West New York Commissioner Count Wiley said the team behind a move to recall Mayor Felix Roque and Roque’s allies on the Board of Commissioners is weighing its options after a Superior Court judge rejected their latest effort.
A Superior Court judge ruled earlier this month in favor of the town clerk, who rejected the recall petitions based on errors in the signature forms submitted to get the recall put on the ballot.
“We submitted more than 6,400 signatures,” Wiley said, puzzled by the court ruling. “That was more than enough.”
The city clerk rejected more than 40 percent of the petitions because they did not have enough valid signatures.
Pablo Fonseca, spokesperson for Mayor Roque, said the signatures were discounted because they did not come from registered voters.
Wiley and his allies brought petitions to Town Hall on Sept. 18, asking to recall Roque, Fior D’Aliza Frias, Caridad Rodriguez, and Ruben Vargas. Wiley, Roque, and the three others make up the town’s five-member board of commissioners. (In the mayor/commission form of government, Roque is a mayor and commissioner).
“We are pleased with the decision rendered by Judge Bariso and we continue to believe in our great constitutional democratic system.” – Mayor Felix Roque
With prejudice means that Wiley cannot resubmit his complaint to the Superior Court, and could pose an obstacle to any appeal to the Appellate Court. Traditionally, higher courts tend not hear cases with this type of rejection.
“The judge was very cold,” Wiley said. He had filed an Order to Show Cause to recall Mayor Roque and the three other commissioners in an attempt to remove them and force a new election.
Several city officials said Wiley’s legal team had failed to present evidence in the court to show why the signatures should be accepted. In such cases, lawyers usually bring records to show why specific rejected signatures were valid.
“We are pleased with the decision rendered by Judge Bariso and we continue to believe in our great constitutional democratic system,” said Mayor Roque. “Now that this process is behind us, we need to unite forces and continue to govern and concentrate on serving our community without affecting the excellence in services provided to our residents. At the end of the day we all sworn to protect and provide the quality of life of our residents and provide open, transparent and accessible government.”
The recall started in 2012
Wiley, however, said he was not yet abandoning the recall that he launched in August, 2012, after Roque and the commissioners voted to remove him as commissioner of public safety.
The recall movement was partly fueled by charges brought by the federal government against Roque for allegedly conspiring to hack into a website of a political opponent. Roque was found not guilty of those charges after a two-week trial, although his son still awaits sentencing on a misdemeanor conviction for hacking.
When he started this campaign, Wiley said he invested $50,000 of his own money in his effort to run against Roque in a recall election. Wiley hopes to replace Roque as mayor.
The rejection of petitions was partly based on technicalities that had nothing to do with the signatures themselves, Wiley said, after the town clerk rejected the petitions last fall.
“If there were blank pages in the back of a number of pages, the clerk rejected those pages along with those that had signatures on them,” Wiley said.
In some cases, all the information on each page was not filled out, which his workers intend to correct. He said his team will look back at the affidavits to provide additional information that will allow the clerk to accept signatures that may have been hard to read.
Wiley backing candidates in the school board election
Wiley has other options. He could abandon the recall election entirely and focus on the upcoming school board elections. Although Roque was able to escape the recall, he was unable to defeat a resolution passed in November that required the school board to be elected instead of appointed by Roque. The overwhelming support for the referendum and the high number of candidates in the first of two elections to be held this year – one this month for two seats, and another in April for four – gives hope to Roque’s political opposition.
Freeholder Chairman Jose Munoz, the developer of the anti-Roque website and a vocal critic of Roque, has also backed candidates for school board.
Many see the school district and its opportunity for jobs and promotions as a key linchpin of Roque’s political power. Many see the two elections as a test of Roque’s political strength.
“If opposition candidates win the first election, Roque will still control the board,” said former Mayor Sal Vega, who is also seen as a potential candidate for mayor against Roque. “But a loss would set the tone for the second election in April, when control of the board should shift.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.
School board election this Tuesday
Voters will get to choose two candidates from a field of 18 in the first of two elections for West New York Board of Education.
A referendum overwhelmingly passed in November will allow voters to select their own candidates for the board rather than having them appointed by Mayor Felix Roque.
The Jan. 28 election will expand the board from seven members to nine by elected two new board members, one for a two year term and the other for a one-year term.
A second election will be held in April that will have three existing seats up for election, as well as a special election to fill a seat vacated by the resignation of Adrianne Sires.
Linda Cabrera, Ana Ceraveira, Matthew Cheng, Patrick Cullen Jr., Carol Durrant, Margarita Guzman, Hector Hernandez, Rosemarie Suarez, and Adel Worthington have filed to run for one-year term.
Dorinne Auriemma, Marie Bombio, Alcibiades Cifuentes, Melvin Collado, Wayne Cook, Leon Calixto, Joseph Martens, Joan Palermo, and Mark Quartello have filed to run for two-year terms.
Cheng and Palermo are running as a joint ticket called WNY Kids First, which is seen as a reform or anti-Roque ticket.
Freeholder Chairman Jose Munoz asked the county Board of Election have an independent observer at each of the 29 polling places to avoid some of the problems that plagued a few of the polling places in November. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. 9 p.m. – Al Sullivan