“Freedom, freedom, freedom.” It was one of those inspiring, uniquely American campaign trail moments – that soured irrecoverably right after the election.
We’re talking about the relationship between Mayor Felix Roque and Commissioner Count Wiley, forged on the streets of WNY during an unsuccessful recall effort five years ago, then fumbled into political oblivion soon after both men won the 2011 election on the same ticket.
By Wiley’s count, it took all of three months, when the mayor – a local pain doctor – tried to monkey with public workers’ workman’s compensation carrier, he says.
Now, as Roque seeks a second term in office after one of the most turbulent local one-term tenures in Hudson history, the man once visible in photos as his 60th Street renegade right arm, is pawing at the turf, eager to storm Town Hall and displace the sitting mayor.
“The party doesn’t want people with brains or passion, and I have a problem with that,” said the 46-year old Mickey Rourke lookalike, when PolitickerNJ asked the onetime Roque ally about that Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO)-friendly event last week at Son Cubano, wherein the party formally planted a kiss on Roque’s 2015 re-election, complete with a job for the man Roque beat four years ago.
Although he’s not unwilling to make the case that the party organization broke Roque in half and stripped him of dignity, he also signaled that he’s not a full-blown unreconstructed rebel.
“I’m not against the party,” said the commissioner. “I show support. I know this is business. It’s not people. Politics, it’s business – but you serve the people. I ran against the party once before and I’ll do it again.”
He saw images of establishment hoopla spilling out of the waterfront hotspot last week, but “I walk those streets every day, I talk to the people every day, and the people don’t want this guy. The touch isn’t there from this guy, the grabbing the people – not there. I’m here to change the game.
“I really look up to [Jersey City Mayor Steve] Fulop,” added Wiley, who’s kicking off his campaign on Sept. 25th. (Fulop, for the record, attended Roque’s re-election party.)
“Roque’s been a big disappointment,” the challenger said. “It’s been upsetting to see how they’re all coming together.”
They hired Vincent Andrew, the son of Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32).
They plugged Donald Scarinci, childhood chum of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), with the town counsel job.
By contrast, “I’m out there raising money for a kid with bone cancer and each year delivering 2,200 turkeys to people,” Wiley said.
“They don’t want this guy back,” he added.
He acknowledged the ethnic cast of the North Hudson town, which is mostly Cuban American.
It’s a challenge, but he thinks he can meet it.
“They look at me as the Guinea – they don’t know I’m half Spanish,” Wiley said. “I’m Puerto Rican.”
He’s fielding Board of Education candidates in the next scheduled election, but wants to conserve his resources for the Mayor’s race next May.
He knows the establishment will try to identify momentum out of the results of the Board of Ed contests.
But “when you put my name on the ballot different ballgame,” the commissioner said.
He still hasn’t resolved matters with lame duck Freeholder Jose Munoz, the mayor’s chief nemesis, whose tape recordings landed Roque in jail on federal conspiracy hacking charges – which he ultimately beat.
“I was the only guy who endorsed the guy when everyone else stuck a knife in the guy’s back,” Wiley said, referring to Munoz’s failed June Democratic Primary, a loss to Roque ally Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez.
“I’m going to show you loyalty, and they used my name a lot [during the Munoz campaign],” he added. “We only lost by 190 votes.”
Wiley doesn’t deny Munoz would add strength to a local ticket, but gently frets about others horning in on the freeholder and breaking up any alliance with Wiley.
“You can either call your own shots or they’ll call shots for you,” he said. “Munoz has a job in North Bergen and another job at the jail. I told him straight up front, ‘don’t play me here,’ but I call myself the Midas man.
“Everyone who comes around me gets offered something,” he cracked.