JERSEY CITY (NJ) — The Philippine flag waved proudly on top of the Jersey City City Hall Monday afternoon, Nov. 21, along with the American flag. Newly elected councilman Rolando Lavarro, Jr. together with his teammate Viola Richardson watched the flags in awe like soldiers about to embark on a new mission ahead of them.
As the Philippine National Anthem was sung, Filipinos that joined them in this historic moment showed their excitement and appreciation of the man about to take his oath as a duly elected city official.
“At long last,” someone quipped, “we made history.” Indeed, the Filipino community waited for this time and perhaps the larger Asian community as well that live and thrive in this city, considered as one of the “top 100 most racially-diverse cities in the world.”
Before Lavarro, there were others who ran for council seats but were unsuccessful. Flor Medel, Joseph Bunao, and in recent years, businessman Jun Florentino, former deputy mayor Linda Mayo, and real-estate broker, Greg Racelis.
A short time later, the august City Hall Council chambers was filled with about 400 people waiting to witness the swearing-in ceremony of both Lavarro and Richardson. Part of this historic moment is Lavarro’s ethnic heritage and his first political office and Richardson’s mandate to represent the entire city after serving ten years as Ward F councilman.
Lavarro, who wore a pin-stripe grey suit and a purple stripe tie, stood tall; smiled at the audience and nodded his head acknowledging their presence. Richardson stood beside him, dressed in a stunning red dress and appeared confident but humble. Mayor Jerramiah Healy welcomed both newly elected officials into the chambers.
Former Jersey City municipal court judge Victor Sison administered the oath of office as Lavarro’s wife, Veronica, and his mother, Rizalina, held the Bible. Lavarro repeated every word that Sison said and in the end, with the final familiar phrase, “So help me God”, came the reality that the tasks ahead are not his alone to do.
At the podium, Lavarro delivered his short acceptance speech where he thanked his supporters especially the Filipino community who he said had come together in “bayanihan” spirit to get him elected. He stressed that he will represent “all the people of Jersey City.”
“The time has come for us all to embrace each other, because these challenges will not be solved without us working together,” Lavarro said and encouraged city officials to put aside politics to address the myriad problems facing the city.
The audience reacted with a burst of acclamation – clapping their hands, whispering their thoughts of encouragement, expressing their sighs of accomplishment, and raising a poster with Lavarro’s photo on it.
He was ushered into his first City Council caucus meeting that same day. The next day was a scheduled City Council session where he, for the first time, rendered his opinion of the issues at hand as a new voice of the people of Jersey City.
Another life journey began for Lavarro. Not simply as a lawmaker but also as someone that would help shape and fulfill the dream he has for Jersey City.
(Photo credit: Reena Rose Sibayan, Jersey Journal)