Earlier this year, all eyes turned towards Cosmo Cirillo when the 23-year old typist in the town clerk’s office became president of the West New York School Board.
And even more eyes turned recently when it was announced that he was appointed as the deputy town clerk at the end of this summer, replacing the former deputy town clerk, Luisa Gomez, who retired in July.
Although he’s gotten a lot of attention as the new young man in charge, Cirillo isn’t the only fresh face in local government.
Both West New York and Union City have had several young people take on leadership positions over the years, including some of those who are in office today.
West New York Commissioners Michelle Fernandez-Lopez and Alberto Rodriguez are in their 30’s, as is the youngest Union City commissioner, Christopher Irizarry.
And Union City Mayor Brian Stack was also in his early 30’s when he was originally elected to office in 2000.
‘I see a lot of new, bright people on the horizon in West New York.’ – Sal Vega
Ushering in the new generation
West New York Mayor Sal Vega, who has been responsible for bringing many young people into town jobs, said he is a big proponent of young people working in government.
“I think it’s great,” said Vega. “Being a school teacher for most of my life, I personally like to be surrounded by young people. I think they bring a lot of energy to the job.”
Furthermore, Vega said, in a world where technology is moving very rapidly, younger people often have a “better handle” on many of the new windows of communication.
In addition to teaming up with Commissioners Fernandez-Lopez and Rodriguez for the Board of Commissioners, Vega also recently chose 28-year old Daniel Ortega to be his Chief of Staff when his former chief of staff, Janet Passante, retired.
Vega said he has known Ortega, who previously worked as a spokesperson for the Board of Education, since he was about 18 years old, but did not choose him based solely on age.
“I wanted somebody who knew how to work for the public,” said Vega. “Who had served in a government role and had ability.”
In addition to the new, young stars of West New York government, Vega also pointed out that his new deputy mayor, Richard Tedesco, is “82 years young.”
“We have great balance in West New York,” said Vega.
Vega said that combining younger employees with those who have had more experience benefits everyone and provides younger employees with work experience that it could take over 10 years to obtain elsewhere.
“A lot of times [young] people are not given opportunities because people in power say, ‘that person is too young,’” said Vega. “I see a lot of new, bright people on the horizon in West New York.”
Experience as ‘new blood’
West New York Commissioner Alberto Rodriquez was 27 years old when he was elected in May 2007 – the youngest commissioner to ever take office in West New York.
“I think my age brings a different perspective,” said Rodriguez. “While not having the experience that others may have, I do offer an energy and ability to look at things from a different perspective and I think that’s always positive.”
Rodriguez said that he heard from many residents that were happy to see some “new blood” in office when he was elected.
“The idea of bringing new people in is a great idea,” said Rodriguez. “Most residents appreciate the fact that young people have fresh ideas [and] have a different energy level.”
As a business owner, Rodriguez said he got involved in town government as an investment in his community and that listening and research have been a big part of his success in both jobs.
“You’re always learning every day,” he said. “It never ends. I think that’s true for anybody of any age. Whether you’re 30, 40, or 60 there’s always going to be a learning curve in anything you do if you’ve never done it before.”
Passing the torch
For those young people considering following a path in government, Rodriguez encourages them to do so – in whatever capacity they feel comfortable.
“Definitely get involved, because it’s very easy to not get involved and then either criticize or complain or just not be happy with the way things are,” he said. “But get involved; it doesn’t matter on what level, go to a meeting, volunteer. [Then] you have a vested interest in getting things done.”
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