After all the speculation and drama in recent weeks, the City Council at their Wednesday meeting approved Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s choice of former Hudson County Freeholder Radames “Ray” Velazquez to fill the Council-at Large seat vacated by former councilman Mariano Vega last month.
Velazquez, 46, who stepped down from his job as a Jersey City Municipal Court judge on Monday, was affirmed by an 8-0 vote. He was scheduled to be sworn in as a councilman at a City Hall ceremony on Friday.
In order for Velazquez to be named, a last-minute resolution first had to be placed officially on the agenda by a vote of six council members. Then, the resolution had to be approved by a five-member majority.
The announcement of Velazquez as the replacement caught people off-guard when Council President Peter Brennan made the announcement before Monday’s caucus ended. The prevailing view was that mayoral aide Omar Perez was considered the favorite for Vega’s seat at the beginning of last week.
“It is ingrained in me to do public service, to help the community.” – Radames Velazquez
“My vote tonight is by no means an endorsement,” Fulop said. “But it is rather to give someone the benefit of a doubt and an opportunity that he won’t be a rubber stamp.”
City Councilwoman Nidia Lopez also thought Velazquez was a good choice, as she said she voted for Velazquez based not on his cultural background but on his qualifications. Much had been made about the seat being filled by a person with a Puerto Rican background, as the result of pressure by Puerto Rican political leaders. Lopez, along with her husband Ben, was criticized for initially backing Vega’s aide Hilario Nunez, a Dominican, for Vega’s seat.
Velazquez then addressed the council after the vote, commending them for approving his selection.
“It’s my pleasure to stand in this room … and I thank you for your confidence,” Velazquez said.
Gaining the public’s trust
After the meeting, Velazquez said taking the council job was a “pay cut” from his judge’s position but he did not hesitate to accept.
“It is ingrained in me to do public service, to help the community,” said Velazquez, who will continue in his other job as a Hudson County assistant counsel.
However, Velazquez said he will work hard to gain the “public’s trust,” since he was appointed and not elected to fill Vega’s seat, over the next year until the November 2011 special election. He said he would consider running for the council-at-large office.
Velazquez said he had to spend time studying the issues currently on the council’s agenda, but said he would look at issues dealing with public safety and crime, pointing out that he is the father of a 15-year-old son. He also said he would be a “voice” for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community.
During the meeting’s public speaking portion, some speakers voiced concern regarding the selection of Velazquez.
Longtime downtown resident Yvonne Balcer wondered about rumors regarding Velazquez’s residence in Bergen County and whether his son actually goes to school within county limits. Velazquez addressed those rumors after the meeting, saying that he lives in a home on Highland Avenue, about two blocks away from St. Peter’s College, and that his son attends Ferris High School in downtown Jersey City.
Narciso Castillo, of the local immigrant rights organization Action 21, passed out copies of a letter to the council to remind them that the council position should have been open to everybody, not just someone of Hispanic heritage.
But Velazquez has supporters who already see him doing great things in his new job. Local attorney Kalimah Ahmad, who also works with Velazquez in the Hudson County Counsel’s office, thought the selection was an excellent one.
“Ray knows where this city has been and where he wants it to go,” Ahmad said.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.