PASSAIC – In a mayoral candidates’ forum sponsored by the Passaic Democratic Party, four of the candidates shared their American Dream immigrant stories and a fifth said he grew up speaking his native English but also speaks Spanish – not fluently – but almost.
Jose Sandoval said he came to Passaic with $13 in his pocket. He made good as a real estate developer and businessman.
"The same thing my children have, I want your children to have," said the candidate, who wants golf and fencing teams for the city’s children. "I’m not looking for money. The only thing I want is to have Passaic first for a change."
Vincent Capuana, a Sicilian immigrant family man and 26-year veteran of the Passaic Board of Education, said his life’s ambition was to put his two sons through college.
"I did that," he announced to applause.
"I took care of my mother and father," he added. "They died in my arms. They did not die in a hospital.
As mayor, he wants to redevelop dormant properties and unite the ethnically fractured city. He wants to employ more Passaic residents in city jobs.
"If we cannot live together, we will not survive," said Capuana.
An immigrant from Puerto Rico, City Councilman Joe Garcia said he’s running because young people now do not have enough opportunity.
"If I am elected there will be an open door policy," Garcia said.
Physician Alex Blanco came here from the Dominican Republic when he was 12 years old. He went to medical school and now lives with his wife and three children, he said.
The city’s on hard times, has been ever since a fire destroyed the factories on the river in 1985.
"After the fire came, it seems Passaic is frozen in time," said Blanco. "The question is why. I have heard many rumors. Corruption. Contamination. Politicians are getting paid underground. That is something, once I get elected, that I want to evaluate."
Officially endorsed on Friday by Acting Mayor Gary Schaer, Blanco added, "Politicians need common sense. Not change necessarily, but common sense."
He said realistically the new mayor would only be in office for six months before facing re-election in a full term election next May.
"It will take a long time to build those structures we are talking about, however, it has to be done," Blanco said.
When it was his turn to address the audience, bailbondsman Carl Ellen said it’s time to scour the city in the wake of jailed former Mayor Sammy Rivera.
"I speak Spanish," said Ellen. "No perfecto, pero habla."
The mostly Latino crowd roared approval.
Ellen went after Rivera.
"Passaic is sitting on the Jordan River. Pharaoh is gone. We’re either going to continue to sit on the banks of the Jordan – or we’re going to cross the Jordan," Ellen said. "I’m going to lead you there."
The son of a late councilman was a crowd favorite.