PATERSON – When the Rev. Pastor David Rios finally introduced U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell last night, the congressman went to the head of the room crowded with Pentecostal Hispanic preachers in a long walk that had showdown implications written all over it owing to the recent history between the two men.
Pascrell defused that right away.
“We do not give enough credit to the ministers among us,” the congressman said when he had the microphone in hand. “We do not give enough credit to them and what they do every day. The ministers teach us to take care of our families. A lot of people want to change the world, but it starts at home.
“And Rev. Rios,” he added, “thank you for what you do. Regardless of faith, we cherish every human being. Not just some. Everybody.”
Amid applause that traveled all the way up to the top of the gold filigreed Corinthian columns of the Brownstone ballroom, Pascrell turned and embraced Rios and hugged him, hugged him close.
“We had a discussion – not about politics,” Pascrell said later.
The trouble between the congressman and La Alianza of Hispanic Ministers hinged on the president, the former Passaic County chaplain canned by Sheriff Richard Berdnik for reasons undisclosed. Shown the door by Pascrell’s ally, Rios’ alliance of ministers endorsed Pascrell’s rival in the 9th Congressional District Primary: U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman.
That endorsement infuriated Pascrell partisans, who claimed Rios acted vengefully over his own professional situation without adequately gut-checking and head-counting the other members of his organization. Rios said he wanted the Hispanic ministers to have the same intra-county privileges as their African American counterparts and for that and similar protests, received the heave-ho.
Some in the Pascrell camp didn’t want to attend Rios’s fifth annual dinner. They wanted to boycott it, in point of fact, as a statement against the president.
But they ended up going anyway, on an invitation from La Alianza, with their embattled boss in his increasingly ugly Democratic Primary with Rothman for the moment kiss-touching his way in the door and up to the podium, going for high visibility despite the uncomfortable lingering undercurrents and trying to one-up Rothman, who didn’t attend last night.
“He’s in Washington,” explained Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36), Rothman’s most recognizable Passaic County ally, who sat at a table next to another one occupied by Rothman staffers attending in place of the Bergen County congressman.
In the inevitable theatre of politics, Rios awarded Team Rothman the first introduction, followed by acknowledgements of many others in the room before noting the presence of Pascrell, who jumped to his feet and waded into the crowd on his way to the mic, which juggled through many hands before it reached his where he was dug in determinedly behind Rios.
“They’re my friends,” said the congressman. “They invited me here to speak so I came.”
Following Pascrell’s remarks, a Rothman surrogate addressed the crowd in Spanish. The Rothman team spent some quiet, intense whisper time with Rios.
But if Rothman won the endorsement of La Alianza and the headline, the local underdogs seemed to say, Pascrell, looking to keep home base intact while radiating comfort with all things, institutions and persons Patersonian, wrapped Rios in a symbolic bear hug of brotherhood, and went for an enduring moment.