For the last eight years, West New York has had the same mayor. In that time, the town has seen a renaissance: the revitalization of Bergenline Avenue, the building of parks, the improvement of the schools, and the development of the waterfront.
Mayor Albio Sires and his five town commissioners are not shy about taking credit for this revitalization. Said West New York commissioner Gerald Lange in a recent Reporter article, "You can see over the last eight years what we've done. From the west side of town to the eastern waterfront, we've accomplished so much. All of us on the Board of Commissioners get along fantastically and work very well together."
It would seem that all is well in this small Hudson County town. But according to West New York resident Jose Carlos Munoz, who two weeks ago filed petitions to run for the board in May, there are some major problems in town that are not being properly addressed.
And Munoz believes he is the man to correct these problems.
Munoz, a Cuban immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1994 "carrying only a briefcase full of memories of the past and a dream," is, according to a recent press release, running under the campaign name "Candidate for Town Reforms."
Munoz, a Republican who holds degrees in Political Science and Criminal Justice from Kean University and is working on completing his Masters in Public Administration, may be a political neophyte, but to hear him tell it, that will work to his advantage.
Munoz states proudly in a press release that he "does not answer to any political interest, he does not owe any political favors, and his main objective is to work for the people of West New York."
There are six commissioners' seats up for election in May, including that of Mayor Albio Sires. West New York has a form of government in which the mayor wins a commission seat and is voted mayor by his fellow commissioners. Sires has a slate of five candidates running for the seats. Munoz is the only person running for a seat who is not affiliated with that slate.
Problems to be addressed
While shying away from making any overt accusations toward the current West New York administration, Munoz, in a recent interview, expressed extreme consternation at a number of issues in West New York.
Said Munoz, "Firstly, I don't think the town of West New York needs a deputy mayor. This is a problem. I really don't think this position should be paid for by the people of West New York." Recently, one of the town's commissioners said that he would not run for that office again, and will instead take a paid position as deputy mayor.
Munoz went on to question the "real reason" that a deputy mayor would be appointed by Sires.
"[Sires] has taken on too many responsibilities, and he can't do his job as mayor if he's in Trenton all the time," Munoz said. Sires also serves as state Assembly speaker, a position that often takes him down to Trenton.
Richard Turner, West New York town administrator, said in a recent West New York Reporter article, "As the community improves and more activities happen, people want to see the mayor, a government representative. And it is impossible for Mayor Sires to be everywhere at once."
Munoz went on to say, "I have personally heard from many constituents that he won't see them."
While the veracity of this comment could not be verified, it does speak to an interesting aspect of Hudson County politics; the holding of numerous jobs and appointments by elected officials.
Another of Munoz' concerns is the development of the West New York waterfront, something he characterized as "out of control." Munoz claimed that the development "is contaminating the Hudson River and causing a traffic nightmare. The roads are not prepared to handle this development." Munoz stressed that he is not "anti-development," stating, "we need 'controlled development.' "
Munoz also expressed his displeasure with and desire to change the state of parking spaces in West New York. While this is a problem endemic to many of the cramped, densely-populated towns that line the Hudson County waterfront, towns have attempted to deal with the problem in various ways.
According to Munoz, West New York has not dealt with the problem correctly. Said Munoz in his press release, "The town of West New York has faced for many years, a major problem with parking spaces on our streets due to the poor urban planning of previous administrations. This problem is getting worse each day. The politicians in our current local government keep promising new solutions, yet they spent lots of money modernizing the systems to charge unjust fines to the citizens."
Munoz' solution would be to "develop more legal parking spaces, lower the fines, extend the hours (at meters) and create a resident sticker system." This system has been in effect in Hoboken.
Surprisingly, West New York does not have a resident sticker system.
Munoz also sees opportunity for change in the West New York police department. Said Munoz, "The West New York police department is working more in the traditional way of policing, with officers on sector patrol in police cars. I want to develop 'community policing' with neighborhood watches, police going into high crime areas on walking patrols. I want the police to create a connection between the department and the community." Added Munoz, "you have to be more proactive and less reactive."
With the recent good news about West New York schools coming from the state and federal government, it may be a shock to learn that while West New York's elementary schools are performing well, thing's aren't so rosy at Memorial High School. According to statistics taken from www.greatschools.net, as of the 2000-2001 school year, Memorial 11th graders performed below the state average in both reading and math on the HSPT (High School Proficiency Test). The state average for the math section was 89 percent. Memorial came in at 79 percent passing. The state average for reading is 84 percent passing. Memorial finished with a 67 percent average passing.
According to Munoz, coupled with the 91 percent Hispanic school population, "the school is not doing enough for Latino immigrants."
Can he win?
Munoz, a candidate without a slate and a Republican political unknown in a Democratic stronghold, knows he's up against an almost insurmountable force in the form of the Sires administration.
However, he seemed confident that the people of West New York can make their own decisions based on facts. When asked if he thinks he can win, Munoz said, "I wouldn't be running if I didn't think I could win. I think if I work hard enough, I think I can win. I think that people should be more educated and not vote along party lines. I don't go by party lines."