When Union City Mayor and newly elected 33rd District Assemblyman Brian Stack resigned his position as Hudson County Freeholder two weeks ago, many in the area wondered who would replace him.
Stack didn’t have to look far to find that replacement when he recommended fellow Union City Commissioner Tilo Rivas.
Last week, the Hudson County Democratic Committee’s Sixth District members unanimously elected Rivas as Hudson County Freeholder for the 33rd District. The freeholder board oversees county contracts, business, and facilities (like the courthouse and jail).
As the highest-elected Dominican official in Hudson County, Rivas, according to Union City Mayor Brian Stack, is a perfect fit for the freeholder position.
“First of all, Tilo is someone who is a complete gentleman,” said Stack in a recent interview. “He’ll work hard and he is a team player, and on the freeholders, you have to be a team player. You have to know how to bend.”
Added Stack, “Tilo brings a perspective of being someone who knows municipal issues. He will be able to bring even more to the people of the 33rd District.”
Chairman of the Board of Hudson County Freeholders Sal Vega echoed Stack’s sentiments in a telephone interview last week.
“I’m sad to see Brian go,” said Vega. “We were very comfortable having him on the board with him being a mayor, but Tilo will be an asset to the freeholders. He has pledged to focus on things like education and housing, many things that are important to not only Union City but to the rest of the county.”
According to Vega, Rivas’ experience as a municipal official is an important facet in his appointment to the freeholders.
“Usually, there’s a learning curve for anyone that is an elected official,” said Vega. “It’s much easier to make the transition if you have experience, and Tilo has that experience. I expect him to fit right in.”
Rivas will serve out the rest of Stack’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2005, and he has served as a Union City Commissioner since May, 2002. Rivas also served on the Union City Board of Education in 2001.
Rivas has worked for the Kraft Foods Corporation as a research scientist for Nabisco for over 10 years.
According to published reports, two other Union City officials were on Stack’s list to replace him: Union City Commissioner Christopher Irizarry, Deputy Director of Public Affairs Lucio Fernandez, and Union City Redevelopment Agency Director Kennedy Ng. Stack said that Irizarry declined the position because he had just accepted an appointment to a post on the Union City Board of Education. Ng’s position with the Redevelopment Agency is federal and thus, he can’t be a freeholder, and Fernandez is being looked at for another city post.
Rivas’ appointment makes him the first elected Dominican to serve above the municipal level. And the gravity of that fact is not lost on Rivas.
“This gives me great pride,” said Rivas. “This is a great big step for Dominicans. This is a great opportunity for Dominicans statewide to realize that they can succeed. Not just to pursue the ‘American Dream’, but to help other people as well.”
Certainly, Rivas’ appointment by Stack could be seen nepotistic, but as Rivas sees it, the results are what counts. “Brian has been a big supporter of mine,” Rivas said. “But everyone else in Union City has supported me. We are not working for votes; we are working for the people. This is a distressed city and we need to help these people.”
According to Stack, there have been no comments on his appointment of Rivas to the post. “I doesn’t matter that he’s one of my commissioners. He brings experience to the position, that’s all that counts.”
What he’ll do
Rivas stated last week that he is already working on compiling a list of issues that he intends to tackle in his first months as a freeholder.
Said Rivas, “I am going to work to bring county government back to the people. I want to make bringing the Hudson County Community College to Union City a reality. And I want to make sure that the area that the school will be in will be improved.”
Rivas went on to list improvements and initiatives that he wants to work on. Said Rivas, “Also on this list is getting more affordable housing to Union City and to continue supporting the 47th Street pool project. I want to get more lights in parks and updating recreation areas.”
Continued Rivas, “Something that is very important to me is to make sure that more Union City high school students take part in the Hudson County School of Technology. I support the scholarship program that the county has, and I think it is very important that students focus on the sciences.”
Rivas stated that Union City will remain his focus, and that there are many issues in the city that he wants to home in on. One issue in particular that Rivas pledged to involve himself in is the chaotic and dangerous intersection at 32nd and Kennedy Boulevard.
“This is very important,” said Rivas. “We have to do something about that area. It is chaos there. I will propose a bridge that goes over the roadway. This is a public problem, and I will also propose a dedicated left turn signal at that intersection.” Added Rivas, “I cannot wait to tackle this issue. I will emphasize this. So many people have complained about it.”
Rivas concluded by pledging to carry on the agenda that departed Freeholder Brian Stack adhered to. “I will do whatever he would have done,” said Rivas. “I also will be working closely with County Executive Tom DeGise.”