Filipino lawyer sworn in as Bergenfield, New Jersey mayor

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Borough makes history with two other Filipinos on the council 

BERGENFIELD, NJ — The Filipino American community in the eastern seaboard has another reason to be proud as lawyer Arvin Amatorio took his oath as the new mayor of Bergenfield, a borough in Bergen County roughly 13 miles from New York City.

Mayor Amatorio’s historic swearing-in ceremony happened Sunday afternoon at the Bergenfield Borough Hall Council Chambers. Councilmembers Ora Kornbluth and Salvador “Buddy” Deauna, along with Amatorio ran together as a slate and were elected together last November.

The 48-year-old lawyer, originally from Baler, Quezon, began his political career five years ago when he ran for the council. He sought reelection after finishing his first term and with a year to go before his second term was supposed to end, he decided to run for mayor.

With his seat now vacant, the new members of the council appointed Filipino American businessman Marc Pascual to serve the remaining one year on Amatorio’s original Council term.

Pascual’s appointment makes him the third Fil-Am on the borough council, a first in the history of the borough formed in 1894. Amatorio is the second Bergenfield mayor of Filipino descent after Robert Rivas who served from 2000 to 2002.

“I would like to extend my appreciation and gratitude to all our kababayans here who have been instrumental in our victory, not just during the campaign but also during my time as councilman,” Amatorio said. “Nagpapasalamat ako sa kanila at sana patuloy ninyo akong suportahan para ikarangal natin ang lahing Pilipino.”

Dozens of local elected officials were on hand for the historic event, including State Senator Joe Lagana, Congressman Josh Gottheimer, former Bergenfield Mayor Robert Rivas, former Bergenfield Mayor Carlos Aguasvivas, Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, Tenafly Mayor Mark Zinna and Palisades Park Mayor Chris Chung.

Fellow elected Filipinos in the state, Jersey City Councilman Rolando Lavarro and Mahwah Councilman Jonathan Wong, also attended the ceremony.

 “Despite the roughness and the contentiousness of the campaign, we prevailed, because truth prevails. The people did not believe the lies, they believed in what we have done. Our record speaks for itself so it means that we have the trust, confidence and backing of our people,” Amatorio said.

“I am so honored to be your Mayor, and want to thank you all for being here on this historic day. During our campaign, I met with over 10,000 residents directly at their doors, and appreciate them sharing their vision for a better Bergenfield with me. I pledge to always work in the best interests of residents, and all my efforts will be shaped by feedback from the public,” Amatorio said in his speech, as the city council meeting drew to an end.

The new mayor turned a little emotional and choked for a bit midway through his speech when he thanked his family, particularly his wife Ilya, their two sons Lance and Andrew and his parents Librado and Sonia who were both public school teachers.

“To my parents who were both public school teachers, I owe them everything, they instilled in me the value of public service. They are no longer here with us, my mother passed away not so long ago, during the start of our campaign last year. She was proud and excited to see that it was possible for her son to be a mayor of a town in America, a privilege given only to a few,” he said.

Amatorio and his wife moved to the United States in 2002 and he has been practicing immigration law since 2006, when he passed the New York Bar.

“Those darkest moments were really tough. When they tried to tarnish my name, they were not just tarnishing my name but the good name of my family and the future of my kids,” he shared with us later. “My mother was very engaged when we started the campaign and it is unfortunate that she never saw this day. That was why I got emotional.”

Bergenfield has been called Bergen County’s Little Manila and Filipinos are the biggest ethnic group in the borough. According to Census’s American Community Survey in 2017, there are about 5,347 Bergenfield residents of Filipino ancestry, representing about 2.8% of the entire population of about 27,513.

As a councilmember, Amatorio served as the council’s Finance Committee Chairman, where he drafted the past two municipal budgets with 0% local tax increases.

 “My main priorities as mayor will be taxes and infrastructure. I also want to invest big in our youth so sports programs and sports facilities and they will come along the way,” he said. “I will work with the DPW, my colleagues in the council, and of course residents to identify which roads require an immediate repair and construct a plan to make sure we address these issues because Bergenfield residents deserve to feel safe in our neighborhoods.”

The new mayor is also looking forward to beginning plans to construct a new Borough Hall, that is energy-efficient and “will better serve residents for at least 100 years.”

Congressman Josh Gottheimer said he believes Bergenfield is in great hands with Amatorio because he will “keep Bergenfield taxes stable, improve our infrastructure, renovate our parks, and continue to revitalize the community and attract new businesses.”  

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