“I’ve always been involved in community service,” West New York’s Commissioner Fior D’aliza Frias said, “but it wasn’t until I became aware of what was happening in the town during the recall that I started to notice there were things that just didn’t seem right.”
During last year’s surprise election defeat of former mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega, Frias started her own campaign for mayor, which she dubbed “Our only option.” At the same time, current Mayor Dr. Felix Roque was running a separate campaign. They eventually joined forces.
In West New York’s government, five commissioners are elected, and they choose a mayor from among themselves. Frias became a commission candidate with Roque heading up the ticket.
On May 9, Roque’s ticket won, and they were sworn in later that month.
She envisions game nights and reading nights for families.
She then got straight down to the nitty-gritty, did some “housekeeping,” and began putting her many plans into action.
Each commissioner gets a small salary, an office, and a specialty to focus on. Frias’s title is commissioner of public affairs.
The Office of Public Affairs oversees seven departments: recreation, cultural affairs, community development, Urban Enterprise Zone, the library, the Health Department, and courts and violations.
“When we first got to this office,” Frias said, “we literally had nothing.” Frias said she encountered missing or poorly-kept records, broken computers, and broken door locks.
Just over a week after Roque’s administration took over, they had several duties to oversee, including hosting the Memorial Day parade and opening the town pool. The pool required repairs, a new paint job, and new management.
According to records, in two months, the pool generated as much revenue for the town as it had during the whole season in the previous administration.
“Here, we work together as a team,” Frias said, “and because of this, we have been able to accomplish what seemed impossible.”
The next big task? “We had to make sure that every employee on the payroll was actually working,” Frias said. After an extensive investigation last year, three employees from the former Recreation Department were arrested by local police.
Frias held a “cleanathon” in September, during which she, the mayor, the commissioners, and resident adults and children literally swept the streets.
“Education is very important to both Dr. Roque and to myself,” she said. “We want to make sure our children are safe and that our residents have the best opportunities for advancement we can give them.”
In August, Frias and the commissioners moved the preexisting curfew for minors back an hour to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends, with exceptions made only when student events such as football games that run late. It applies to kids under 18.
“For parents, it was a blessing,” she said. “We want to make sure our children are home secured and off the streets.”
She also moved Friday free movie nights for students and their parents inside so they could be held through the colder seasons as well as in the spring and summer.
Frias worked with the Board of Education to start the first girls’ softball team (which had 34 participants last season), created open gym time for girls at P.S. 5 (whereas before it had only been open to boys), and started three youth-parent associations for soccer, basketball, and football to lessen the town’s tax burden and foster community cooperation.
After she was approached by parents who lamented the fact that their English was not good enough to help their children with their homework, Frias arranged for ESL classes to be taught at the library. One class has already graduated and the second is only a week away. The cost for the six-week course is $10 “to cover the book,” she said.
She and Roque have come up with a plan to extend the class into three levels, and to offer composition and citizenship classes as well.
What’s in store
There are many plans in the works for this coming year, but to start, Frias hopes one day to see the town open its own recreation building, where adults and children alike can enjoy more opportunities for safe and healthy entertainment. She envisions game nights and reading nights for families, has plans for a children’s Olympic competition, and wants to start a lacrosse team and give children more access to intramural sports.
Frias is in the process of applying for a grant to build a water park and refurbish the town pool.
The town will hold its second job fair in March. The last one attracted over 500 residents and 52 businesses, including Macy’s, the NJ State Troopers, and many local banks.
“Not only will these classes allow parents to better help their children,” Frias said, “but they are better able to find a job, perhaps a better apartment, and overall a better quality of life.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org