Manuel Alfonso, 47, is the first Latino to pursue the position of Bergen County Sheriff and score a major party endorsement. The Cuban American Republican entered the race earlier this year after a January party switch by incumbent Sheriff Michael Saudino from Republican to Democrat left the GOP scrambling for a candidate.
While Alfonso has never run for office before, the candidate is a 26-year veteran in law enforcement. Currently he works as a high-ranking official in a government agency but says that he cannot disclose information about his department or position for campaign purposes due to ethics violations. In the past, Alfonso worked with the FBI joint terrorism task force for five years and with the U.S. Marshals Service.
You are the first Hispanic to run for sheriff in Bergen, why do you think that is important to note?
Unbeknownst to me when I first decided to run for sheriff, I didn’t even know that there had not been a Hispanic sheriff ever before in Bergen County. It is kind of surprising because we are such a diverse county.
It is important to me because I see the opportunity to pay back this country a great debt that I owe. I came and this country opened the doors for me and asked nothing in return. We were from Cuba and we were living in a regime that was oppressive. My family was being targeted. We had the opportunity to come to this country and in exchange they opened up their arms and let us in. The only way I can think of repaying that debt in this country is doing what I know best and that’s law enforcement.
Why did you decide to pursue a position as Bergen County Sheriff?
I have never been political but I have always been conservative in my views and voted mostly conservative. I was not somebody who voted Republican just because they are Republican. I vote for people who are conservative and embodied the beliefs that I believe. The current sheriff was a Republican and switched parties like two weeks before the cut off. Obviously he did it for self-interest. I thought to myself, “That’s shameful. That is somebody who obviously has the interests of themselves and not the people of Bergen County in mind.”
Then the opportunity presented itself…and I said to myself that I would be able to do a much better job than he is doing. I come from a much bigger department… where I have over 100 people reporting to me directly and a huge budget and I have saved millions of dollars for my department. I said to myself, “I can do this for my county.”
What is it about incumbent Saudino that you feel warrants a challenge to his position?
I believe that there are several things that need to be changed. I have looked at a lot of his policies and the way the department is managed. My biggest thing is that there is no room for politics in law enforcement. He has politicized the Sheriff’s Department more than it ever has been. They are manipulating numbers to make it look as though they are saving money and cutting down on overtime. He has done some stuff but I always use the analogy of walking past a guy with three cinder blocks on his chest and he is asking for help. That is the taxpayers. You take one cinder block off and, yeah, you relieve them but the guy is still getting crushed. What he has saved is nothing compared to what he can save.
I have looked at what I term “mismanagement.” Half the stuff that goes on there that he claims he didn’t know about… what kind of organization are you running that incidents don’t reach your desk for two weeks? Based on my experience I see that there needs to be a drastic change in culture.
Democrats have been on a bit of a winning streak in Bergen. Why do you think that voters will choose you over an incumbent?
The biggest thing we are doing, myself and my running mates, is pointing out to the voters the difference in county government when it has been run by Republicans compared to when it has been run by Democrats. When the Republicans controlled it we had for the first time a budget with zero raises for taxes. There were real cuts and there were some drastic cuts made in the budget. The county taxpayers were able to benefit from it.
Democrats make decisions based on political wins. Nobody wins when you do that. There are too many people who wake up every day and go to work and barely get by on their salaries for us to allow our elected officials to give people jobs based on political affiliations or to make sure that their political contributors get lucrative contracts. It has got to end. I am passionate about it. I am not interested in this job to help buddies out. I am not interested in this job to help my career. I am interested in this job to help taxpayers.
Our current sheriff was a Republican and he switched parties to Democrat. First of all, that leaves a very bad taste in most people’s mouths. But second, what kind of deals did he have to make to be accepted into this party? It gives the appearance of impropriety, right off the bat. What promises were made? What do you have to give back to the Democratic party?
If elected, do you plan to keep your other position?
My biggest gripe is what I call “double-dippers” which are people that retire, collect a pension and then collect a salary. I have that option. I can retire if I win and collect my pension and my new salary but I’m not going to do that. Once again, that is another way of ripping off the taxpayers. What I will do is I will take a leave of absence from my job which means that my salary is frozen from the department I work for now. I will only collect the sheriff salary. Once I retire, I will collect my pension. I will not double-dip.
Describe your platform.
The main thing I am focused on is the safety of the Bergen County residents.
Two is saving money and making the necessary cuts. They are there. A perfect example is I believe they have approximately 16 county sheriff investigators which are appointed. That is the number one way the people pay back political favors. There is no need for us to appoint sheriff investigators. That job was created… when sheriff departments lacked the expertise for certain things. There is no need for that, we have the best trained sheriff department in the country in Bergen County.
Three would be depoliticizing the sheriff department in Bergen County. There is no room for it.