The nine-member Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders is the county’s version of a town council. They vote on the county budget, personnel, the roads, parks, and the county jail.
The county clerk files vital records or documents related to the county’s population, such as marriage and death certificates. They also oversee county elections.
Freeholder Board Chairman Anthony Vainieri Jr., whose district includes North Bergen and Secaucus, was sworn in for his second three-year term by North Bergen Mayor and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco. He gave thanks at the event to his parents for giving him “everything I wanted in life.”
Voters reelected him in November.
Being a freeholder is a paid, part-time job, and representatives also get a county car to use.
Vainieri also has a separate job as Sacco's chief of staff. He once had Sacco as a teacher in North Bergen.
Freeholder Tilo Rivas, who represents Union City, was sworn in just before Vainieri.
“Hudson County is really moving forward for the better,” he said, after Union City Mayor and State Sen. Brian Stack swore him in. “This is a great thing for me, and Union City, as well—a hardworking community.”
Rivas also has a part-time job as one of Union City's elected commissioners.
Two new freeholders
Both Jerry Walker and Joel Torres were also sworn in, representing different areas of Jersey City. Walker represents District 3, which covers southeastern Jersey City. Torres represents District 4, which contains Jersey City’s northern areas.
“I'm looking forward to making Hudson County the best place, and District 3, particularly,” Walker said in his inaugural address. “Bringing resources back in town, and I'm going to try and capitalize on my relationships with people, just to try to make Jersey City a better place to live and improve the quality of life.”
Walker is a former basketball star at Seton Hall University. He also has a non-profit that offers after-school services and recreation to Jersey City youth.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop was on hand to swear Torres in.
Fulop also thanked Sacco, Stack and Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis for having their officers patrol Jersey City streets during the funeral for Jersey City Lt. Christopher Robateau, who was struck and killed by a truck on the NJ Turnpike Jan. 5. Robateau was buried the same day as the inauguration.
In his speech, Torres mentioned that his kids joke with him because he cried last year during his appointment as president for the Jersey City Board of Education. He resigned from the position when he became a freeholder.
“For the first time, they saw me tear up and cry,” Torres said. “They said I was not a role model. So I promised them that would be the last time they would ever see me that way. I'm here to tell you, 'Thank you very much.'”
Torres mentioned he has “big shoes to fill” as newly-elected County Clerk Junior Maldonado is Torres' immediate predecessor. “Therefore, I'm going to lean on your mentorship,” Torres told Maldonado. “I'm going to reach out to you a lot.”
The governor, Hoboken, and Jersey City
Gov. Phil Murphy, then a few days from taking office, made an appearance to thank Hudson County voters and swear in Freeholder Anthony “Stick” Romano and Maldonado.
Romano represents Hoboken and Jersey City. He also ran in the Hoboken mayoral elections in November.
“I want to pay tribute to great leaders in this county, such as Senator Stack, Senator Sacco, and Mayor Fulop,” Romano said. “I want to pay homage and respect to all the different groups that have supported me, and that's the wonderful part of this great county. I have so many wonderful friends in the Muslim community. I have wonderful labor unions here, and everybody that was a part of this victory.”
“We've accomplished so much together in the last three years and we're going to do so much more,” said Freeholder Kenneth Kopacz, who represents Bayonne and Jersey City. “It's awesome that we get to help people, but when you do it with people that you really care about and enjoy being around, it makes it so much more special.”
“I've been a Hudson County resident for the past 56 years, and I'm a little older than 56, so I intend to leave it as my home county, until those days that I go somewhere else,” said Freeholder Caridad Rodriguez, representing West New York, Weehawken, and Guttenberg.
“My motto has always been, 'Commit yourself to something that you will carry out,'” Rodriguez said. “As as the oath says, 'I commit myself to the service of the people of this county.' We have to continue to live here, work hard in it, help our families, our children, our women.”
Rodriguez briefly teared up as she revealed that her infant granddaughter had received a cancer diagnosis a few years ago. However, her grandchild is cancer free today.
New county clerk
In his speech, Maldonado shared a story from 30 years ago, when doctors found a blood clot in his brain “the size of a grapefruit.”
The resulting operation did not go perfectly, and left him paralyzed on the right side of his body.
But “I fought back because I had a passion to live,” Maldonado said. “I had a desire, a commitment, a dedication to life. Today, I bring you that passion, I bring you that dedication, I being you that commitment as your county clerk. I'm here today as a testament to hard work and commitment.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org