Passaic Mayor Sammy Rivera, arrested today on bribery charges, is no stranger to scandal.
The 60-year-old Rivera joined the Passaic Police Department around 1968, around the time the city's Latino population began to surge. He served on a nine-man Vice Squad that was described by the Herald News in 1970 as "the most feared among any on the entire police force…as far as gamblers and drug violators are concerned." He later servd on a specia police squad aimed at patrolling the city's most troubled areas.
In 1970, Rivera was one of eight police officers to face brutality charges. He never went to trial, and resigned to return to Puerto Rico, where he became a police officer.
His law enforcement career there was short-lived: he was charged with failing to report a crime and sentenced to two years probation when he faked an attack on himself — there were reports that he shot himself with his gun — to cover up his partner, who had gunned down a drug suspect.
Rivera returned to Passaic in 1981, where he opened a private investigation firm. He entered politics in 1993, losing a race for City Council by 153 votes (Assemblyman Paul DiGaetano was one of the winners.) He ran again in 1995 and lost by just fifteen votes in a sixteen-candidate field — one of the winners was Assemblyman Gary Schaer.
In 1995, Rivera finally won a Special Election for the unexpired term of the late Councilman Joseph Russo, defeating Daniel Schwartz by eleven votes.
He ran for Mayor in 1997 and with the Hispanic vote divided among two candidates, Marge Semler defeated him by 267 votes. At the time, he was working as a security guard at the Passaic Valley Sewage Commission – and in 1999, a Superior Court Judge entered a judgment againt him for failing to pay child support.
Semler didn't seek re-election in 2001 and Rivera — this time with united support in the Hispanic community (and helped by then-Congressman Robert Menendez) won. A move by then-Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco's administration to block him from taking office because of his sentence in Puerto Rico failed. He faced an assault charge in an incident involving an argument with his daughter, and won re-election in 2005 in a landslide.
Ironically, William DeMarco, the attorney who represented Rivera and convinced Judge Robert Passero that the Mayor-elect's previous criminal problems was not sufficient reason to stop him from taking office, died this week. His funeral was this morning.