Davis Ave. resident Peter Santana was appointed Second Ward Councilman at a special council meeting Monday, Feb. 6, taking the seat once occupied by the late Councilman Jonathan Giordano, who died suddenly last month.
The vote was unanimous at 8-0.
Before the vote was taken, however, the council heard from three people who had expressed interest in the seat: Santana, Jennifer Long, the first woman ever to command Kearny’s VFW post and former Councilwoman Laura Cifelli-Pettigrew.
Santana was first to speak.
From the get-go, it was clear Santana was Mayor Alberto G. Santos’ choice – and the biggest reason why? Santana is tri-lingual, fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish. Many Second-Ward residents do not speak English – and having a tri-lingual representative would make life much easier when residents have concerns to voice.
Santana is employed by the Harrison School District as a director of technology. He received his bachelor’s degree at a university in Brazil and he got his master’s degree from St. Peter’s University, Jersey City.
When Councilman Albino Cardoso asked Santana (by phone) whether he’d be able to put his work for Kearny over his work in Harrison, Santana quickly responded “absolutely.”
Santana was also asked whether there’d be a problem with his second job at the Hudson County Schools of Technology. That position is as a supervisor at night adult high school for kids who need to get their diplomas without getting a GED.
“My schedule there is flexible,” Santana said. “If I can’t make it there, I won’t sign in.”
Third Ward Councilwoman Eileen Eckel quickly lauded Santana for his ability to speak three languages.
“It’s so much easier to deal with constituents,” Eckel said. “It’s so much easier to communicate with neighbors.”
It was at this point in the “interview” process that Santana noted some of the things he’d like to do as a representative.
“Parking. I’d like to try to solve that problem,” Santana said. “I’d also like to get some playgrounds. The people they say there aren’t enough playgrounds. I’d also like to see people get better use of West Hudson Park.”
After Santana spoke, Long, the VFW’s first woman commander, delivered her credentials not just with the VFW, but with what she’s done her entire military career.
Long has been the commander of the VFW for three years, having joined the military when she was just 19. She pointed to increasing membership at the VFW and creating programs for youth as reasons why she’d make a good councilwoman.
In the military, she was deployed for 7 ½ years following Sept. 11, 2001. She was responsible for 475 soldiers at the third-largest base in Iraq. While in the Middle East, she was responsible for developing police operations in Afghanistan alongside the French Army.
“I worked under tremendous pressure,” she said. “I will do what’s asked of me.”
At this point, Santos said he was a bit concerned that Long would have to act in a “partisan” manner as a councilwoman, whereas her work at the VFW is to be “non-partisan.”
“As a candidate, I’d be ready to go to do just what’s best from the town,” Long responded.
Still, the language issue came up again. Long speaks English and French – but she does not speak Portuguese of Spanish.
“I thank you very much for your service,” Cardoso, who rarely speaks at council meetings, but did so several times at this meeting, said. “I think it’s going to be a problem for you to represent them” (Second Ward residents).
Third Ward Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle, who said she’s taken a lot of heat over the years from her constituents for ensuring forms in the town are written tri-lingually, still echoed the sentiments of her colleagues about the need for a rep who speaks more than just English.
“We really need a representative who can speak their language,” Doyle said. “We have to meet their needs. I am leaning toward someone who speaks Spanish and Portguese.”
In response, Long said, “It can be handled.”
Lastly, Cifelli-Pettigrew spoke briefly as she withdrew her name as a candidate.
“I just didn’t want someone chosen over a piece of paper,” she said. “You found two very qualified candidates, so I formally withdraw my name.”
Before the meeting, Cifelli-Pettigrew made it clear she only wanted to serve the remainder of Giordano’s term, which now ends in November.
If Santana wishes to hold onto the Second Ward seat, he must run in this June’s primary as a Democrat. If he wins the primary, he moves onto the General Election in November. More than likely, since it’s been years since a Republican has run in the Second Ward, Santana would officially become the Second Ward councilman again immediately following the November election for one more year – and two months – until Jan. 1, 2018.
Should he then wish to continue further, he’d have to run again in the 2018 primary election. Giordano’s official term was to be up for re-election in 2018.