JERSEY CITY, NJ – In an event considered by many long time residents here as historic, about a hundred guests arrived Wednesday (Feb. 11) night at Fiesta Grill Restaurant on West Side Avenue to see and hear Rolando Lavarro’s message of hope to become the first elected Filipino American Councilman. Lavarro is vying for a City Council seat representing Ward A at an election to be held this May.
Lavarro ranked first in a field of four aspiring candidates in an unprecedented selection process conducted by prominent local community leaders, led by Lito Gajilan, Jr., publisher of the Filipino Express. Butch Gata, Linda Mayo and Tony Pormento, the other aspirants, were also present at this kick-off campaign and made known their support of Lavarro’s bid.
A graduate of New York University’s Leonard Stern School of Business, the 38-year old son of doctors Rolando and Rizalina Lavarro served as an aide to Councilwoman Mary Donnelly. He was also a former Director of Constituent Services to Assemblyman Robert Gordon.
Prior to the start of a two-hour program, Lavarro worked out the crowd to introduce himself to them. Mayoral candidate Lou Manzo and three at-large candidates included in his slate were also in attendance.
The evening was unlike any other political rally of the past. There were no signs of doubt or whispers of discontent. Nor was the event dominated by old-timers and familiar faces. Rather, it was more like a hybrid of experienced elders and an impassioned youth contained in a moment pregnant with hope or a dream about to be fulfilled.
Lavarro is a co-founder of Sumisibol, a local advocacy group dealing with substance abuse. He was a former Executive Director of the Philippine American Friendship Committee (PAFCOM), and also a Volunteer Coalition Director of Jersey City Communities That Care Coalition.
The consistent theme of a long list of speakers was unity and faith in the candidacy of a man with a mission to break an almost 30 years of failed attempts at seizing a council seat.
“It is about time to have a Filipino in the City Council,” declared Henry Racelis, who spoke second in a cue of featured speakers. “We say no more to division, it is our time. Look around you and you’d be impressed to see what we’ve come up with. We’re united, ready to succeed this time around.”
Racelis, the son of realtor Greg Racelis, could have followed the footsteps of his father who had sought the same office for many years. He decided instead to head a political action committee in support of a Filipino American candidate.
Lou Manzo, who introduced the three at-large candidates from his team, also pitched his quest to become mayor of Jersey City. He spelled out a list of concerns about the city administration and vowed to address them under his term. These concerns deal with rising crime rate, higher taxes, and affordable housing.
“I can’t do it alone and all of the dreams that you dreamt in making this night possible must turn into work. I believe that you’d be the impact that turns this election around because of your unity and unity speaks volumes. That is why this gentleman [Lavarro] is going to win,” he said.
He encouraged Filipino Americans to run for office at every opportunity. “Run for your community,” he challenged them. “And let us make a change in politics not only in our city but in our county and let America that night [of elections] finally see that this, the second largest city in our state sooner be the first, this beacon of dreams, this most ethnically diverse city of all, has elected the first Filipino American in this city’s history to the City Council.”
Before proceeding with his speech, Lavarro thanked his supporters, his family and friends for their words of encouragement, for their unwavering support, and for the faith they have placed on him.
“I stand on the shoulders of Jun Florentino, Greg Racelis and Flor Medel – the trailblazers – tonight and I owe them a great deal,” Lavarro said.
In his speech, which he delivered eloquently before an audience beaming with joy in their faces, he said that this election is not about him but about the seniors, about parents and their children and Jersey City residents — young adults like himself who grew up in Jersey City but are considering to leave town.
“They want to leave town because taxes, crime and schools don’t make it reasonable for them to continue staying here,” he said. “It is about a City Hall that has lost touch with its people and whose voices have not been heard. This election is for all those voices and for all the people of Jersey City.”
He defined himself as someone who has been shaped by those who had come before him and whose ideals, dreams and sacrifices he now carries and propel him to move forward.
According to organizers, a schedule of events is being planned to raise funds as well as other activities to help in the campaign of Lavarro.