Freeholder Anthony Romano from Hoboken was named to replace Caridad Rodriguez of West New York as chairperson pro-tempore, the third ranking member on the board.
Historically, the vice chair of the previous year is named chairperson for the new year. Beginning in 1999, then-Freeholder Sal Vega also broke with tradition when he was reelected to the post five times before relinquishing it to become mayor of West New York and later to run for the state Senate.
O’Dea, who would have become chairman this year if the rotation had been retained, joked: “We liked Anthony so much we decided to give him another year.”
Romano’s election to pro tempore puts him in the rotation to become chairman in two years. He said he was honored to be appointed pro tempore and praised his fellow freeholders, staff, the county executive, and others including Rodriquez for the work they did in 2017.
O’Dea, who has served as a freeholder since 1997, recalled how when he first came to the board he was a political outcast.
“I was an independent out in the cold,” he said.
O’Dea had won his seat by one vote of the Democratic committee to fill the unexpired term of Hank Gallo, who had just died.
A sharp critic of then County Executive Robert Janiszewski, O’Dea’s victory was seen as a political coup.
“Now 20 years later, I’m vice chair. Back then was a different county executive,” O’Dea recalled. “The current county executive, Tom DeGise is a good friend.”
DeGise was on hand to swear in Vainieri as the chairman. He said the board will have a lot of work to do in 2018, anticipating the opening of the new Schools of Technology in Secaucus in September, as well as other projects starting up.
Vainieri said while as a freeholder he knows he can’t please everybody he will try. He looked ahead to the opening of the high school as well as the ground breaking on a new police academy also in Secaucus.
“What we are doing here is investing in the future,” he said.
Warming center issues
In the caucus following reorganization the freeholders reviewed complaints about conditions in the county’s warming center in Kearny. These included a reported lack of cleanliness and problems with security.
The Kearny facility was developed to provide shelter on extremely cold days for homeless people when other shelters are full. It provides food, a warm place to stay, and bathing facilities. The homeless are transported to the site by advocates and others from places like the Hoboken NJ Transit terminal and the PATH station in Journal Square.
An advocate for the homeless in Jersey City apparently tried to deliver food to the center during a recent cold spell and became entangled in a verbal dispute with security personnel who did not know who he was.
Lane Jacobs, who manages the Kearny center as well as other similar facilities in Newark, said a security guard was on break when the activist arrived, and things heated up due to confusion over identity.
“Many of our staff has been there 24 hours a day seven days as week since Dec. 27,” Jacobs said. “Patience wears thin and they are dealing with a challenging population.”
But he added there is no excuse for profanity, and that the staff has been spoken to, and additional training will take place.
O’Dea also noted reports that showed a drop off in the number of the homeless brought to the center, and wanted to know if this was the result of problems. He said only 45 homeless persons used the facility during the extreme cold spell in late December and into January. In the past, the population sometimes reached 100.
Jacobs said many homeless persons actually go home to see their families during the holidays, explaining the drop off.
“We’ll see this go up after the holidays,” he said.
The other complaints, he said, center on the foyer area of the warming center, and the snow that piles up there. While the situation has been addressed, snow removal is supposed to done by the county, not those operating the shelter.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.