FILAMSPEAK: Filipino vs Filipino, a casualty of Jersey City politics

Rolando Lavarro; Carlo Abad. Abad photo: Jersey Journal

Rolando Lavarro; Carlo Abad. Abad photo: Jersey Journal

By Cristina DC Pastor

In what appeared to be a Machiavellian maneuver, the nomination of Carlo Abad to be the chief judge for the Jersey City Municipal Court would pit Filipino against fellow Filipino and blast a hole into the cohesive front of the FilAm community of this city.

Council member Rolando Lavarro Jr., the first FilAm and first Asian to serve in the council, voted against Abad’s nomination. Anticipating knee-jerk reaction about him voting against a fellow FilAm, he said he was not voting against Abad’s qualifications. His ‘nay’ vote, he clarified, was against the principle and procedure behind Abad’s nomination.

And this is where Jersey City politics becomes as murky as the swirling waters on the Hudson River.

Abad was nominated by incumbent Mayor Jerramiah Healy. Lavarro belongs to the party of Council Member Steven Fulop, who is challenging Healy’s leadership in the coming May municipal elections. Voting 5 to 4, the council rejected the nomination of Abad and another Healy nominee, Radames Velazquez, who was being considered to be a full-time judge for the Municipal Court. The council argued no “midnight appointments,” and that Healy should have waited until a new mayor is voted – or reelected — and gets a new mandate in three months.

Maybe so, but the FilAm community already rode the rollercoaster: Rejoicing over Abad’s potential appointment as chief judge and finding out in about 24 hours it was not to be because another FilAm appeared to have stood in the way.

‘The FilAm’ magazine sought out long-time Jersey City residents for their thoughts. Was Lavarro right in voting against Abad as a matter of principle? Or was it politics as usual in New Jersey’s second largest city, where Filipinos are a dominant ethnic group?

The Filipino School of New York & New Jersey

To some, this may seem like a case of Filipino-versus-Filipino, but an understanding of the whole picture will give us a better sense of what is happening before we are too quick to judge and or assume.

I believe this has to deal more with the politics involved, especially with the upcoming elections. I definitely believe that we should support our fellow Filipinos, but at the same time ensure the integrity of any regulations that have to be adhered to in doing so.

victor sisonVICTOR SISON

The nomination of Abad was politically motivated, sad to say. Prior to his nomination, two other people have been nominated by the administration to choice spots. Lavarro and his allies believed that the midnight nominations were not right, that the positions should be left open for the incoming administration — whoever it is — and that a process of appointing people for such positions should be put in place. So they voted down the prospective appointees who happen to be Caucasians.

Then the administration turned around and nominated Abad and Velasquez, a Latino, for chief judgeship and for judgeship, respectively. From my take, it is to put Lavarro and his allies, one of whom is a Latina councilwoman, into a Catch-22, the unsolvable conundrum: If they approve the nominees, then they leave themselves open to charges of discrimination; if they don’t, then they will go down among the Filipino Americans and the Latinos as a disgrace for not having a ‘pakikisama.’

Against such scenario, Lavarro did what he had to do. He and his political allies saw through the political ruse and acted on their principles. I praise Lavarro for his savvy and for seeing through the political ploy. Welcome to JC politics.


The incumbent Mayor Jerramiah Healy is running for re-election this year. He appointed Judge Abad for the chief position. The appointment needs the approval of the City Council that is deeply divided. Opposing Mayor Healy is the popular Councilman Steve Fulop. Pinoy Councilman Rolando Lavarro is running on Fulop’s slate. The voting was 5-4 denying Judge Abad on straight party line voting. Rolando’s excuse was that the election was too close and that the appointment should be made by whoever wins the coming election. The qualification of Judge Abad was not the issue.

Last-minute appointment by the outgoing administration is like Gloria Macapagal Arroyo picking as the Chief Justice Renato Corona. Rolando’s vote is the swing vote and sure will have splitting affect.

Financial journalist

I don’t know much about Lavarro’s background, but know he is a FilAm. He says he voted not to confirm the appointment because it was too near the election, not because of qualification issues. I wonder if he realizes that the appointment is not necessarily a “political” appointment and would not necessarily affect the council, if the appointment goes through.

I wonder if he also realizes that voting for the appointment would be a signal honor for Filipinos, if not for Asians in Jersey City, as it would be the first-ever post of that caliber earned by a Filipino (or an Asian) in the city.

ledy almadinLEDY ALMADIN

I don’t think this issue is all about race or ethnicity. I think it’s more of the politics of the Jersey City mayoral election coming up. Just sad to think other people are used to playing their political games.

Board member
Philippine-American Friendship Committee

What appeared to be good news for the community – the appointment of Carlo Abad — was short-lived.

I believe that this may not necessarily be Filipino-versus-Filipino, rather a party-versus-party doing what they need to do to assert their influence in the city that they are hoping to secure votes for the term. The appointment itself may have been a political move causing both parties to do the political dance, but I also believe that the average Jersey City resident doesn’t care and only saw the possibility of a historical moment for the Asian community.

While I’m hopeful that it’s not a Filipino-versus-Filipino scenario, it might already be the perception. Some may argue that this could potentially be a step backwards for all who wish to get out of that “crab mentality” that appears to consume many communities. I get a sense that there are many Filipinos who might have been more interested in witnessing a historical first Asian Chief Municipal Judge.

Rolando has a good character, and I strongly believe that he would have voted based on principles. Although I’m disappointed that Abad did not get the vote, I’ve subscribed to the idea that politicians were just being politicians.

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  1. SMH wrote:

    I am very disappointed by a wrong move by Lavarro. I will make it a point to get my filipino americans to vote against Lavarro when he runs for re-election. He did not serve the filipino american community with any justice with his vote against a well deserved nomination of Mr. Abad. His political ambitions robbed Mr. Abad of a position we rightfully earned.

  2. Pchops wrote:

    It’s sad to see SMH has made an emotional decision and posted. It is very important to get all of the facts and information and see the larger picture. In Jersey City, appointments can be made without a review or interview process. Reformers like Councilman Lavarro believe that there should be an open process just like it is everywhere else. First, people are notified in a public manner of an open position. Then candidates and submissions are accepted. Then candidates are formally interviewed. Then a true decision based on merit can be made. In Jersey City, no such process exists. I believe, the Appointment judge makes referrals and the Mayor proposes a resolution for appointment. The City Council had less than 2 days to make a decision. Just to note, that even though the City Council rejected Abad’s candidacy for the permanent, the appointment Judge selected Abad as the interim Chief Judge however did not select the other candidate, which is considered the political supporter. Ask Abad, what does it feel like to work hard for his position while another gets it for free?

  3. […] DC Pastor of The FilAm summed up the political circumstances surrounding the […]

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