Bergenfield installs Mayor Amatorio, 2 other Fil-Ams hold Council seats

by Ricky Rillera

BERGENFIELD, NJ – In Bergenfield, the Little Manila of Bergen County, Filipino-Americans are prouder of their heritage with the historic inauguration of a new mayor. Bergenfield residents also welcomed a new leadership to steer this “Friendly Town” into a new direction of governance for the next 4 years.

Arvin Amatorio, 48, the son of two public school teachers from Baler, Quezon, took his oath of office administered by State Senator Jose Lagana before a standing room only assembly at the Bergenfield Borough Hall Council Chamber on January 5. He becomes the second mayor of Filipino descent following Robert Rivas who served in 2000 to 2002.

“Today is a historic day for not only me but the entire Bergenfield community, who welcomed me and my wife about 13 years ago. The Filipino community is rejoicing and I am genuinely proud of my heritage, but I am here to serve all residents, from all communities,” Mayor Amatorio said in his opening remarks.

“During our campaign, I met with over 10,000 residents directly at their doors, and appreciate them sharing their vision for a better Bergenfield with me. I pledge to always work in the best interests of residents, and all my efforts will be shaped by feedback from the public,” added Amatorio.

Two other candidates who also won with Amatorio in November, Ora Kornbluth and Salvador “Buddy” Deuna, were also sworn in. Congressman Josh Gottheimer took the honors for Kornbluth while the former mayor Rivas did it for his friend, Deauna, also of Filipino descent. Kornbluth will be serving her fourth term as a Council member while Deauna will be in his second term.

At its reorganization Council meeting presided by Amatorio, the Council unanimously approved the appointment of entrepreneur Marc Pascual, a 41-year-old Fil-Am, who will serve Amatorio’s remaining one year term as Councilman which he vacated when he ran for mayor. The Council also appointed Franlin S. Montero as Municipal Court Judge for the Borough of Bergenfield, the first Latino to serve in that capacity. He previously served as both a Public Defender and Prosecutor in Bergenfield.

The Borough Council is composed of six members who are all Democrats: Mayor Amatorio, Ora Kornbluth, Buddy Deauna, Thomas A. Lodato, Rafael Marte, Hernando Rivera, and Marc Pascual. Three Fil-Ams hold seats in the Council: Mayor Amatorio, Deauna, and Pascual

In his inaugural address, Amatorio outlined his first 100-days as mayor, which would include:

  • Identify roads that require immediate repair
  • Begin plans to construct a new energy-efficient Borough Hall
  • Improve parks and sports facilities
  • Streamline sports and recreation programs

Amatorio succeeds Republican Norman Schmelz who was Mayor since 2013. He was re-elected in 2015 to a full four-year term which expired on December 31, 2019. He lost to Amatorio with a vote of 2,637 against Amatorio’s 2,803. Kornbluth received 3,087 votes and Salvador, 3017, against their respective opponents.

An economics major in college and a lawyer by profession, Amatorio was elected Councilman in 2014 and successfully chaired the Finance Committee. He “delivered zero municipal tax increase” which stopped rising of property taxes for two consecutive years despite …. He also served on the Police and Department of Public Works committees.

He also organized annual free outreach events, health fairs and immigration seminars for the community.

Marc Pascual, the new addition to the Council, told the Philippine Daily Mirror, he was honored to have been appointed. “I’m not really into politics, but my heart is to serve the community. We need to get out of our comfort zone, put ourselves out there to serve the people. After all, we live here, we’ve got to make it better for generations to come.”

Pascual also said that there are more risks than rewards in politics. “I’d be more proud to see Bergenfield residents in a better place than they were before. To me, that’s the reward that is more satisfying than monetary. Public service is a public trust.”

While he acknowledged to have himself get up to speed in learning the ropes of how the Council operates, he is confident he will be actively engaged in delivering more than what his constituents expect of him. He considers Mayor Amatorio and the current Mayor of Manila, Isko Moreno, as his idols.

“I like their leadership style. They inspire and motivate me,” said Pascual. He said he will run for a full term in November.