In West New York, Mayor Felix Roque and Commissioner Gabriel Rodriguez aren’t resting with a little more than three days left until polls open Tuesday.
The battle in West New York is something of an extension of last year’s intra-party feud over control Hudson County Democratic Organization.
Though most of the Democrats who found themselves opposite Hudson County Executive tom DeGise have reentered the fold, a flaring of tensions between Roque and Rep. Albio Sires, a former West New York mayor, has left the sitting mayor facing a county-backed challenge.
Rodriguez and the fellow incumbents on his slate — he’s running alongside Commissioners Cosmo Cirillo and Margarita Guzman — ran with Roque in 2015, when the mayor won re-election over then-Commissioner Count Wiley by roughly 16 points.
But, those three sided with DeGise in last year’s warette. Roque sided with Union City Mayor and State Sen. Brian Stack, who has since made peace with the county executive.
Commissioner Sue Colacurcio is sticking with Roque on the “Continuing the Progress” slate. She is the only incumbent aside from the mayor on that team.
For about a week, Sires has been on Univision airwaves in West New York hitting Roque on drugs, crime and parking in the city, all while endorsing the mayor’s former running mates.
A vast majority of West New York residents, about 77%, are Hispanic or Latino, making Spanish-language media an invaluable campaign tool.
The congressman, still a recognizable figure in the city of which he was once mayor, has also been knocking on doors and last week told the New Jersey Globe he intended to do so until election day.
The feud between Roque and Sires eventually led to mayor calling for the congressman to retire.
Despite the history, Roque said he had nothing against the Sires.
“I have no problem with the congressman. I never did, and people come and say ‘why is he getting involved? Why doesn’t he go back to Washington?’ That’s what people are saying, and they’re also saying the guy has never been around for the last eight years,” Roque said, adding later, “That’s not me saying it, this is the constituents. They’re not happy.”
He said Sires’s involvement in the campaign was giving his re-election bid a boost.
Though Roque is not airing any television ads, the mayor has Spanish-language ads playing on the radio.
Roque is running on his record on taxes and, like his opponents, crime, though his take on the latter is far more positive than that of the opposition.
The facts appear to be with Roque there, as uniform crime reports submitted to the FBI show crime has declined slightly over his tenure, with violent crime rates falling from 3.7 per 1,000 people in 2011, when Roque took office, to 2.4 per 1,000 people in 2016, the latest year for which complete crime statistics are available.
Each sides have put considerable resources into their mailers, which are expected to run through Tuesday for both camps.
Canvassing efforts that both sides began in February, if not before then, are also still in full swing.
“I feel very good. We have picked up very good momentum,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been canvassing, knocking, walking since January, but I feel very good about the reception, not only at the door — door-to-door — but in general.”
Rodriguez and Roque each visited high-rise apartment buildings on Park Avenue Friday evening.
Many of the city’s elderly residents live in those complexes, and they vote a stone’s throw away from home.
Roque said he planned to return to those buildings on Saturday. Rodriguez also said planned to continue knocking on doors until polls open on Tuesday.
“We’re hitting every apartment. We’re knocking on every door. Every resident knows me,” Roque said. “We’ve been hitting mailers every week for a long time, so there’s no limit of what I’m going to spend, and I’m doing it.”
The big challenge for the “New Beginnings West New York” slate comes from residents’ familiarity with Roque. The mayor is a known quantity, partly because of his successful medical practice.
Despite their incumbency, the same is not necessarily true of the candidates running on the New Beginnings slate.
The issue is somewhat alleviated by their decision to run as outsiders, but even that is complicated given the majority of their slate already holds office in the city.
“People are not surprised that there was a split so to speak, and, more importantly, they’re eager for something else, for something better, for leadership that is there for them,” Rodriguez said. “So, we’re just happy that we’ve gotten the reception we’ve gotten from this community.”