Last Nov. 5, 2013 had been a bitterly cold day of a long winter. It was Election Day and it was going to be a long and stressful day for anyone that worked hard on that day to get the word out for some issue or candidate that was on the ballot. The memory of that day vividly came back to me when I found out that one of our dear Hoboken residents, Tom Olivieri, died this past June 5, 2014.
The last time I saw Tom was on that Election Day when I worked with him for five hours until the polls closed. From 3 until 8 p.m. we were both on the corner of Willow and 11th Street right in front of the Wallace School polling station. Tom and I were working to inform people about the ballot issue which attempted to weaken rent control protections and which had already been defeated by the voters a year earlier.
During those hours, I got to know Tom and I was so proud and privileged to be working the street with him, informing voters who were going to the polls what was at stake with rent control in Hoboken. Tom had worked for tenant’s rights and fair housing for years before I had come into town.
I was impressed by his dedication to the causes he believed in as well as his gentle manner and his decency. He told me he was sick and was undergoing treatment and I was scared for him. I also was in disbelief that he was out on such a cold night working. It can be so tiring standing and going up to anyone that is walking by to explain the rent control issue on the ballot. At one point he went home to get another sweater and he brought me some coffee he made. He was a true gentlemen and I was honored when he commented how hard I was working that night. He was the consummate fighter striving for fairness and here he was regarding me with such respect. His kind words will always stay with me.
As the night wore on, a car drove around the block with a passenger yelling out at me, taunting and insulting me. Tom then shared with me that once, years ago on that very corner we were working, he was punched in the face by someone opposing his views. He sadly shook his head and wondered why people had to be vindictive or nasty when regarding fair housing. That never stopped him from fighting for anyone who was in danger of losing their home. He would fight that fight in some manner all the days of his life.
Many Hoboken residents were extremely sad to see the passing of such a fine, decent man. The gentleman is gone, but he will never be forgotten in Hoboken. Hoboken’s history has Tom Olivieri’s name forever linked within Hoboken’s evolution as a wonderful place many have and will call home.