Hudson freeholder showdown: Munoz, Roque, Rodriguez and Sires meet, but don’t greet, in the streets of West New York

WEST NEW YORK – West New York Mayor Felix Roque was smiling at first on Tuesday morning, the start of Primary Day in New Jersey. Roque stood with his Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) allies in front of West New York Middle School, greeting voters as they streamed in to the polls. Flanked by U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8) and Hudson County Freeholder Seventh District candidate Caridad Rodriguez, Roque beamed when his kindergarten teacher from his native Cuba stopped by to say hello.

Then, in an instant, the smiles stopped when all three veteran Hudson politicos, all Cuban-born, spotted the man who for them just might be worse than the locally-loathed Cuban Communist caudillo Fidel Castro.

Jose Munoz, the incumbent Seventh District freeholder, strolled up to the school’s doors to check on the polls, flashing a wry grin at Roque. Munoz and Roque have history: Roque was exonerated in a federal hacking trial last year, a trial driven in part by tips supplied to the FBI by Munoz. While Roque was acquitted of all charges against him, his son, Joseph, was convicted. 

Roque and Sires are allies of Rodriguez, a West New York Commissioner and former state Assemblywoman. If Rodriguez ousts Munoz, Roque will ride high over his bitter rival. But if Munoz prevails, some Hudson political observers believe that the HCDO’s power will be seriously compromised, with a successful Munoz mayoral run in West New York next year a growing possibility. 

Judging from both words and actions in front the school’s doors, compromise is the last word on the minds of the West New York foursome standing in front of the school’s doors. Instead, two words more correctly conjured up the figurative reality in West New York on Primary Day 2014: street fight. 

After he emerged from the school’s polling place, Munoz approached Roque.

“Good morning, Mayor,” Munoz said, extending his hand. 

“No, no, no” Roque replied. “Not with him.”

Roque then told why he refused to touch Munoz, never mind speak to him.

“He hurt my son. He had an agenda, and his agenda was to use federal agencies to do what he did. And those agents were bamboozled by what he did,” Roque said. “My mission is to make this town better, and I’m feeling very positive that [Rodriguez] is going to kick his butt. I forgave him already, I leave it up to God, he’s got to live with it. But today, he’s going to get his ass kicked. That’s what it’s all about.”

Yet a few yards down the block, Munoz told that today’s election is about something completely different. 

“I’m going against the political machine that has ruled this town for a long time. It’s a political machine that needs to be cracked because it’s full of corruption. That’s all you can expect from these people. They take everything for granted,” Munoz said, pointing up the block towards Roque, Rodriguez and Sires. “They are very nervous. I’m educating the people about what this machine is.”

When reminded that Mayor Roque was found innocent of charges filed against him, Munoz shrugged.

“When you throw your son under the bus, that’s what happens. He’s lied to everybody, and nothing happens to him because of powerful people that protect him,” said Munoz, alluding to Sires. “Instead, they name a school after the guy who protects him. How can I work with Roque? He does the wrong thing for the people. I cannot work with him at all. This got way too personal. Today’s election is going to have a domino effect all over Hudson County. The community never had a choice before. Now, they do.” 

Hudson freeholder showdown: Munoz, Roque, Rodriguez and Sires meet, but don’t greet, in the streets of West New York