Election day in West New York is just three weeks away, and Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega and his team are up for re-election, and running unopposed.
“I am excited because I think we have a ticket that has a mix of experience and youth,” said Vega.
Since coming into office last November, Vega has made some changes in the administration.
“The people of West New York have to come first,” said Vega. “That is why even anyone who would like to be in a [nonpolitical] leadership position [such as a superintendent] should be a resident in West New York.”
Vega brought back incumbents and lifelong residents Lawrence Riccardi and Gerald Lange to the Board of Commissioners, as well as the newest additions of Michelle Fernandez-Lopez and Alberto Rodriguez.
“It’s important that we let the young people – like Michelle and Alberto – know that West New York can be their home, and give them the opportunity to serve their community,” said Vega.
Seasoned running mates
Running on Column A with Vega are longtime colleagues Riccardi, who currently serves as director of Public Safety, and Lange, who currently serves as director of Revenue and Finance.
Serving 24 years, Riccardi first became commissioner in 1983 and served for 12 years under former Mayor Anthony DeFino, and then served an additional 12 years under former Mayor Albio Sires, who was elected to Congress last November.
During those 24 years, Riccardi served in all the offices of the commission, with the exception of Parks and Public Property. Most recently as director of Public Safety, he worked closely with the West New York Police Department.
“I have an open door policy with the officers,” said Riccardi. “They can come in with anything, and if I can help I will do what I can.”
Lange first came to office with Albio Sires in 1995, and served in several departments including Public Works, Parks and Public Property, and most recently Revenue and Finance. He is also finishing Vega’s unexpired term as a Hudson County freeholder in the sixth district.
“I have always been involved with West New York since the beginning, and as a commissioner I will always try to do what I can,” said Lange.
Like Vega, Lange also believes in the importance of having town leaders actually living in town.
“I think it’s great and very important,” said Lange. “If you look at neighboring towns [that’s why] you see that camaraderie.”
While serving in the Department of Public Works, Lange implemented a recycling program in the school system and maintained effective street cleaning. He was also involved in the renovation of the town parks, and established the first dog run on Boulevard East. As director of Revenue and Finance, he helped to maintain a stable tax in the town.
“For the last seven years, the town has not seen a tax increase that is not in accordance with the cost of living index,” said Vega.
“I would like to see some sort of tax relief incentive to bring new construction in town,” said Lange. “We are looking to keep people here and keep the community [growing]. That is a very important goal for this administration.”
Rounding out the Vega ticket are first-time candidates Alberto Rodriguez and Michelle Fernandez-Lopez. Fernandez-Lopez first immigrated to West New York from the Dominican Republic at the age of 9 with her family, and is currently an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at Harry L. Bain School, which she attended.
She is married and raising her three children in town.
“We have been living in West New York since we first arrived,” said Fernandez-Lopez, who is the ninth of 11 brothers and sisters. “I grew up here. I love West New York.”
“Michelle represents a growing community in town and has been active on the issues,” said Vega.
Having gone through the West New York school system, one of Fernandez-Lopez’s goals is better educational programming, especially for immigrant students, whom she already helps as a teacher at Harry L. Bain School.
“I am proud to be an immigrant and I know what they go through,” said Fernandez-Lopez. “I want them to know my door is always open to them.”
A first generation born American, Rodriguez grew up in North Bergen after his family defected from Cuba.
“I was born in Hudson County and grew up in North Bergen,” said Rodriguez. “I have always considered myself very Cuban.”
Rodriguez, 28, studied political science and Latin American studies at Fordham University before pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Miami. After graduate school he moved to West New York in 2003 and married a longtime West New York resident.
“I have always liked politics and wanted to get involved,” said Rodriguez. “Having grown up in North Bergen I know the area. I care about where I live. As an elected official you have a responsibility to your neighbors to better their lives.”
Rodriguez has a diverse background in emergency management. He worked at the Office of Emergency Management in New York City, Hudson County and Miami-Dade County in Florida.
“He will be the youngest commissioner ever in West New York,” said Vega.
Rodriguez is currently the co-owner and vice president of Rodriguez Glass and Chuni International Corp.
“I think they are excellent as candidates. They are well-educated and proud of their backgrounds,” said Vega. “Their generation is going to bring West New York forward in 20 years.”
What’s to come?
Leading the pack is former commissioner-turned- mayor Sal Vega whose goal is to encourage the sense of community in West New York, which has been lost due to so many residents, especially young professionals, moving to other areas.
Vega served as a commissioner since 1991, and was sworn in as mayor on Nov. 10.
A graduate of Memorial High School and the University of Tennessee, Vega was a competitive track star, and currently serves as Memorial High School’s athletic director. He was also the former chairman of the Board of Freeholders.
“One of my goals is to have an annual town picnic,” said Vega, which he is suggesting for Memorial Day weekend at Miller Stadium. “It’s something that will unify the town and give us a sense of pride.” Jessica Rosero can be reached at email@example.com