A relatively new Hoboken-based charity, the Waterfront Project, provides legal aid to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it. It has saved tenants from unfair evictions and helped seniors battling business rip-off. The group hasn’t gotten much publicity in the past, but now it has a new champion who wants to raise awareness and funds for the organization.
Former Mayor David Roberts has become involved and is hoping to raise money through a promotion at his Mexican restaurant, East L.A., and through other venues.
Since Roberts decided not to run for re-election in 2009, he has been keeping busy with several projects. He learned of the Waterfront Project from Msgr. Bob Meyer at St. Peter and Paul’s Church. Now he is hoping more people can get involved.
Louis Scarpa, director of development at the church, explained, “Elizabeth Caraballo, a lawyer and the legal clinic director, and Msgr. Robert Meyer founded it. They realized there was a need for a legal clinic in Hoboken. About 10 percent of Hoboken is below the poverty level. We have a unique situation in that many of our parishioners are attorneys. Msgr. Bob is a practicing attorney. Having the vision of an attorney-priest, and the people in the pews who are lawyers, and people around us who need us, it created a perfect storm.”
The results have been gratifying. “We helped a woman in her late sixties who spoke little English, a woman of modest means,” he said. “We helped her in a consumer dispute. She was being taken advantage of unfairly. Her furniture was never delivered. We helped her get her $1,000 back. We helped a group of 98 persons who were being evicted unfairly from their apartments in Hoboken.”
Since this past March, Caraballo has done 30 consultations, Scarpa said.
“What she does is, she tries to help them herself or find other resources for them,” Scarpa said. “Many times that’s an attorney from our parish who will volunteer.”
Roberts said, “I have heard and witnessed the help they provide for people that would otherwise be unable to afford legal representation. Sometimes they’re the difference between a person being put into a homeless situation or not. I think it’s a truly worthy program that Elizabeth operates, along with the other attorneys and Msgr. Bob.”
At East L.A. Restaurant, diners who clip a coupon (available in the Hudson Reporter this week and last week) can get 25 percent off their total bill. At the same time, the restaurant will match that amount and donate it to the Waterfront Project.
Who knew that eating delicious quesadillas and quaffing frozen margaritas could help the public good?
“I’m hoping more restaurants will get involved, and I think they will,” Roberts said.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer agreed.
“The legal services that the Waterfront Project provides to Hoboken’s most vulnerable residents are vital,” she said. “I’m happy to work together with Mayor Roberts to make sure the Waterfront Project has all the resources necessary to continue its mission.”
Roberts’ family has owned several restaurants in the past, but now only owns East L.A. East L.A. and Roberts have always been involved in giving. For several years, the restaurant provided free dinners for the needy on Thanksgiving. Roberts rents the space next door to Symposia Books, a used book store and site of many community events, at a low rate. At a time when even chain bookstores can’t survive, the arrangement has helped keep the centrally-located space open.
Roberts himself has kept a low profile since deciding not to run for re-election. Shortly after he left office, his wife Anna was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it through many years and many treatments. She passed away last October.
Roberts has tried to keep his chin up through the tragedy. He said many people have asked how he is doing. He said that he has learned to live in the moment and appreciate what he has.
“I and my children are grateful for so many loving friends,” he said. “The acts of kindness displayed have been overwhelming.”
As for what else he’s up to, “I’m working with my son David on real estate. Christopher is starting college, Amanda is engaged. I’m living life in the moment, trying to appreciate the things that happen each day, not trying to get too far into the future. I’m enjoying the friends that have helped not just me, but my children. We would have celebrated our 30th anniversary on April 29.”
Roberts intends to renovate East L.A. over the next few months. He is also rebuilding his shore home in Mantoloking. During Hurricane Sandy, photos of his home in the middle of the water were featured in a number of media outlets as an icon of the storm damage. Last year, the New York Post wrote a story about the house being demolished: “The house owned by David Roberts, a former mayor of Hoboken N.J., was the most famous of them all, coming to rest 200 feet from shore in the middle of the bay,” the story said.
Roberts said he is unlikely to run for office again.
“I would say that there are other ways that you could support your community without being an elected official,” he said. “I’m learning about those ways and doing them now.”
He also serves on the board of Hoboken Catholic Academy, which two of his children attended.
Caren Matzner can be reached at email@example.com or