The effort to recall Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega and the West New York Board of Commissioners officially ended a few months ago, but the repercussions are still being felt around town. For some residents, a reminder of that campaign’s ferocity appeared in their mailbox last week.
A full page flyer, paid for by West New York First (a non-partisan organization that was created last year to oppose the recall effort and support Vega and the commissioners) was sent to residents throughout West New York, alleging that the recall effort led by Dr. Felix Roque cost $100,000 in tax dollars which Roque should reimburse.
The flyer featured a photo of Roque, along with his cell phone number, and encouraged residents to call “and tell him to pay up.”
“The small bill has been paid, but we want him to reimburse tax payers for $100,000 in unnecessary, wasted money that was paid for the recall.” – Paul Swibinski
‘Public education campaign’
A couple of weeks ago, the West New York Democratic Committee released a statement alleging that Roque had not yet paid $2,652 in legal fees related to the failed recall effort that a New Jersey Superior Court ordered the doctor to pay in August.
Roque responded, saying that he received the letter ordering the payment on Aug. 31 and paid it on Sept. 8. After Vega called him a “deadbeat,” Roque stopped payment on the first check and personally carried a new check to Town Hall the following day.
But Vega said he should do more.
“Not only should he pay the monies ordered by the judge,” said Vega at the time, “he should also reimburse West New York for the nearly $100,000 of hard earned taxpayer money he wasted in this ridiculous recall fraud.”
Paul Swibinski, a spokesman for Vega, verified last week that the $2,652 which Roque had been ordered to pay had been received.
“The small bill has been paid,” said Swibinski. “But we want him to reimburse taxpayers for $100,000 in unnecessary, wasted money that was paid for the recall.”
When asked why the flyer was sent out after the actual amount the judge ordered Roque to pay had been paid, Swibinski said it was part of a “continuing public education campaign” that has two purposes – to make people aware that the judge ordered Roque to reimburse the town nearly $2,700 which he didn’t pay until Vega called him a deadbeat, and also to demand that Roque repay the full cost to the town.
Swibinski said the $100,000 figure was a “good faith estimate” based on legal fees and efforts of a number of town employees who were responsible for reviewing Roque’s recall petitions when they could have been doing other things.
Instead of an education campaign, Roque likened the flyer effort to “a kid throwing a tantrum” and accused Vega of using the same political tactics as Fidel Castro.
“Send me a bill,” said Roque in response last week. “Document the hours, the time; and then I’ll look into paying. I might even donate a doggie park since [Vega] hasn’t paid attention to all those residents living on Boulevard East to fix the park.”
He added that the recall team will reimburse the $100,000 once Vega’s former Chief of Staff Janet Passante reimburses the $306,000 she received in unused sick days as part of her retirement.
“It’s just more of his bluster and his giant ego talking without any regard to the truth at all,” said Swibinski in response to the allegations about Passante’s retirement. “The town had no choice but to pay those retirement benefits, they’re all contractually obligated. This is a problem in New Jersey that the state legislature is working to address right now, but you can’t change the rules for people who are retiring now who worked for their entire lives under a certain expectation that they would be able to cash these days in instead of using them all this time.”
Roque has mentioned several times that he plans to run for mayor of West New York in 2011, but last week he said he has not yet officially filed the forms.
According to Swibinski, neither Vega nor any of the commissioners have filed to run yet either.
Still, the back and forth nature of the two camps since the recall effort is reminiscent of campaign time politics.
“Last time [Vega] was interviewed he said this is Politics 101,” said Roque. “I’m not a politician, I’m a doctor and a community activist. I want to make a difference in the town. The fact that [Vega] put my cell phone and false information shows he’s not a politician, he’s a parasite of humanity.”
Swibinski said that the number included on the flyer was the same one that Roque used on public forms related to the recall and they were unaware that it was his cell phone number.
Regardless of whether or not they knew, the inclusion of the cell phone number seems to be backfiring, according to Roque.
Although he did receive a few threatening phone calls, Roque said he received over a dozen calls of support and offers to help on his campaign.
“You can see there’s malice here,” said Roque. “But it’s not working, [Vega] is actually helping me advertise, that’s what he’s doing. I feel sorry for him. I’ve been in the military for 34 years, I’m ready for war – this is nothing.”
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.