“What do we do now?” was Robert Redford’s famous line at the end of the 1972 movie The Candidate, a film whose themes were the pointlessness of politics, the corrupting influence of a political machine, the over-importance of “image” and the power of money.
The remark may be what Jersey City politicos are wondering in the aftermath of Mariano Vega’s resignation from his City Council seat on Sept. 13. It may also be the first thing his replacement wonders after being chosen.
That “placeholder” will be nominated by Mayor Jerramiah Healy, then appointed by a vote of the City Council, because Vega resigned one business day after the date when the voters could have chosen his replacement in a special election this November.
His replacement will fill the seat until a special election in November 2011 selects an interim council person for the remainder of Vega’s term as council member-at-large, a city-wide position which expires in July 2013.
“I understand it’s the process, and I am honored to be considered.” – Hilario Nunez
38, a teacher at Snyder High School. But Nunez doesn’t think he’ll be chosen. Last week, he said he is “not the one” and believes that Mayor Healy is looking at another candidate.
“I understand it’s the process, and I am honored to be considered,” Nunez said.
So who is being considered by the Healy Administration? Political sources with knowledge of the situation say that person is Omar Perez, who has worked in the mayor’s office as an aide since August 2008. Perez was Vega’s council aide for four months in 2008 before he went to work in the mayor’s office.
But others say they object to the City Hall choice being the only one under consideration. About a dozen people have submitted their resumes to the City Clerk’s Office as potential candidates for the “placeholder” period, according to city spokesperson Jennifer Morrill. Some of those people have also advocated that the selection to be done in an open and transparent manner, and for the person appointed for Vega’s seat to only serve until the special election.
Healy has tried to stay out of the political fray by issuing a statement saying, “I will support the best candidate who I feel can serve in the position and who has the appropriate education and experience.”
Yet Healy, in response to a question from the Jersey City Reporter, said it would be better to consider a Hispanic for the seat because of the large Hispanic population in the city.
At the same time, political leaders across the city want to have a say on who fills the seat, and they have been meeting with Healy to advocate for nominees.
The council has until Oct. 13 to elect a replacement or remain an eight-person body until the special election.
More than just a replacement
Much has been said about the Hispanic community’s desire to have Vega’s council seat occupied by someone Hispanic, and not just any Hispanic occupant will do.
Those from both the Puerto Rican and Dominican sectors want their respective representative to occupy Vega’s office.
Local political observers say there could be uproar if a Dominican such as Nunez is named, since much of the city’s Hispanic political power base is Puerto Rican, like Vega. As it turns out, the uproar is not mere hyperbole.
A Hispanic community source and city political insider has said that much passion and anger has been expressed by Hudson County Freeholder Eliu Rivera, a Puerto Rican native, about this issue, and that Rivera, though he has offered names of politically-connected Puerto Ricans to Healy, has been rebuffed in favor of Nunez.
Rivera confirmed last week that he had met with Healy to impress upon him that he prefers to see a Puerto Rican.
“We are the largest Hispanic voting bloc in the city; this is what I am arguing,” Rivera said.
Rivera also pointed out that various prominent political offices have been lost by Puerto Ricans, such as the Ward E council seat once held by E. Junior Maldonado until he lost in the 2005 municipal election to Steven Fulop. He is also concerned that other offices such as his Freeholder seat and the Hudson County Sheriff, currently held by Juan Perez, could also be lost in future elections.
The speculation is that Omar Perez is being considered as a candidate to appease Rivera and other Puerto Rican politicians.
However, other groups are promoting their own candidates. City Hall sources said State Sen. Sandra Cunningham is supporting Terry Dehere to fill Vega’s seat, stressing the importance of the African-American community in getting local officials like Healy elected. The former St. Anthony High School basketball star served on the Jersey City school board for three years until he lost in last April’s school board election.
And the Indian community is looking to gain a foothold in city government. Hiral Patel, who ran in this year’s school board election and lost on a ticket with Dehere and former Jersey City Gerald McCann, submitted her name as a candidate with the support of her uncle, Raju Patel, a longtime leader in the Indian community.
We want to be considered, too
Also seeking the seat are those with a variety of political and civic experience.
Those names include Erik Anders-Nilsson, an actor and founder of the Jersey City Peace Movement, who also ran for City Council in 2005; Adela Rohena, a Jersey City Peace Movement member and Board of Education employee; Omar Dyer, who heads an organization called Coaches 101 and is helping the team to go forward with the recall of Mayor Healy and members of the City Council; Rolando Lavarro, a New Jersey City University employee who worked as an aide to former City Councilwoman Mary Donnelly and ran for City Council last year; and Dan Levin, owner of a framing business in Hoboken and more well known for his run for mayor in 2009.
Lavarro and Levin addressed the City Council at their last meeting on Sept. 15, two days after Vega’s resignation, calling for the replacement of the former councilman’s seat to be based on a decision made with public input and not just solely with Mayor Healy.
Levin reiterated last week that the city should consider as many people as possible.
“I would like to see more people that do not come from the existing political structure and put themselves up for public office,” Levin said.
He also thinks whoever serves the short term before the special election should pledge not to run in the special election, since they would already have frontrunner status by virtue of already being in office.
City Councilman Fulop, like Levin, also wants to see more people step forward. Fulop said at least six people seeking Vega’s seat have contacted him for his support. He has devised his own system on how to choose the candidate to back.
“I made a questionnaire for anybody who has asked for my support,” Fulop said. “This is to find out where people are on the issues and trying to get a feel for why they want to serve.”
Fulop said the answers to the questionnaire will be provided to the City Clerk’s Office.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.