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.