Silverio Vega recall, West New York, New Jersey (2010)

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An effort to recall Silverio "Sal" Vega from his position as Mayor, and to also recall Lawrence Riccardi, Alberto Rodriguez, Michelle Fernandez Lopez and Gerald Lange, Jr. from their positions as commissioners of West New York, New Jersey was launched in early 2009.[1][2]

In late April 2010, court proceedings were held to determine issues about the petition signatures. This led to a judge declaring that the recall group had not submitted quite enough signatures to force a recall.[3] As a result, the recall effort is effectively dead.

Dr. Felix Roque, the director of pain management at St. Mary’s Hospital in Passaic and an Army reservist, led the effort along with about 300 community members. Roque said the city is in disarray, that schools are suffering from a lack of funding, the streets are rampant with trash and potholes, and that the police department does not have the tools it needs to do its job. He offered to take over the job without pay, as Vega receives $15,000 for his mayoral duties. Roque says: "The streets are filthy with garbage and animal waste. There are potholes everywhere. You can see and smell the neglect."[2][2]

Vega denied most allegations, but admitted that there were a lot of potholes, saying they were working to fix them. "This spring, you will see us taking care of the worst streets that have not been taken care of in 10 years," he said.[2]

Recall organizers submitted signatures to recall the five West New York politicians in December 2009. Election officials said that not enough signatures were submitted to force a recall election. The status of an eventual recall vote was then in limbo for months as the signature challenge proceeded through the courts.[4][5]

Defamation lawsuit

In the wake of the recall effort, recall organizer Felix Rogue filed a defamation lawsuit against Vega. The lawsuit was sparked by a political mailer Vega sent out in summer 2010 saying that Rogue committed fraud during the recall process. Vega and his attorneys sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, but Superior Court Judge Velasquez denied the dismissal motion, saying that Vega has not shown proof that Rogue had committed fraud during the recall.[6]

Petition

Dr. Felix Roque filed the petition for the recall in April 2009. Roque submitted the petition to recall the mayor, and the Board of Commissioners, on behalf of himself and the group, "Together We Can."On December 4, 2009, Roque stated that him and his group had gathered enough signatures to turn in. Dr. Roque stated: "We're ready. Everybody says this (government) is like being back in Cuba with the dictatorship of Castro." The group had to collect no less than 5,200 signatures from the city's registered voters.[7][8]

The recall committees collected 6,018 signatures of registered voters to recall each official. Town clerk Carmela Riccie had until December 21, 2009 to verify the signatures.[9]

After Roque turned in signatures, concerns over town attorney Danial Horgan being present for signature verification were voiced. However, according to Horgan: "I'm doing my job, I'm doing it properly. I'm not counting, reviewing or anything.”[10]

Roque countered this by stating: "His best interest is his own pocket, and not that of the Town of West New York."[11]

Signature questions

Carmela Riccie rejected approximately 50 percent of the signatures turned in by Roque, and two signatures were deemed invalid because those people were deceased and had been deceased for two to three years. Riccie stated in the report that Ricardo Martinez and Pedro Costales had both been dead since 2006 and 2007.[12]

Vega has since taken advantage of Roque and the Together We Can group’s misfortunes, stating that a criminal investigation is necessary due to the invalid signatures on the petition. Vega hired William Northgrave, a private attorney, who sent letters to Attorney General Anne M. Milgram and Hudson County Presecutor Edward J. DeFazio. Vega is alleging cases of fraud and forgery on the part of Dr. Roque.[13]

Roque responds

Roque responded to the allegations, countering that one person is still alive and the other signature in question was a case of a someone lying about their identity. After reports were released stating that two people on the petition were deceased, Roque went to one of the man’s home to verify if he was deceased. According to Roque, Pedro Costales, the man in question, is alive.[14]

Lawsuit

Those in favor of the recall submitted a brief to Superior Court Judge Maurice Gallipoli in late March 2010 in a lawsuit that challenges Town Clerk Carmela Riccie's determination in December 2009 that they did not submit enough valid signatures to force a recall vote.[15]

A trial date was set for April 27, 2010 in the lawsuit.[16]

Ultimately, it was determined by the court that insufficient signatures had been filed, and the recall effort was declared unsuccessful.[17]

Support

On April 18, 2009, supporters of the recall marched from Union City to West New York. The march, organized by Roque, had 200 protesters calling for the recall. Roque spoke to the protesters, stating that he and others would gather the required 5,000 signatures needed to force the public vote.[18]

Opposition

Vega stated that he has done well for the town of West New York. He highlighted the $2 million package of special aid he obtained from the state. He argued that the money he secured would to towards efforts to put the town in a position of fiscal comfort.

According to Vega: "Only somebody who has nothing to fear and wants transparency would do this.”[19]

Controversies

Tactics

On October 21, 2009, Vega met with approximately 20 members of the Dominican Civic Association inside the West New York Municipal building when a group of protesters began chanting.

Vega then went outside to speak with the protesters, who held signs depicting him with red horns. According to Vega:“I’m trying to figure out what happened. The reason I went to greet them is obviously their numbers have dwindled down to a small enough group that I can have a personal conversation with them.”

The protest comes amidst rumors that Vega was using intimidation tactics against petition signers. The allegations come from Dr. Felix Roque, the organizer of the petition to recall the mayor. According to Roque, potential petition signers have reported that Vega’s supporters threatened to revoke their public housing buildings if they do indeed sign.[20]

Vandalism

Dr. Roque filed a police report on November 6, 2009 after discovering that his car's windshield was smashed and two tires were slashed. The police report did not mention Roque's political efforts, but according to reports, the vandalism was the second such incident in the same week that the recall leader believes was related to his efforts.[21]

See also

References

  1. Jersey Journal, "West New York recall group files amended challenge to town clerk's rejection of recall petitions," February 12, 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 North Bergen Reporter: "Petition to ‘heal’ West New York," Jan 11, 2009
  3. The Jersey Journal, "Judge allows WNY recall effort time to fix forms," April 28, 2010
  4. Jersey Journal," "Clerk got signature count wrong, wasn't independent," January 22, 2010
  5. Jersey Journal, "Superior Court judge gives new hope to West-New-York mayoral recall effort," February 22, 2010
  6. Hudson Reporter, "Defamation lawsuit against WNY Mayor Vega continues," January 14, 2011
  7. nj.com, "West New York doc to announce petition to recall Mayor Sal Vega," April 17, 2009
  8. nj.com, "Say recall petitions to be turned in Monday," December 4, 2009
  9. nj.com, "Clerk: Roque has 6,018 signatures on recall petitions," December 8, 2009
  10. The Jersey Journal, "Signature checks proceed in WNY," December 12, 2009
  11. The Jersey Journal, "Unease with lawyer's presence as petitions are counted for West New York recall effort," December 12, 2009
  12. Hudson Reporter, "Two dead people signed recall petitions, clerk claims," December 21, 2009
  13. Newark Star Ledger, "West New York mayor wants 'forgery, fraud' probe into recall petition effort," December 22, 2009
  14. Hudson Reporter, "Roque responds to claims of deceased petitioners," December 28, 2009
  15. Jersey Journal, "West New York recall group files court brief saying more than 3,000 petition signatures wrongly invalidated," April 1, 2010
  16. Jersey Journal, "2-week delay for trial in WNY recall petitions case," March 16, 2010
  17. The Jersey Journal, "Leader of unsuccessful recall effort in West New York says he'll run for mayor next year," May 7, 2010
  18. nj.com, "Marchers demand recall of West New York mayor," April 19, 2009
  19. nj.com, "Marchers demand recall of West New York mayor," April 19, 2009
  20. Hudson Reporter, "Vega confronts protesters," October 24, 2009
  21. NJ.com, "WNY recall leader's car vandalized outside home; dispute over political signs," November 7, 2009