With the June 6 primary for statewide and local political seats just over a month away, Hudson County will be watching the highly anticipated Democratic face-off between the longstanding Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) and the newly formed Democrats for Hudson County (DFHC).
Among the coveted positions is the 7th District seat on the Hudson County Board of Freeholders. The freeholder board votes on county policy and personnel regarding issues like the county budget (which decides county taxes), the jails, county parks, roads, and agencies.
The 7th District represents Guttenberg, Weehawken and West New York.
In that race, HCDO candidate Alberto Cabrera of Weehawken is pitted against DFHC candidate Jose Munoz of West New York.
Freeholders receive an annual salary and use of a county car.
Born in Piner del Rio province of Cuba, Alberto Cabrera came to the United States with his family at the age of 9. After a month in Miami, the family relocated to Weehawken, where they have remained ever since.
“I went through the Weehawken school system, met my wife Pura in Weehawken, and now raising my children in Weehawken,” said Cabrera, whose is the father of two. “I have invested in Weehawken and fell in love with the town. It’s a small little family.”
Cabrera first started his public service in Weehawken about 13 years ago, and has served as interim chairman of the town Planning Board and currently chairs the Zoning Board. He is also a trustee on the Weehawken Board of Education. This is his first run for public elected office.
“I was approached by Mayor Vega, who felt that I was the right candidate [due to city government experience],” said Cabrera. “I am also bilingual and can successfully represent the different constituents of the district. [Mayor Vega and I] share the same vision for the future of Hudson County.”
Among the key issues Cabrera is looking to address are education, open space for recreation, and affordable housing.
“[Right now] I come to speak to classes about the value of education, and the importance of working hard in life for them to be successful,” said Cabrera. “I’m also trying to reach out to the residents and find out what are their needs are, and then my job is to go back to the county and execute it.”
As part of the town boards, Cabrera has worked on open space projects including a recent one at Baldwin Avenue in Weehawken, where work is being done on 14 to 15 acres of open space that will house two small Little League baseball fields, as well as a large field for football, soccer, and track.
“Eventually … the performing arts center [will be built in the same vicinity],” said Cabrera, who also coaches Little League.
As far as affordable housing, Cabrera wants to keep encouraging developers to build in the community as long as they contribute a percentage to affordable housing.
“We need it in the three [towns],” said Cabrera. “[We continue] to try and persuade some land developers to come in, but to give back to the community. Many of these residents want to invest in the town and want to raise their families in the town.”
Cabrera has been a businessman in the North Hudson area for 20 years, and volunteers with local groups such as the PERC Homeless Shelter in Union City.
West New York resident Jose Munoz made his first attempt at elected office in 2003. Although unsuccessful, he garnered strong community support, which he is bringing with him in the upcoming primary.
“I’m running because I want to empower the people,” said Munoz. “I feel there are issues in the county that need to be addressed, especially in the areas of crime, education, and affordable housing.”
Munoz currently works for the parole board at the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration. He is also currently working on his second master’s degree in accounting at St. Peter’s College.
“My education has always been to become a public servant one day,” said Munoz.
Munoz arrived from Cuba in 1994, leaving because of the political situation there.
“I came from Cuba with a suitcase full of memories and a dream to succeed, he said.”
Munoz settled in West New York working as many as three jobs, while going to school.
After starting work at the Hudson County Correctional Department, Munoz saw a different area of education that is sorely needed and he would like to address in office.
“At Hudson County Correctional they don’t do anything for rehabilitation [especially for juveniles],” said Munoz. “They have to empower kids, and give them the skills they need.”
According to Munoz, without these support and educational programs, these children and the general public run the risk of becoming repeat offenders, and may potentially fall into drugs or gangs.
“Right now it comes down to prevention, and I want to get funding for these educational programs,” said Munoz. Munoz is also an advocate of bringing more affordable housing, noting that Hudson County is one of the most expensive places to live in the state.
“I think the county should start working together with the different municipalities to help bring more affordable housing to Hudson County,” said Munoz.
In addition, Munoz is hoping to establish more accessibility to county community services, especially for senior citizens, and wants to work with the district on establishing what the public needs are.
“I will speak to the public everyday and I will listen to their needs,” said Munoz. “[The community] has been giving me support, and furthermore I am honored to get the support of Congressman Sires, Mayor Richard Turner, and Assemblyman Brian Stack.”
Munoz has lived in West New York for 13 years, and has actively participated in past freeholder meetings, including drawing up applications for grants.
“I think my education and my experience at the county level [makes me well qualified], and when you’re a freeholder you have to look at the county as a whole,” said Munoz. Jessica Rosero can be reached at email@example.com