WEST NEW YORK – It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Felix Roque was supposed to be in a cage right now, removed from the public eye as the town celebrates the unveiling of a school dedicated to its favorite son.
But there on an American Flag-bedecked stage stood the mayor, who this week survived charges of federal hacking and stood reborn as the immigrant kid from Cuba made good.
His son, banged up on nothing more than a misdemeanor charge at the end of a two week sweat in federal court, stood in street clothes in the back of the half shell auditorium.
Roque came to politics as the enemy of local heavyweight U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and the ill will between the two men stems in part from Roque’s decision last year to support Republican state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-13) instead of the Democratic incumbent.
Local pols interpreted Roque’s lesson in leg-irons as a warning to one who so cavalierly crossed Menendez.
“It feels great to be with you here today,” said the mayor, when he went to the microphone, his enemies indistinguishable in the darkened theater, Commissioner County Wiley, whose recall effort failed this week, sitting somewhere in the vicinity of Hudson County Freeholder Jose Munoz, whose hacked website almost took down t he Roques.
The mayor had particular reason to feel good about his own political survival in this setting.
It was Roque who in the first place wrote the letter to the superintendent, to name Public School No. 4 after U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8).
Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise was tasked with the role of playing human hedge between Roque and Menendez. When he rose to introduce the man of the hour, a chunk of ice occupied the space between the mayor and senator.
As has happened before, everyone united around the affable Albio.
“He was a monster on the basketball court,” said DeGise. “He had this big old butt that he would push into you just before he turned around for that feather jump shot.”
Menendez likewise honored Sires at length, while throwing an elbow at the Tea Party.
“I hope I will get the call today to go back to Washington to reopen the federal government,” the senator said, joining everyone else in pirouetting off the public school as a contrast point to GOP extremists, in the Democrats’ view, who won’t accept a compromise budget of $70 billion less than what the Democrats had originally presented.
Later, Sires’s wife honored her husband as the congressman unveiled the new sign above the school named in his honor in a crowd that included state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20), Assemblyman Joe Cryan (D-20), and Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-32).