Rolando Lavarro urges June 11 run-off vote: ‘Elections not yet over.’

Not your traditional Jersey City FilAm politician. Photo: Jersey Journal

Not your traditional Jersey City FilAm politician. Photo: Jersey Journal

By Cristina DC Pastor

Jersey City Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro is in number-crunching mode as he looks toward the June 11 run-off.

With about 40,000 voters who cast their ballots in the May 14 municipal elections, the run-off is likely to see a one-third decline resulting in about 26,500 votes. He has to get 50 percent plus one of that number or about 13,250 votes to win the run-off for him to stay in the city council.

“I’m confident (we will win),” he told a May 31 Kapihan forum organized by the Filipino American Press Club of New York held at Max’s of Manila on Newark Avenue.

If all of the 6,000 to 7,000 Filipino Americans who are registered voters would come out again on June 11 and support Lavarro, his place in the City Council is almost assured.

But that’s the thing: How many of the Filipino community’s registered voters would actually go out and re-vote? Some are thinking the elections are over after May 14, others are unaware of the run-off, and others believe Lavarro has already won.

“The elections are not over yet,” Lavarro stressed during the forum. “There is a June 11 run-off and we need to go out again and vote.”

The run-off – also known as the second round of voting – is a quirk in Jersey City politics. While many American cities would declare council members winners based on a simple plurality, Jersey City requires that its council members accumulate 50 percent of the total ballots cast.
Lavarro and four others did not get the desired number and will be competing for three available slots in the council. In the last elections, he placed third, and this gives him a boost.

While he believes the run-off is an “archaic” way to decide elections, he said with a shrug, “That’s not the first thing we will do when we win (to change the charter).”

Lavarro with Jersey City’s ‘elders’ during the May 31 Kapihan. Photo by Momar Visaya

Lavarro with Jersey City’s ‘elders’ during the May 31 Kapihan. Photo by Momar Visaya

Lavarro is not your ordinary Jersey City Filipino politician; neither is his rise to Jersey City politics the route oft-taken. A second-generation Filipino American, Lavarro was born in Jersey City to parents who are both immigrant doctors. He grew up in the Greenville neighborhood where he still lives with his wife Veronica and their daughter.

He was educated in private schools and earned his Bachelor of Science in Business & Marketing from New York University’s Leonard Stern School of Business. He worked as assistant director for the Office of Grants and Sponsored Programs at New Jersey City University. He entered politics working behind the scenes as director of Constituent Services for then-Assemblyman (now State Senator) Robert Gordon. He then became an aide to Councilwoman Mary Donnelly in Jersey City’s Ward B and would become involved with the city’s non-profit and grassroots communities.

In 2009, something happened to Lavarro that brought him to his current political situation: the first Filipino and first Asian to win a seat in the city council and possibly the first to win a full term of four years. His previous term was won in a special election, and that term will expire this June.

In 2009, he told the forum, a group of Jersey City community leaders approached him and asked him to run for the council. They pledged their support and promised his candidacy would be different because no other candidate would split the votes of the Filipino community. It’s been the community’s curse: If a Filipino was running for office in Jersey City, another Filipino would get on the ballot and split the community’s votes.

“I will never forget that night,” Lavarro said. “That was the start for me.”

He faced his first run-off election that same year and lost. Two years later in 2011, he ran in a special election and won.

“My message to our community is: in unity there is strength,” he said. “It’s been proven here.”

Lavarro reported on his initiatives after one year in office:

• He proposed the creation of an Immigrant Affairs Commission. Jersey City is the first municipality in New Jersey to form such a commission.

• He sponsored the resolution supporting

• Comprehensive Immigration Reform and Tuition Equity for DREAMers. The resolution was passed.

• During Hurricane Sandy, he fought for the return of power from PSE&G, and brought recovery resources to communities that weren’t reached.

• He co-sponsored a living wage ordinance, which was passed.

• He fought for increased police foot patrols and cameras around the city, also fought to streamline the Police Department.

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