After a heated campaign against incumbent Mayor Sal Vega, a new mayor and Board of Commissioners took office Tuesday at noon at West New York City Hall. Five commissioners were sworn in and then chose from among themselves Dr. Felix Roque as mayor.
The group wasted no time last week in overturning decisions put into place by the recently defeated – but once powerful – Mayor Sal Vega. They even terminated the town’s police director.
Heads rolling already
The same week as the new leaders took office, they announced several changes in Town Hall. Outgoing Mayor Vega had once been a powerful figure who had also served as a state Assemblyman and county freeholder. But he saw some of his power decline after he lost an election for state Senate to Union City Mayor Brian Stack four years ago. Then, two years ago, Roque began a recall election of Vega after taxes rose in town. Roque stayed active and was able to lead a slate that defeated Vega’s commissioner incumbents on May 10.
“I will have an open door policy in my office. We are all family.”— Felix Roque
And on Tuesday, Roque terminated West New York Police Director Al Bringa. Roque first asked him to resign, but Bringa insisted he would consult with the Police Department attorney, according to a newspaper article. Later in the day Bringa received notice of his termination. The mayor said the termination will save the town $194,000 in salary and benefits.
Bringa was a 26-year veteran of the force who served as West New York police director for three and a half years. Captain Donald Gribben and Captain Michael Endri from the West New York Police Department are the current co-deputy chiefs.
Remove waste, change the school board
In West New York’s government, each of the five commissioners has a specific department they oversee. After the swearing in on Tuesday, the commissioners held their Reorganization Meeting, chose their departments, and talked about what they want to do next.
Roque was named mayor as well as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.
Caridad Rodriguez will serve as commissioner of the Department of Revenue and Finance.
Count Wiley is the Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, Fior D’Aliza Frias is commissioner of the Department of Public Affairs, and Ruben Vargas is the Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Public Property.
The group made a few appointments: Julio Morejon as town attorney, Joseph De Marco as assistant town attorney, and David Corrigan as special labor counsel.
Last week, they talked about what they intend to do.
They said they want to remove any corruption and waste from town government.
“I want a forensic analysis of the finances, since we are concerned where the money went. We want transparency since the taxes are too high,” said Caridad Rodriguez, a new commissioner and outgoing assemblywoman.
“I want to have cleaner streets as well as a better morale in the [public works] department where the workers have pride and are not suppressed,” said Count Wiley. “I want to revamp the Department of Public Works with the right people.”
Ruben Vargas said, “I want to create a safer environment for the people in the parks as well as continue having Farmers’ Markets in the community.”
Town Attorney Julio Morejon said, “I want to [cut] down on excessively high legal fees paid out. I want to control that expense by making sure lawyers are paid a fair amount, which is only fair to the taxpayers.”
Roque said last week that he’d like to see the five-member Board of Education step down. The members were appointed by Vega and hold five year terms.
“They lack leadership and are only concerned about themselves and not the children,” he said.
Roque said in another news source that he would like to expand the board from five to seven. That way, his group can appoint two more members.
The controversial agenda from Monday’s board meeting included the appointments to the board of Janet Passante, the former treasurer of two of Vega’s campaign accounts, and Daniel Ortega, another campaign staffer. Cosmo Cirillo was re-elected board president and Ortega was voted vice-president, reports said.
Newly appointed Assistant Town Attorney Joseph De Marco said, “Passante was a treasurer of two of Vega’s campaign accounts as well a personal aide. And Ortega was a campaign manager for Vega as well as a former chief of staff.”
Other officials chime in
At the swearing in, Roque said, “Things are going to change for the better. I will have an open door policy in my office. We are all family.”
Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise said, “This was a hard-fought victory, and now begins the process of running West New York. I offer a hand of friendship to this administration. We all need to work together.”
Rep. Albio Sires administered the oath of office to the new commissioners. “This is a great ticket for West New York,” he said. “Thank you for supporting me and thank you for supporting the Roque team.”
“It is a great honor being your mayor of West New York,” said Roque “I work for you; you do not work for me. I will make you proud. One Saturday each month I will be available to cater to your needs. And I will be available every Friday.”
During the public portion of the meeting, Aida Roque, the new mayor’s sister, congratulated the commissioners on winning.
She also said, “What happened the night before at the Board of Education meeting was a fiasco and embarrassed me last night as a resident of West New York. But today I am proud to be a resident.”
Santo Sanabria may be reached at SSanabria@hudsonreporter.com.