With West New York’s May 9 local elections just over two weeks away, Hudson County Democrats are bracing for the possibility of a split result, in which members of two opposing slates each win seats on the five-seat town board of commissioners.
In theory, most voters will vote for the entirety of one of two nonpartisan slates: one led by former U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York), the other led by incumbent Town Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo. But there’s no guarantee that every voter will vote down-the-line for one ticket or the other, potentially leading to a contested intra-commission battle to succeed current Mayor Gabe Rodriguez.
In West New York, all five town commissioners are elected on the same ballot, and the mayor is chosen from among the five winners. That means there’s a real chance that Sires and Cirillo both win seats, but only one gets to serve as mayor – whichever one is able to pull more of his running mates across the finish line.
To put it another way, it’s possible that Sires, a former congressman and Speaker of the State Assembly, could be relegated to serving as a town commissioner in the minority (and under a mayor who was seven years old when Sires first won office in West New York).
If Sires were to win, it would mark his second stint as mayor in the largely Hispanic town of 53,000. He previously led the town from 1995 until his 2006 election to the U.S. House, where he remained until retiring last year.
Sires is running with one incumbent commissioner, Victor Barrera, as well as West New York Board of Education President Adam Parkinson, Board of Education member Marielka Diaz, and Marcos Arroyo. Arroyo is best known as the Republican nominee for Congress last year to succeed Sires in the 8th congressional district, a race he lost in a landslide to now-Rep. Rob Menendez (D-Jersey City).
Another incumbent commissioner, Margarita Guzman, is running with Cirillo, as is Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-West New York), who lost party support for another Assembly term after legislative redistricting reshuffled Hudson County’s legislative seats. Heading to Trenton in her stead will be Rodriguez, the outgoing mayor.
(If Jimenez wins, that would necessitate appointing a replacement assemblymember for the remainder of her term; presumably, Rodriguez would be the leading contender. Since an appointment can’t be made until at least seven days after the vacancy occurs, however, the seat would be open for a short stretch in early July – which could be important in the unlikely event that state leaders can’t come to a budget agreement by the June 30 deadline.)
Rounding out Cirillo’s West New York Forward team are Hiram Gonzalez and Walter Lopez, the husband of former Commissioner Michelle Lopez.
Given the prevalence of politicians on both slates who have won townwide before, it’s easy to see how a close race could produce a split commission.
That’s what nearly happened in 2011, when Felix Roque – who briefly ran for mayor this year before dropping out after less than a month – defeated then-Mayor Sal Vega. Roque’s entire slate won, but only barely; Vega finished just 78 votes behind one of Roque’s running mates, nearly forcing his way onto an otherwise Roque-controlled board of commissioners.
This year, Sires’ team has the support of the overall Hudson Democratic organization, and is particularly benefiting from the support of Union City Mayor Brian Stack. But in a nonpartisan contest where local issues are at the forefront, endorsements from Hudson politicians outside of West New York may not mean all that much.
The two slates have run relatively even in fundraising, with a small advantage to Team Sires: as of 29-day pre-election reports, Sires’ joint candidate committee had raised $129,789 to Cirillo’s $96,075. Sires has $60,749 and Cirillo has $53,105 on-hand heading into the home stretch.
Included among Cirillo’s donors is Operating Engineers Local 825, a politically potent union which gave Cirillo’s committee a huge $20,000 donation. Also evidently on Team Cirillo is Vega, the former mayor who lost to Roque in 2011; he gave Cirillo $1,000.
Sires, meanwhile, has gotten donations from a number of different corners of the Hudson Democratic organization: Hudson County Commissioner Anthony Vaineiri, who’s running for a North Bergen township commissioner seat this year; Weehawken and You, a PAC led by Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner; and, as first noted by Hudson County View, two different groups affiliated with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.
Perhaps most interesting, Sires, a longtime Democrat, was the beneficiary of a $500 donation from the Hudson County Republican Party. The donation is likely meant to boost Arroyo, who gives Hudson Republicans a rare opportunity to elect one of their own in the deep-blue county.
West New York is one of two Hudson towns hosting nonpartisan May elections this year. The other, North Bergen, is likely to be less competitive; Mayor Nicholas Sacco faces a third consecutive challenge from Larry Wainstein, a self-funding businessman who got crushed by Sacco in both 2015 and 2019.
Sacco has reported raising $215,702, most of which seems to have come from his State Senate fundraising committee – a committee he no longer needs, since redistricting is forcing him to retire this year. Wainstein’s joint committee raised $551,337 in the same time period, $437,000 of which came from his own pockets.
Neither town is offering early voting, but mail-in votes have already begun to come in. In West New York, 3,074 mail ballots have been sent out and 1,147 have been returned so far; in North Bergen, 2,945 have been sent out and 996 returned.
There will presumably – hopefully – be many more votes cast before the election is through. In 2019, there were around 6,500 ballots cast in West New York and around 12,000 in North Bergen, meaning that the bulk of this year’s voting is likely still to come.