Back in 1968, a year before I joined the U.S. Army, the real test of being a legitimate left-wing radical was whether you went to Cuba.
A number of people I knew through Abbie Hoffman’s runaway centers in Manhattan had made the trip, seeking to gain wisdom from one of the most successful revolutionaries in history: Fidel Castro.
I was encouraged to go, just as I was encouraged to protest at the Chicago National Democratic Convention.
With the opening of commercial air traffic to Cuba this week out of Newark Liberty Airport, heading there is not such an odious task. But back in the 1960s, the journey often required a trip to Mexico, and from Mexico to Cuba.
Common sense or perhaps my age – 17 at the time — kept me from taking the plunge. Perhaps I was still haunted by the television images of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Soviet Union attempted to install nuclear missiles in Cuba — missiles that would have made early warning systems obsolete.
Perhaps I sensed, as many Cuban refugees already knew, that Castro’s Cuban Revolution was never a success for human rights. Radicals of that time frequently took up strange people as heroes until time proved them wrong. This radical chic wore thin for many of us when Cuba became a haven for criminals such as Assata Olugbala Shakur who was accused of killing a New Jersey State Trooper, then escaped from prison and fled to Cuba.
The death of Fidel Castro last week was also the death of an important symbol, of a revolution that betrayed its early supporters and sent thousands fleeing Cuba’s shores, often dying along the 90-mile trip.
Northern Hudson County politicos felt the impact and the relief of the death most, because Castro has served as a symbol of oppression for many here whose families still reside in Cuba.
West New York Mayor Felix Roque, who is currently defending himself against bribery charges, vowed to go back to Cuba after his case is done, to beginning working to reform Cuba and take the next step toward bringing it to Democracy.
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, who is also facing serious charges of official misconduct, has been a staunch critic of the Castro Regime and opposed to President Barack Obama’s normalizing official relations with Cuba. Menendez said the reforms that were promised, especially regarding small business, never materialized.
“Business is the key to reform,” said Roque. “This is the way we can change the system there.”
But there are still huge obstacles. Menendez said that Fidel’s brother Raul was in charge of the military under Fidel and was responsible for much of the repression that took place in Cuba over the last six decades.
Ironically, it appears that President-elect Donald Trump agrees at least on some level with Menendez and may seek to close the doors to Cuba until real reforms are enacted.
Roque trial commenced this week
Speaking from the courtroom, Roque said he feels confident that he will be able to overcome charges that he was involved with a bribery scheme that allegedly involved steering patients to a particular testing clinic. Prosecutors have already dropped two of the three charges against him.
This case is unlike the 2012 case in which he was accused of conspiring to hack into the website of a political opponent, charges of which a jury pronounced him not guilty.
The bribery case is not politically connected and comes as part of a much larger series of prosecutions that have seen many other doctors plead guilty or were convicted.
If Roque would be found guilty, he would be forced to step down at mayor. But Roque believes he will be vindicated.
Dumping Romano as freeholder may not be easy
Although reports still surface that Mayor Dawn Zimmer might want to name her own candidate to run in next year’s primary for freeholder, a recent fundraiser at the Hoboken W Hotel showed just how strong incumbent Freeholder Anthony Romano is.
Political heavyweights made their appearance along with a strong labor union presence, more than suggesting they will support Romano over whichever candidate Zimmer chooses to run against them.
The Hudson County Democratic Organization is still stinging from the primary three years ago in which they supported the Zimmer choice, only to have that candidate run an anti-county campaign. Romano managed to win anyway.
Rumor also suggests that a third ticket might magically appear in an attempt to cut into Romano’s base and help a Zimmer candidate win. This is a strategy that appeared to help Zimmer win reelection in 2013.
Zimmer appears poised to dump Tony Soares from his seat in the North Hudson Sewerage Authority as part of some political deal that might become more obvious next year when Zimmer once again runs for reelection. Then she may need the help of yet another third party to make her reelection easier.
Fixing the holes
Mayor Steven Fulop announced this week that he is seeking recommendations for candidates who might temporarily fill the Ward F seat left vacant by the election of current Ward F Councilwoman Diane Coleman as Hudson County Register.
Coleman has to resign her council seat before she is sworn in to the new post at the end of the month, leaving a vacancy on the City Council.
This is likely the first step by Mayor Fulop to fill the holes in what will likely become his slate of candidates in the next November’s municipal election. He will likely have to find new candidates for Ward A, as well as candidates to run in Ward B, C, and D, which are currently occupied by people not on his team.
Is Lesniak running for governor after all?
Union County State Senator Ray Lesniak may or may not run for governor after all. Earlier this year he declared his candidacy to run in next year’s Democratic primary. But Fulop, State Senate President Sweeney and others backed out of the race and threw their support behind Phil Murphy. But reports suggested Lesniak might be back in the race after all, leaving a number of people confused.
“Not as confused as I am,” he said in reply to a query. “My team says it’s impossible to overcome Murphy’s $35 million and the Democratic Organization’s support, which Murphy has bought. C’est la vie. I’m working even harder in case something changes. Filing deadline is April 5. But I am not in the race unless…”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com