Lawyers for a faction of the West New York Democratic organization allied with Mayor Felix Roque are accusing Roque chief of staff Jonathan Castañeda of fraud. The story was first reported by the Hudson County View.
Sources say that Castañeda, a Roque protégé and the Democratic Municipal Chairman, told the mayor he had secured signatures for all 58 county committee seats before leaving on a trip to Chicago the week before the April 2 filing deadline. Castañeda was reportedly not returning Roque’s calls, and eventually let the mayor know that he had somehow misplaced the petitions – forcing Roque to spend the Easter weekend securing new ones.
Roque, sources say, later learned that Castañeda had turned over the petitions – signed, but without the names of candidates – to Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo, a political rival who is preparing to challenge the mayor next year.
On filing day, Castañeda told the mayor he was resigning his post as chief of staff to accept a job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Stephen Edelstein, counsel to the West New York Democratic Municipal Committee, has filed a challenge for twenty of town’s 58 county committee seats.
“The basis for this objection is that the petitions to which we object were circulated without candidate names, which were added later, after the nominating signatures were obtained. In addition, the circulator of the petitions, Mr. Jonathan Castaneda, misled signers into believing that the petitions were for a different office,” Edelstein wrote in a letter to Town Clerk Carmela Riccie.
Edelstein, an election law expert who used to be counsel to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, provided affidavits to the clerk that he says verifies his allegations.
“Under the circumstances, we ask that you conduct whatever investigation you deem appropriate and then invalidate the challenged petitions in their entirety,” Edelstein wrote.
Castañeda did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Roque and Cirillo have each field full slates of candidates for West New York’s 58 county committee seats. Roque is supporting Union City Mayor/State Sen. Brian Stack for Hudson County Democratic Chairman in June; Cirillo is part of an alliance that includes Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York) that is supporting Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise for re-election in 2019 – and possibly opposing Stack’s ascent to lead the county Democratic organization.
Sources say that Castañeda had a meeting with the mayor last Friday, and that his father, who works for Roque at the Department of Public Works, was in attendance. Castañeda, the source said, refused to answer questions about the petitions even in the presence of his father, and said he needed to make a phone call first. The source says that Roque is considering firing Castañeda as early as tomorrow.
“To the extent that I was involved, I wasn’t involved, so I have no comment on that,” Castañeda said last week, referring to his role in securing county committee petitions.
Castañeda’s job at the Port Authority has now been put on hold, pending a review of the circumstances surrounding his hiring.
Reached by the New Jersey Globe, Castañeda declined to comment on his job as a planner in the Ports Department. He said earlier this week that he applied for a publicly advertised position and went through an extensive interview process. But Castañeda was unable to name any of the individuals he interviewed with, the Human Resources representative that offered him the job, or the name of the person who signed his offer letter. But he did say that he was well-qualified for the position he was offered, although he could not recall what that position was.Edelstein West New york