The Hudson County Cuban Day Parade, which starts in North Bergen and runs through Guttenberg and West New York to end in Union City, has always been a barometer of local politics.
This year was no different. Residents and politicians gathered to support U.S. Sen. Robert “Bob” Menendez in his battle against President Barack Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba, as well as Menendez’s fight against corruption charges brought against him by the U.S. Justice Department.
Earlier this year, in an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury, Menendez was charged with allegedly corrupt acts arising from his relationship with a Florida-based eye surgeon and campaign contributor, Salomon Melgen. Menendez has described the doctor as a close family friend.
Menendez’s appearance at the parade came at a time when the president was trying to normalize relations with Cuba, a move that Menendez opposes. Not only did he speak against the president’s policy, but a few days after the parade, he and others in the U.S. Senate issued a bill to deny resources to Cuba’s military and security services.
Menendez joined Republican senators in introducing the “Cuban Military Transparency Act,” which asserts: “U.S. policy should be guided by one, single principle – supporting the Cuban people’s aspirations for a democratic future.”
“I think we all came out to support Bob.” – Angelica Jimenez
Menendez, who once served as mayor of Union City, is considered a standard bearer for Cuban families forced to leave Cuba after Fidel Castro took over the country in 1959.
His appearance at the parade was a message to his Cuban constituency in Hudson County that he still stood by them even at a time when Obama allegedly seemed not to.
A sign of support
The parade marched from Bergenline Avenue and 79th Street in North Bergen, through Guttenberg and West New York, and concluded at Bergenline Avenue and 43rd Street in Union City.
Emilio Del Valle, the president of the Celia Cruz Park Committee, said he was happy with the turnout. Hundreds of people lined Bergenline Avenue to cheer Menendez on.
State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, West New York Mayor Felix Roque, Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff, joined by Assembly members Angelica M. Jimenez and Raj Mukherji, all took the long walk of support.
“I think we all came out to support Bob,” Jimenez said.
State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack walked up from Union City to join the parade.
“I do that every year,” he said, as he took his place among the dignitaries at the head of the parade.
The event is designed to allow the Cuban community to show its culture, and this translated to music and dance. Floats featured beautiful women, loud music, and amazing color.
Over the decade, the parade has been tinged with political intrigue. In 2012, parade officials refused to allow Roque to march up front because he arrived late in violation of the parade rules. At the time, Roque had angered Menendez when he mistakenly endorsed Menendez’s Republican opponent. Roque had just been charged with allegedly conspiring to hack into a political opponent’s website. He was later found not guilty.
In 2007, Sal Vega, then mayor of West New York, tried to prevent the parade from going through West New York because of political differences with Stack, against whom Vega was running for state Senate. The matter eventually ended up in court.
This year, the common purpose to support Menendez seemed to overcome petty differences. Many of the political battles of the past had already been settled. Officials walked side by side with former political enemies surrounded by blue and white signs saying “I’m with Bob.”
A rally in Union City even had Sacco saying in Spanish that he was “with Bob” as well. Sacco encouraged others to support the besieged U.S. Senator.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.