News Column

N.J. Town Seeks Ouster of Its First Hispanic Mayor

January 7, 2014

Jason Nark, Philadelphia Daily News

Jan. 02--IT'S BEEN JUST over a year since Vineland, N.J.'s first Hispanic mayor took the oath, and for some in the sprawling Cumberland County community, that's long enough.

Ruben Bermudez, a former City Council member and owner of a formal-wear store in town, upset Vineland's incumbent mayor in a runoff election on Dec. 18, 2012, with his "Moving Forward" slate. But a recall petition is seeking to oust him amid accusations of cronyism, a closed-door atmosphere and flat-out incompetence.

"Vineland's not moving forward at all. It's actually gone backward," said Tami Harold, one of the five organizers of the Committee to Recall Mayor Ruben Bermudez.

Bermudez did not return phone calls or emails for comment yesterday and a spokesman from a public-relations firm he hired to represent the city also declined to comment. Bermudez, the spokesman said, had recently returned from his honeymoon and is sick.

The mayor did release a statement on his website, Vinelandtruth.com, claiming the people behind the petition are "lying." In the statement, the mayor asserted that he's done "nothing wrong, nothing illegal and/or nothing immoral."

"Your Mayor is only trying to change the inefficient & ineffective organization he inherited, and the 'good old boys network' trying to stop him," the statement read.

Posts on "Vineland Watchman," a Facebook page dedicated to the city's politics, have been almost entirely dedicated to Bermudez, including his personal life, his attempted firings of the local prosecutor and solicitor, and issues of divisiveness in the Hispanic community. Some supporters have chimed in, too, citing the $85,000 cost of a recall election.

Hispanics make up 38 percent of the population in Vineland, but the historical significance of Bermudez's win has lost its luster for some and may have divided the Hispanic community.

"Many people voted for him just because he's Spanish," recall supporter Benny Munoz said. "He won just because of that."

One of Bermudez's relatives has even joined the recall efforts.

"He's my cousin. I helped him get elected. I was part of his team to get him elected," said Joaquin Centeno, a Vineland resident and business owner. "It was almost right after the election [when] it seemed like somebody turned a switch on the guy."

City Councilwoman Maritza Gonzalez declined to comment on the recall other than to say neither she nor any other Council members were involved.

In November, when Bermudez attempted to fire longtime City Solicitor Richard Tonetta, Council Vice President Paul Spinelli told the Vineland Daily Journal that Bermudez was an "embarrassment to the city of Vineland."

Recall leader Harold, 47, said the petition begins in earnest tonight after a news conference and she hopes to get approximately 10,000 signatures, more than enough for a recall.

On Twitter: @JasonNark

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(c)2014 the Philadelphia Daily News

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Original headline: Bermudez tangle: Critics seek ouster of N.J. mayor


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Source: (c)2014 the Philadelphia Daily News


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