Crowds coming to Arena … to vote!


Red Bull Arena in Harrison will be jam-packed with people on Sunday, April 10, but don’t expect to hear them cheering for the home team — because there will be no soccer played that day.

Instead, the thousands of people who figure to be on hand will be voting.

Not for their favorite All-Star, though.

They will be among fellow countrymen and women choosing the next president of Peru.

Under Peruvian law, people who are Peruvian citizens but who are living elsewhere are permitted to vote in Peruvian national elections, according to Harrison First Ward Councilman Jesus Huaranga, a native of that country.

Balloting for president of Peru will be conducted on April 10, although a candidate must attain a majority of more than 50% to win – an outcome most political observers deem unlikely – and a runoff election is anticipated June 5.

According to Huaranga, as many as 45,000 people from the region are estimated to be eligible to vote in the first round of voting. Of that number, Huaranga said, anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 are believed to reside in Hudson County.

Many more, he said, can be found in higher concentrations in Passaic County, in Paterson and Passaic in particular.

Why pick a soccer stadium, home to the New York Red Bulls, to serve as a giant polling place?

Five years ago – the last time a national Peruvian election was held – several sites in the region were designated for balloting but that proved ineffective, Huaranga said. In fact, “It was a disaster,” he added.

A possible solution to that dilemma emerged last summer when Peruvian Consul General Jose Benzaquen and Deputy Consul General Vitaliano Gallardo visited Harrison to attend a soccer match between Peru and Colombia.

“They saw how nice and easy it was to bring 25,000 people into a single facility from so far,” Huaranga said. “The whole idea [for a polling station] came from that.”

In late January, Huaranga met with Benzaquen and Gallardo to flesh out logistics associated with the event, such as transportation, parking and security, after negotiating a lease deal with the Red Bull ownership.

Terms of the lease arrangement were not announced and the consul’s office declined to talk to The Observer, but Huaranga said that plans call for 164 voting machines to installed – not on the Arena field – but around the interior of the stadium perimeter behind and under the seating area.

Polling hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

To secure the site, preserve the integrity of the election and to control traffic in the area, Harrison police and fire department personnel will partner with the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office and Port Authority Police Department.

In consideration of those voters who may be commuting to the site via buses, the consuls were likely to confer with NJ Transit on the possibility of arranging more frequent scheduling of routes from Paterson to Newark Penn Station, from which riders could link up to Harrison PATH, just across from the stadium.

For those driving to the arena, the consul’s office is negotiating terms with Mayor James Fife and town attorney Paul Zarbetski for the use of a gravel lot known as Development Blocks A and B, just north of the Russo multi-unit apartment complex under construction, east of the arena. Parking would be offered at no cost to the voters.

The run-up to the election has sparked some controversy with the country’s National Electoral Jury having disqualified two candidates – economist/former Secretary General Julio Guzman (All for Peru) and millionaire/former governor Cesar Acuna (Alliance for Progress) – for alleged violations of election rules.

Of the remaining 10 candidates, the one polling the highest has been Keiko Fujimori (Popular Force), daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, currently serving a 25-year prison sentence after convictions for corruption and human-rights abuses.

Others running include former two-time President Alan Garcia (Popular Alliance); Alfredo Barnechea (Popular Action), a former journalist and former member of the Chamber of Deputies; Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (Peruvians for the Change), a former Prime Minister; Veronika Mendoza (Broad Left Front), a former member of Congress; Alejandro Toledo (Possible Peru), a former President; Gregorio Santos (Direct Democracy), a former governor; Antero Flores (Order), a former defense minister; Fernando Olivera (Hope Front), a former justice minister; and Miguel Hilario (Progressing Peru).

Learn more about the writer ...