginnings slate, noting, “This is his town.”
Roque, who among other accomplishments. takes credit for stabilizing property taxes and a low crime rate, played down any bad blood between him and the congressman.
“He’s a fellow Cuban, just like me,” Roque said. “If you hold a grudge, it hurts you.”