When a fire started by two children devoured the industrial base of the City of Passaic in 1984, Vincent Capuana remembers trying to summon some good during the aftermath.
"I thought, ‘Thank God nobody got killed, and now we have 25 acres open, which we can develop,’" he says.
That was almost 25 years ago, and all Passaic has to show for its rebuilding effort along the river are a Shoprite and a handful of small, scattered stores.
"Fifteen acres are still empty," says Capuana, 59, longtime director of community development, and president of the school board.
A chance to finally get some light commercial into that area there to stabilize Passaic’s tax base is one of the reasons Capuana’s running for mayor.
He came to Passaic from Sicily 50 years ago, served on the school board for over 27 years, and raised two sons – one of whom is a captain with the Passaic Police Department.
In the wake of Mayor Sammy Rivera’s disgrace, conviction and exit from city government, Capuana, a resident of the city’s Second Ward, says he’s running in the Nov. 4th special election on his record, and the trust he has that a lot of people here know him.
The fact that most of the voters are Latino does not deter him.
"The Latinos are no different from the immigrants of the 1940s and 50s," Capuana says. "I’m going on my name and what I’ve had here for the last 50 years."
Of Rivera, who was convicted earlier this year on federal corruption charges and is now awaiting sentencing, Capuana says the former mayor is the exception.
"You’ll always have corruption. It’s people," says the candidate. "Ethics reforms are good. Pay-to-play will help us, but sooner or later one or two people will do something that makes it bad for everyone. But 99.9% of the people in city government are good, decent and hardworking people."
Now in the process of gathering petitions, Capuana in the coming weeks plans to have some fundraising events, including a hot dog night where he will sell tickets for $7 or $8. He says he does not expect to have – nor will he seek – Rivera’s personal support.
The field of candidates hoping to succeed Rivera remains broad and still unsettled in the weeks before the September deadline for petitions filings. Some of the prospects include businessman Jose Sandoval, Councilwoman Maritza Colon-Montanez, Councilman Joe Garcia, School Board member Alex Blanco, and Ritzy Morales, staffer for U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson).
"No one running has the accomplishments I have," says Capuana, who notes in work in building and grounds, and his ability to get elected.
"I was elected to the board of education nine times; I have been school board president for 12 years," he says. "In the last four to five elections I came on very strong, showing very strong numbers. I go to every neighborhood to campaign. I have a history here."