While no moving vans have yet to pull up in front of West New York Town Hall, Mayor Felix Roque is apparently giving away the political store, and has apparently surrendered to his former political enemies – state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and Rep. Albio Sires – giving up critical votes for the North Hudson Community Action Program and the North Hudson Regional Fire Department that will essentially increase Sacco’s power.
Roque is also expected to name the West New York Middle School after Sires, something that had been discussed over several administrations but always got bumped as a result of political conflicts.
The fact that key members of the Roque administration not only voted for but nominated Adrienne Sires (Albio’s wife) for reappointment as president of the Board of Education is seen as a sign that Roque’s key players are looking to mend fences with Sires after being behind several attempts to undermine Sires over the last year.
Sires broke ties with Roque after the mayor endorsed a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate over Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez last year. Sires is a Menendez ally. Things got worse for the relationship when Roque was charged by the feds with allegedly hacking into his political opponent’s website, an issue that is expected to go to trial in July in what many see as a countdown to the end to the Roque Administration.
Several people who routinely do business in Town Hall said a panic has been growing among many of the lower level staff members over the last few months over what might happen if Roque is found guilty. This was compounded by a recent state Department of Education report that alleged that the Roque administration pressured school employees for political donations and had developed a political hit list.
Many people inside and outside the Roque political elite were shocked when Roque attended a political fundraiser for Sacco last month, and some believe Roque will go even further to endorse Sacco in his bid for reelection to the state Senate.
Sources said Roque met with Sacco in mid-May for a two-hour sit-down, at which time it is believed that Roque agreed to give Sacco needed votes to name a new director of NHCAC and to retain a Sacco-favored public relations firm for the North Hudson Regional Fire Department.
Roque asked to attend the fundraiser for Sacco’s ally, Sheriff Frank Schillari, and more importantly, was expected to attend a fundraiser for Sires, at which he would announce the naming of the middle school – a school funded by Sires’ lobbying efforts while still mayor.
On top of this, Mrs. Sires also appeared a fundraiser put on by Move Forward West New York, a civic group supported by the Roque administration. But it was not a political fundraiser for Roque as some first thought, but rather a group raising money to provide poor people with food during the holidays later this year.
Anti-Roque people say a deal was struck to allow Sires to keep control of the Board of Education – which is the largest patronage mill in West New York.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Roque’s captains – the people who have actually run government over the last two years in Roque’s name – are apparently trying to find somewhere to land or mend fences with political brokers outside of West New York.
Although Sacco already controlled the Democratic county committee seats – key for selecting Democratic candidates for county, state, and federal elected seats – Roque last year controlled many seats – often pushing out those loyal to Sires and former Mayor Sal Vega. The lack of interest this year is another sign of declining support for Roque, and perhaps a harbinger of impending doom.
Roque has not responded to several detailed messages about this turnaround. Other political enemies have different takes. Key players in Commissioner Count Wiley’s camp (who are in the middle of organizing a recall election against Roque) claim that Roque is simply spoiling the water for the next administration, kind of setting a political fire to the city so that it will be more difficult for Wiley, if elected mayor, to put the pieces back together.
Some believe that Roque is seeking help from Sacco and others to make the legal troubles go away. In this theory, Roque allegedly believes that the charges against him are political, motivated by an angry Sacco and Menendez, and by appeasing them with these offerings of votes and school naming, Roque will get the charges dropped.
Still another theory is that Roque and his captains are handing over WNY government to a shadow government run by Sires and Sacco. Under this theory, the captains currently working for Roque will continue on under new guidance, and if Roque steps down, under a puppet mayor Sacco and Sires will choose.
Former Mayor Vega has been making the rounds in an apparent effort to spruce up his image for another shot at becoming mayor. He even posed with the Hudson County Cuban Day Parade Committee at a recent freeholder meeting. Vega lost a significant number of votes when he tried to shut down the parade one year to keep his political opponent from marching in West New York.
Roque’s move to the Sacco camp leaves State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack even more isolated than before – although Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith may soon be his ally after Smith was dumped as HCDO chairman.
No way, O’Dea
Rumors that Freeholder Bill O’Dea will be seeking to replace Sires as congressman are apparently not true, as O’Dea plans appear to still be focused on becoming the next county executive – with a brief stopover as business administrator for incoming Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.
But apparently, Fulop may be willing to expend some of his newly acquired political capital to get O’Dea the seat of county executive. This may be a trade off with Sacco in exchange for Fulop’s support of an alternative candidate to become the new chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization – Sacco ally Assemblyman Vincent Prieto.
With the political landscape in flux, rumors are spreading like wildfire, as many political figures big and small are repositioning themselves, partly to align with Fulop or to derail efforts of political enemies.
Fulop’s election, regardless of the outcome of the council runoffs in June, will redefine that power structure around the county, giving more weight to those who helped Fulop while sending many of those who supported outgoing Mayor Jerramiah Healy out to pasture.
But a number of people fall into the middle ground and are seeking to hook up with those who did support Fulop so that they can retain or perhaps gain power.
Since Sires openly endorsed Healy over Fulop, speculation about Sires’ future has been a hot topic, and since O’Dea was one of the more prominent Fulop supporters, rumormongers actively promoted him for the spot.
Not only will Fulop have control of the City Council, but could well have a say on replacing O’Dea on the freeholder board as well as possibly challenging for the other three Jersey City seats, giving him nearly total control of the county as well as Jersey City.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.