In a move that would have seemed impossible only two years ago, Mayor Felix Roque and three other commissioners voted on Feb. 4 to appoint Cosmo Cirillo to replace Rubin Vargas on the town’s five-member Board of Commissioners.
At 27 years old, Cirillo is the youngest person to ever serve as a commissioner in West New York and will serve as commissioner of the Department of Public Affairs.
The town is represented by the five elected commissioners, one of whom also acts as mayor. The position is considered part-time.
Commissioner Count Wiley was the lone vote against the appointment.
Cirillo was administered the oath of office by state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, accompanied by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez.
City Hall’s commissioner chamber was filled with well-wishers from West New York and across Hudson County and included former Mayor Sal Vega, Superintendent of Schools John Fauta, Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff, Bayonne Mayor James Davis, former Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, and others.
Cirillo previously served as the president of the West New York Board of Education, deputy city clerk for West New York, chief of staff for Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez and most recently, special advisor to Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
Enemies no more
Appointed to the Board of Education under then-Mayor Sal Vega, Cirillo came into conflict with Roque when the mayor allegedly tried to purge City Hall of Vega appointees after Roque beat Vega for mayor in May 2011.
Faced with a state report that said he could not hold both the clerk’s position and be president of the Board of Education, Cirillo gave up the clerk’s position to become chief of staff for Jimenez in 2012.
“I’m not sure I’m going to be able to live up to all this, but I’m going to try.” – Cosmo Cirillo
Youngest commissioner in WNY history
During Cirillo’s swearing-in ceremony, Roque sang the praises of his former adversary.
“Cosmo is a long time resident of West New York with a passion for public service,” Roque said. “His connection to West New York began when his grandparents with his father immigrated to the United States in 1972. Cosmo knew early that he wanted to give back to the same community that welcomed his family. At the age of 16, he began interning for the town and continued his employment throughout his college career.”
A 2009 Seton Hall graduate, Cirillo received a bachelor degree in political science and master’s degree in public administration. He is currently pursuing a Ph.d. at Caldwell University in Educational Leadership.”
Cirillo was named to the Board of Education at the age of 20 where he served for four years, two as its president, Roque said.
“Not only does Cosmo bring vast municipal government experience, but he also brings state government experience as well,” Rogue said. “Cosmo’s dedication to the town is also evident in his volunteer efforts. He has volunteered at numerous senior events and was founder and president of the Union City/ West New York Rotary Club [now known as the North Hudson Rotary Club[. Cosmo has always given his time.”
He also has served six terms as a member of the West New York Democratic Committee, and currently serves as the committee’s executive director.
“Cosmo will bring a unique perspective as a commissioner and I know he will serve the residents of West New York well,” Roque said. “His youth, enthusiasm and experience will be invaluable to the Board of Commissioners.”
Others sing Cirillo’s praises, too
Prieto said was an “honor and pleasure” to help swear-in Cirillo.
“Cosmo is the real deal,” Prieto said. “This young man is exceptional. He brings a great work ethic to the table. He lives and breathes West New York. He is tenacious. He knows the subject matter. He doesn’t just go along with anything. He brings in his own ideas and I know Mayor Roque will have collected an exceptional young man. I didn’t know he would be the youngest commissioner ever, but his age says nothing about his wisdom. He has accomplished so much in such a short time that it is incredible.”
Jimenez broke down in tears as she paid tribute to Cirillo.
“This is an emotional day for me,” she said. “This is confirmation the choice I made in 2012 [taking him on as her chief of staff] was all worth it.”
She said he lives and breathes West New York and its democratic values, and knows he will do an awesome job.
Sacco was told early on that Cirillo was someone to take notice of:
“A number of years, then-Mayor Sal Vega said there was an up and coming person in his organization, very young man. I took it from where it was coming. I knew Sal was very experienced politically and he saw something in this person and he felt this person would move ahead very quickly. But in politics this doesn’t always happen, people at 27 don’t become commissioners in West New York. It’s never happened before. So for the first time in history, we have someone who represents the young part of this community, a person who grew up here, and loves to live here. I had the ability to watch him maneuver, politically and down in Trenton where he became the voice of wisdom. If you needed to know something, you called Cosmo. So his being here today doesn’t surprise me.”
Living up to the hype?
Joking as he came to the podium to speak, Cirillo said, “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to live up to all this, but I’m going to try. I’m filled with emotion right now. I’m humbled to see the number of people in this room. I’m a lifelong resident of this town. I love this town with all of my heart and I wanted to work together [with the mayor and other commissioners] to help move this town forward. It is a real passion of mine to be here.”
Cirillo was praised by adversaries and friends alike.
Patrick Cullen, who is running as a commissioner an independent, saluted Roque for appoint Cirillo.
“We all know that Cosmo Cirillo was on the other side of the fence two or three years ago, and that fact that you [Roque] have put him on your team shows that you are open-minded,” Cullen said. “I know Cosmo Cirillo is a man of integrity and I know he loves this town.”
Ricky Solares commended Roque for the choice, and the move to unite West New York.
Beatrice Oliveti also praised Cirillo and Roque for the appointment. Her father was a commissioner in West New York in the early 1970s.
“I feel we have a wonderful mayor,” she said after the ceremony. “He has always looked past my blindness and not judged me by it. I’ve known Cosmo since I started working in town hall. He does live and breathe West New York.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.