On June 3, voters in West New York, Weehawken, Union City, Guttenberg, North Bergen, and Secaucus can go to the polls to choose one of two candidates in the Democratic primary to serve on the Board of Hudson County Freeholders, which votes on policy and budgets for the county and its institutions. The winning candidate in the June 3 Democratic primary may face a Republican in the general election in November.
In District 6, which includes all of West New York, Weehawken, and Guttenberg, Freeholder Chairman Jose Munoz is fending off a challenge from West New York Commissioner Caridad Rodriquez.
In District 7, which covers all of Union City, Jose Falto is seeking to unseat Freeholder Tilo Rivas.
In District 8, which covers all of North Bergen and a portion of Secaucus, Anthony Vainieri is being challenged by Henry Marrero. Both men are attempting to fill the seat being left vacant by outgoing Freeholder Thomas Liggio.
North Bergen is a battle between former allies
Vainieri and Marrero have similar political roots. They both came up as strong supporters of North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco. Vainieri, however, has Sacco’s support for his freeholder bid, as well as the support of the Hudson County Democratic Organization.
“I think it’s not about whether I’m going to win, but by how much,” a confident Vainieri said two weeks before the primary.
The son of a former North Bergen commissioner, Vainieri was elected a committee person in the early 1980s and started working part time for Sacco, becoming an aide when Sacco was elected in 1991. He is currently Sacco’s chief of staff, and has served as a board member on the Hudson County Schools of Technology for about 10 years, as well as a commissioner for North Bergen Housing Authority.
“A lot of people think I want to run for mayor (of West New York,)” he said. “But I like being freeholder.” – Jose Munoz
Sgt. Henry Marrero of the North Bergen Police Department would be the first Hispanic to seek the freeholder seat in the 8th District. He said he overcame a rough childhood to become a cop, and believes his history of overcoming adversity as a kid allowed him to understand the need for a stronger community.
He said he and his older brother, Pete, faced years of racial discrimination and were constantly bullied by their peers. When his brother was drawn into an altercation that landed him in prison, Marrero was inspired to pursue a career in law enforcement. He saw it was that sense of unfairness and bigotry that made him work to help those in need and to protect the people who needed it most.
The decision of Liggio not to seek reelection provided an opportunity for new people with fresh ideas to seek the freeholder seat, he said.
“The community is tired of seeing the same old politicians shepherding their friends into government positions,” Marrero said. “I am running to give a voice to those who do not have one, and be an advocate for their needs and their priorities.”
Hired as a corrections officer in the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny in 1997, Marrero soon made use of his street skills when he was promoted to lead investigator in the Hudson County Gang Activities Unit where he worked for four and a half years. In 2001, he joined the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department. He currently serves as a sergeant assigned to the North Bergen Juvenile Gang Unit. He is also a member of the FBI Hostage Negotiation Team, the town Arson Investigator, Megan’s Law Investigator, and a member of the police Emergency Response Team.
Union City pits classic political rivals
Freeholder Tilo Rivas is fending off a challenge by Jose Falto, who is a long time critic of Mayor Brian Stack.
Rivas recently won reelection as a commissioner on Stack’s ticket. This has drawn fire from Falto, who claims that he can pay more attention to the freeholder job than Tilo.
“He has too many jobs, as a freeholder, a commissioner, and a full time job [in the private sector],” Falto said.
Rivas was named to the board of freeholders in 2004 to replace Stack when Stack became Assemblyman in the 33rd District. A commissioner for the city’s Department of Public Works, Rivas coordinated a number of key projects through the county, in particular the pedestrian footbridge that crosses from Union City to the Columbia Park shopping mall in North Bergen. With a background in communication, he has experience in journalism and business, and has worked in research for Kraft Foods for the last 30 years. During his years on the freeholders, Rivas has served as chairman once.
Falto, who has significant experience in education as a teacher, guidance counselor, assistant principal, principal, and as a member of the board of the county’s Schools of Technology, said he has the time and ability to help make sure that Union City gets it fair share of services from the county. He said he wants to limit the tax burden on local residents by controlling spending and putting money where it is most effective.
Falto has been a vocal critic of the Stack administration in the past, and has run for municipal office in the past. He even debated a run for commissioner earlier this year, but believes he could be more effective as a freeholder.
“I have sat on the Rent Control Board and the Zoning Board,” he said. “I have dealt with the budget at the schools of technology. I think I can do well as a freeholder.”
Munoz faces a significant challenge
One of the most watched races in Hudson County is the battle between Freeholder Jose Munoz and WNY Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez.
While Rodriguez has the support of the mayors of West New York, Guttenberg, and Weehawken as well as the HCDO, Munoz has been building a constituency via social media as well as on the street. At one time, Munoz had ties to mayors inside and outside the district. He has since become a political maverick, hoping to elicit popular support to retain his seat.
Originally elected in 2007, and again in 2011, Munoz took a leave of absence from his job at the Hudson County Correctional Department to serve. Currently serving as freeholder chairman, Munoz has been involved in a number of projects on the county level, including serving as chairman of the county’s task force on homelessness and serves on the Senior Citizens and Veterans committees.
“A lot of people think I want to run for mayor [of West New York],” he said. “But I like being freeholder.”
But Munoz realizes he is in the fight of his political life, and many observers believe this is an election that pits him against the power of former West New York Mayor (and currently member of the House of Representatives) Albio Sires.
Sires is a strong supporter of Rodriquez, who served as his legislative aide for years before she became a state assemblywoman. She was elected as a commissioner in WNY on a ticket headed by Mayor Felix Roque in 2011.
A paralegal for 20 years, Rodriguez specialized in immigration, tenant issues, and senior citizen issue. She became assistant to Sires in 1996. When Rodriguez became an assemblywoman in 2007, she had to resign as Sires’ assistant and began working at the Palisades Medical Center as a patient advocate.
Rodriguez was the first female and Hispanic to represent the 33rd District in the state Assembly when she was elected to that office in 2007.
She called herself a public servant and says that her life has been dedicated to serving the public, and becoming a freeholder would provide her with another opportunity.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.