We Made History! Rolando Lavarro Is Jersey City’s Citywide Councilman

by Ricky Rillera

JERSEY CITY (NJ) — We made history declares folks from Jersey City!  After nearly a week of waiting marked by a protest staged by his followers in front of the Hudson County Plaza on Thursday, Nov. 10, Hudson County Clerk Barbara Netchert finally certified the results of the election that Rolando Lavarro, Jr. and his running mate, Viola Richardson, are winners of the Jersey City special election.

They will now be the citywide council representatives elected to fill the seats vacated by former council members Mariano Vega and Willie Flood.  Richardson obtained 4,102 votes and Lavarro garnered 3,558 votes, about 226 votes ahead of third placer Suzanne Mack, according to final results posted by the Hudson County Clerk’s Office.

Rolando Lavarro, Jr., the first Filipino American elected to the Jersey City Council post, was overjoyed, thankful and proud at the news.

“We should enjoy and celebrate this victory.  It is historic and the Filipino American community should own this election win.  No one can every say the community is not united,” he said.  “City Hall will never be able to take the Filipino American community in Jersey City for granted.  I assume the responsibility of being the first Asian and Filipino American elected to City Council with great humility and pride.”

Richardson and Lavarro will take their oath of office on Monday, Nov. 21, at the Council Chamber, Jersey City Hall on 280 Grove Street, Jersey City.

Certification for last week’s election was delayed as county officials sought a court order to open two voting machines whose cartridges had never been returned.  Those cartridges turned out to be in extra machines, and had no votes recorded on them, County Clerk Barbara Netchert said.

Touched-off by this delay, about two dozen Lavarro supporters were mobilized last Thursday to protest and demand that election officials certify Lavarro’s victory.  His supporters were toting signs that read “Hudson County Be Honest For Once” and “Declare Lavarro as rightful winner” and claimed “something’s cooking.”

Reached for comments last Saturday, Helen Castillo, one of Lavarro’s campaign managers, said they had to show up last Thursday to let election officials know that “we are vigilant and we want to ensure that they don’t take away from us this historical moment.”

“They’d better watch out. We are now a force to be reckoned with,” she said.

Meanwhile Lavarro’s wife, Veronica, was almost speechless when reached for comments by phone.  “I feel excited.  Despite all challenges — a historic 17 candidates vying for two posts, under-funded campaign, countless meetings, — we were able to overcome all,” she said.  “I am so blessed and thankful to all who helped in whatever way to make our dream – the Filipino community’s dream in Jersey City – come true.”

She said that this year’s campaign strategy was different. “…Our success is a result of a collective effort. But this is just the beginning.  This means that with Rolando in the City Council, we, as a community, should work harder and be united for us to achieve more.”

Lavarro acknowledged Suzanne Mack, and all the candidates, for running a strong campaign.  “The results indicate that the people of Jersey City want new leadership that will fight for the people of Jersey City.  The low turnout – 18 percent city wide- also speaks to the large number of people who are cynical about politics; and the hard work ahead for me and all elected officials to engage the public and restore confidence in government,” he said.

When asked what his first 100 days in office look like, Lavarro said:  “My first 100 days will be spent reaching out and mobilizing the Jersey City community so we can fulfill the plans outlined during the campaign.  I intend to work on delivering tangible results.”

He also said that he wants to see a budget that “prioritizes the needs of the people in Jersey City and eliminates wasteful and duplication of services.”

“We will fight for a vibrant, thriving local economy.  The hard work is just beginning; and I’m calling for concerned citizens and kababayan to join me in our effort to renew Jersey City’s promise.  Volunteers can reach me via email at lavarro2009@gmail.com.

Lavarro ran as councilman for Ward A in 2009.  After succeeding in the May 12 elections and managing to force his 66-year-old opponent, Michael Sottolano, to a run-off, he lost by about 400 votes.

At that time, Bill O’Dea, a former Jersey City councilman, who served for t wo consecutive terms, in 1985 and 1989, and currently a Hudson County Freeholder, commented on Lavarro’s loss.  He said: “Filipino Americans demonstrate that they are a growing political force in the city, which I believe they have been a number of years.  I think they’ll continue to grow and we’ll see more Filipinos running for office and soon, we’ll see them being elected into office.”

He also said that Lavarro’s performance in that election was not a total loss.  “It is a defeat but his numbers [votes] were very impressive and there’s a lot to build from there.  It’s now a matter of staying active and getting involved.”

Two years after those statements were made and after more than three decades, the Filipino community in Jersey City is in the cusp of history.  And for Lavarro, he is thankful to be a part of it.

“My deepest thanks and congratulations to Councilwoman Viola Richardson, my teammate.  Thank you to my family, friends, my campaign team led by Andre Richardson, volunteers and donors.  I especially have to thank my wife, veronica, and my baby, Gabriela,” he said.

“These elections are grueling. My wife and baby have put up with a lot over the past six months.  My entire thank you list is too long and I wholeheartedly appreciate everyone who has supported me along the way.  I thank my kababayan.  We made history.  I urge everyone to stay involved in strengthening our community and working towards a better Jersey City.”

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