WEST NEW YORK – It went jugular city early and devolved into the stunning notion that Hudson County politics still has a pulse – courtesy of challenger Felix Roque, MD, and the establishment forces of Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega.
This harrowing nosedive straight into the world of sex offenders and people getting their heads banged through bathroom doorways contest between Mayor Vega and Roque has gotten to the point where each candidate is getting the ex-wife of his competitor on the phone, arm twisting for goods on the other.
“We’re not dead here,” said Tommy Bertoli, who’s pulling GOTV duty for Vega, almost offended by the suggestion that politics in Hudson has been mostly belly up for four years.
Bertoli’s eat-off-the-floor $5 million operation has the Hudson County Democratic Organization-backed Vega looking unbeatable as phone banks operate in mid afternoon gear up on busy Bergenline Avenue with one week to go before Election Day.
For a week Roque has staggered through a maelstrom of TV and radio bad mouthing him for employing a convicted sex offender at his medical office. Tomorrow, the challenger plans to hit back with $50,000 worth of radio dredging up Vega’s divorce history.
“Even the priests are saying, ‘you’re a soldier,’ and telling me to hit back,” said the challenger, who in fairness has pummeled Vega steadily on everything from the streets to the mayor’s commissioner company or at least two years.
A smart-looking sex offender poster hangs in Vega headquarters accompanied by the tag line, “Roque – Bad medicine.”
“I was ordered by the medical board to oversee a physician,” said Roque. “I didn’t bill for him, I didn’t pay him, I had no friendship with him.”
In doc’s smocks in his office across the street from where he grew up, Roque grabbed his cellphone when informed that the other side is primed to unleash his own divorce back story on the citizens of West New York.
“Hello, Maria, I have a reporter here,” said the challenger, chuckling at what he sees as the other sides’ desperation and handing over the phone.
“It’s Maria Roque,” said the voice on the other end. “We get along very well. He’s been very nice to me. He’s taking very good care of our kids.”
“My ex-wife is my best friend,” said Roque, moments later. “They went to her and they asked her for my weakness. You know what she said? ‘He’s relentless.’”
The fact that it’s a mud fight with one week remaining delights the Vega forces, who say all that will do ultimately is depress voters and enable the City Hall machine to prevail. That’s good for 3,000 plus votes in a city where there are 19,300 registered voters. Roque’s allies argue that they pulled 5,000 petition signatures out of the waterfront two years ago and on that basis like their chances against a mayor who jacked taxes by 51%.
Insiders say Roque is up against it here in this contest. Once Union City Mayor (and state Sen.) Brian P. Stack agreed to stay out of local politics in part in exchange for the HCDO’s support in his re-election campaign, the political neophyte tag has stuck to Roque.
But there are mutterings of Wilda Diaz in some corners. She was the no hoper in Perth Amboy three years ago who dethroned Mayor Joe Vas, the so-called political dwarf who stuck a giant-sized wrench in the Vas empire.
Then there’s the theory that Roque – who for the past two or three weeks has gone after Vega ally Commissioner Gerry Lange more than the mayor – is bucking for a commisioner slot more than the sweep, and sees Lange as the weak point.