In 2011, he unintentionally inhaled a chemical that eventually required him to use an oxygen tank. Friends say Rivera’s lungs had already been damaged when he helped pull a woman from a fatal crash in 2006. He received a Police Department Distinguished Service Award for his heroic action.
Rivera was a former deputy mayor of Jersey City. In 2012, the corner of Manila Avenue and Second Street was renamed in his honor.
“It is a great honor working with the community,” said Rivera at the time, surrounded by dozens of family members, friends, co-workers, local residents and elected officials. “I want to thank them most of all, the people who make this possible. We work to make a difference together in the quality of life for people in Jersey City.”
A member of the Puertorriqueños Asociados for Community Organization (P.A.C.O.) agency since 1970, he eventually served as its executive director and worked extensively in the housing, economic development, health, education and community development areas.
Rivera was born in Aibonito, Puerto Rico and migrated with his family to the mainland United States at an early age. He attended local schools, graduated from William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City and continued his education at Rutgers University and Saint Peter’s College. Later in life received an honorary doctorate for his community work from New Jersey City University in 2007.
He worked for the U.S. Post Office for a time after graduating high school and worked as a port worker in several locations in New York Harbor. During a port strike, Rivera and other community activists formed an organization devoted to serving the needs of the Latino community, forming P.A.C.O in 1970.
Rivera became a freeholder in 2006. Until he stepped down from the freeholder board in 2013, Rivera represented District 4 in Jersey City.
“The residents of Jersey City, Hudson County and the entire State of New Jersey lost a great leader and the Rivera family has lost a beloved patriarch.” – Albio Sires
Those who knew him best said he was a staunch worker for the Latino community.
“I am deeply saddened to hear about the death of my good friend former Hudson County Freeholder Eliu Rivera who passed away earlier today in Aibonito, Puerto Rico,” said Rep. Albio Sires in a release. “The residents of Jersey City, Hudson County and the entire State of New Jersey lost a great leader and the Rivera family has lost a beloved patriarch. My sympathies go out to the entire Rivera family. His leadership efforts on behalf of the Puerto Rican community as well as those less fortunate will succeed him for many years to come. He was a champion for all people and believed that everyone should have the chance to realize their potential to the fullest. Eliu’s fight against discrimination and consideration for the underrepresented will never be forgotten.” Jersey City Councilman Daniel Rivera (unrelated) spoke highly of Rivera, calling him a great and fearless leader.
A noted pioneer in the downtown section of the city for more than four decades, Rivera fought to provide services to the Latino community.
But his accomplishments go well beyond that role, and as a freeholder, he was part of a number of key projects that have the potential to transform Jersey City and Hudson County, including paving the way for a new county court complex in Jersey City, the construction of a new Hudson County Schools of Technology complex in Secaucus, as well as paving the way for a county police academy in Secaucus and other projects.
Rivera, who served as vice chairman in 2011, was unanimously appointed freeholder chairman in 2012, even though at the time, he struggled with lung issues in what he called “a life and death” battle.
“Doctors thought I was a goner at least three times, and they still can’t explain how my lungs began to function again,” he said, calling it a miracle when sworn in as chairman in 2012.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.