How do you go from being the onetime top executive in your field in the county to a municipal legislator in your city? You dig right in and get to work.
That’s what Juan Perez, former Hudson County Sheriff, said he is doing in his new role as a Bayonne councilman.
Perez’s victory as an at-large council candidate on the ticket of new Mayor James Davis revived his political career after his tenure as the county’s top law enforcement official ended in 2010 in a reelection bid.
Perez had served as county sheriff from 2008 to 2010. He oversaw a department of 300 there and said the administrative skills he learned from that job prepare him for his new role as councilman.
His goals on the Bayonne City Council mainly focus on increasing the quality of life of residents. He would like to see a new community center much like the Police Athletic League in its heyday and soccer fields for youth.
Perez said he was spurred to run for office by what he saw as Bayonne’s downturn over the last several years. He moved to Bayonne 15 years ago from Jersey City.
“We have to do something in the city,” he said. “This is not the city I moved into.”
Like the rest of his campaign ticket, Perez said he will work in whatever capacity he can to get the teachers’ contract settled.
“We’re looking for a fair and equitable contract for taxpayers and teachers,” he said.
A fiscal conservative, he said he will watch spending in the city, like he did when sheriff.
With county experience under his belt, he said he will work to streamline government and reduce debt.
Perez is also an advocate for an elected school board, voting with the rest of the council last week for a measure that will put a referendum on the ballot in November to decide what type of board residents now prefer; elected or appointed.
Perez feels his time in city government in Bayonne can mirror that of his work for the county.
When he was sheriff, nearly 13,000 people with criminal and child-support warrants were apprehended in 2008 and 2009.
One of Perez’s achievements was establishing the first K-9 Unit at the Sheriff’s Office. He also said that he modernized that department, bringing in up-to-date law enforcement technology, including new computer capabilities.
Perez said he also expanded and improved the Operation Life Saver Program, an initiative to protect senior citizens.
He was the first Hispanic Hudson County Sheriff, something he takes great pride in. But an accusation in that job put a stain on his record there.
A charge of harassment by a former female subordinate for not supporting him politically was not true, according to Perez.
“That was a lie. That lady went to several of my functions,” he said. “I never asked for anything.”
Dismissing a legal action she brought as a “nuisance lawsuit,” the councilman said the county settled it and that he had no say in the matter.
“I had no control over it,” Perez said. “I would have loved to have my day in court. Everything was above board and no one ever harassed her.”
Perez served as sheriff for only one term, having been defeated by current Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari, something he attributes not to performance, but to politics.
“A North Hudson powerbroker wanted Schillari over me, and that’s all I can say about it,” he said.
Perez had fallen out of favor with the county Democratic hierarchy, was left off the Hudson County Democratic Organization line, and then ran as a Republican against Schillari.
Perez is coy about any higher office he is rumored to be seeking, among them the state lower chamber seat now held by Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell.
“I would love to finish my first term. But my options are always open. If I can help Bayonne in a higher office, I would love to do it,” he said. “But my job is to serve here. My bosses are the Bayonne taxpayers.”
Perez’s law enforcement career also included a rise through the New Jersey State Police to the rank of captain. While at the state police, he served on the governor’s protection detail and worked on the investigation unit, conducting criminal investigations across the state.
Perez is the founder and past president of the Hispanic Law Enforcement Association, past board of trustee and vice chair of the Jersey City Medical Center board, a lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol, and grand marshal of the Bayonne Hispanic Day Parade in 2007.