Rep. Albio Sires (D)
New Jersey 13th District
Standing in New York Harbor since 1886, the Statue of Liberty has been the symbol of America’s receptiveness to immigrants. Actually, the statue is on the New Jersey side of the harbor, and so is, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1998, most of Ellis Island, where immigrants once were processed. So it’s natural that the towns atop the granite and gneiss ridge of Hudson County, overlooking the harbor, became immigrant territory. Many children and grandchildren of Irish and Italian immigrants stayed in Hudson County, living in the same neighborhoods, working on the same docks or factories, and voting the dictates of the same political machine. Hudson County was the setting of one of America’s classic political machines, undisciplined by any metropolitan elite. From 1917 to 1949, the boss of Hudson County was Frank (‘‘I am the law’’) Hague. His machine chose governors and U.S. senators, prosecutors and judges, and had influence in the White House of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hague collected high taxes from industries clustered here, who then passed them on to consumers everywhere, and in return, he gave them an orderly city, free of most crime and vice, and a workforce insulated against racketeers and militant unions. Hague’s successor, John V. Kenny, was boss from 1949 to 1971—continuous power for 54 years.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
But Hudson County began changing. New immigrants were coming in—refugees from Castro’s Cuba and other Latinos and Asians arrived after the 1965 immigration act. Union City became predominantly Cuban; Jersey City neighborhoods became heavily Latino. Starting in the 1980s, huge new condominium and office developments went up in Jersey City, with back-office buildings for big banks and securities firms and, later, Internet content businesses. Upscale young singles looking for lower rents moved into Hoboken’s five-story Victorians that sparkle with light off the Hudson; they were just a quick commute through the PATH tubes to Wall Street or Greenwich Village. In Hoboken, the home of Frank Sinatra and the Oreo cookie, shopping and apartment complexes have taken up the waterfront sites where Maxwell House Coffee and Lipton Tea once had factories (and where the movie classic On the Waterfront was filmed). Bayonne has become a cruise-ship port. Ferries from Weehawken assisted in the miraculous rescue of the US Airways flight that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in January 2009. Meanwhile, new immigrants continue to arrive. As middle-class Cubans move to Bergen County suburbs and the Jersey mainstream, Union City is less Cuban and more Colombian, Ecuadoran, Peruvian, Dominican, and Filipino. Hudson County, which seemed to be dying a generation ago, is now pulsing with new life.
The 13th Congressional District of New Jersey includes most of Hudson County, plus most of the immigrant entry ports along the water, from West New York and Weehawken, where Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804, south past Jersey City and Bayonne, where you can still find bocce courts. It extends past the Port of New York and New Jersey to the waterfront areas of Elizabeth, Linden, Carteret (with a large Sikh community), Woodbridge, and Perth Amboy. The district’s population is 49% Hispanic and also includes the Ironbound district of Newark, with its Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants; working-class Harrison, an aging factory town where European immigrants have been replaced by Hispanic immigrants; and part of industrial Kearny. The 13th is heavily Democratic.
Rep. Albio Sires (D)
Elected: Nov. 2006, 2nd full term.
Born: Jan. 26, 1951, Bejucal, Cuba .
Home: West New York.
Education: St. Peter’s Col., B.A. 1974, Middlebury Col., M.A. 1985.
Family: Married (Adrienne); 1 child.
Elected office: West New York mayor, 1995-2006; NJ Assembly, 1999-2006; NJ Assembly speaker, 2002-06.
Professional Career: High schl. Spanish and ESL teacher, 1975-85; Special asst., NJ Dept. of Community Affairs, 1985; Part-owner, A.M. Title Agency, 1986-2006.
The congressman from the 13th District is Democrat Albio Sires (SEAR-eez), who replaced Robert Menendez, also a Democrat, after he was appointed to the Senate in January 2006. Sires, who was born in Cuba, remembers the book burning following the Communist revolution there. His family fled Fidel Castro’s regime in 1962 when he was 10. He attended St. Peter’s College on a four-year basketball scholarship, and then earned a master’s degree from Middlebury College. He became a high school Spanish teacher. On his fourth try, he was elected mayor of West New York as a Republican in 1995, and held that post until 2006. He focused on the creation of more-affordable housing in the small but densely populated town and won praise for merging the fire department with three neighboring departments. He switched parties in 1999 and, with the support of party leaders, defeated a veteran Democratic incumbent in the primary to win a state House seat (dual officeholding was then a common practice in New Jersey). With strong support from newly elected Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey in 2002, he became speaker of the Assembly.
|Albio Sires (D)||120,382||(75%)||($802,335)|
|Joseph Turula (R)||34,735||(22%)|
|Julio Fernandez (I)||3,661||(2%)|
|Albio Sires (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (78%), 2006 (97%)
After newly elected Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine appointed Menendez to replace him in the U.S. Senate, Sires immediately became the front-runner for the House seat. In the primary, Sires faced a fierce challenge from Joe Vas of Perth Amboy, who likewise was a state House member and a mayor. Vas assailed Sires as a puppet of the Hudson County Democratic machine. He also questioned whether Sires was a true Democrat. Sires had started his political career as a Democrat, run for Congress in 1986 as a Republican, and was elected to local office as an independent before rejoining the Democratic Party. Sires responded by depicting Vas as soft on crime and won the support of most leading Democrats, except for his longtime rival Menendez, who remained neutral. Vas accused Sires of ties to organized crime; Sires linked Vas to drug dealers. But the shrill tenor of the campaign made little difference. Although Vas carried his home base of Middlesex County 76%-24%, Sires crushed him 80%-20% in Hudson County, which cast 74% of the total vote. Overall, Sires won 72%-28%. In the general election, Republicans nominated John Guarini, who raised little money and posed no threat. Sires won 78%-19%. He succeeded Menendez as the only Cuban-American House member from a state other than Florida.
In the House, Sires established a liberal voting record. He allied himself in 2007 with South Florida members who wanted to keep U.S. sanctions on Cuba in place and supported President George W. Bush’s pro-democracy programs in Cuba. Sires lobbied most of the House freshman class with his personal story about Cuba. On the Financial Services Committee, he got approval in 2007 of his bill to increase penalties, up to $1 million in some cases, for identity theft. In February 2008, the House debated his bill to give more management flexibility to small public housing agencies like New Jersey’s, but postponed final action after Republicans tried to tack on a provision prohibiting the enforcement of the District of Columbia’s gun laws.
Sires also showed an interest in getting involved in the House Democratic leadership. He was appointed one of the vice chairs of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and was put in charge of member participation and outreach. He was re-elected easily in 2008.