West New York residents display a resilience they expect from next governor

By Kevin Castillo | Independent Reporter

The mile-long, densely populated town of West New York nestled in the heart of the North Hudson is represented by some of the most passionate residents. On the eve of the upcoming gubernatorial election, many voiced their opinions and expectations they have for the next governor of New Jersey.

Jonathan Castaneda and Adam Parkinson engaging with the people of West New York. Photo Credit: Alexis Feijoo.

Jonathan Castaneda and Adam Parkinson engaging with the people of West New York. Photo Credit: Alexis Feijoo.

Jonathan Castaneda, a 28-year-old Democrat, born and raised in West New York, displays a fiery desire to actively support and improve all facets of his community. As the mayor’s chief of staff, he is a well-educated, knowledgeable guy.

His educational highlights include earning a bachelor’s degree in diplomacy and international relationships, a master’s degree in public administration and another master’s degree in city and regional planning from Rutgers’ school of Planning and Public Policy.

Castaneda described West New York residents as humble, resilient and hardworking. “For better or worse, we’re hustlers,” he said. “Latinos are hustlers. And I’m talking from the perspective of West New York, because that’s what many people are.”

The demographics show that West New York is about 80 percent Hispanic, 13 percent White, and 5 percent Asian. By the numbers, 58 percent of registered voters are Democrats while 9 percent are registered Republicans, and 33 percent aren’t affiliated with political party. Come election time, most folks vote Democrat. At least that’s the local expectation.

“We have two candidates who are very clear on the distinction, especially in Trump’s America. One is a Republican, and I think there has been a feeling of discontent that the President has created,” Castaneda said. “It’s the first election post-Trump, the first election where people are going to be able to voice their opinion on particularly the parties that are in power, and it’s going to be important to see whether the fact that Trump is that head of the Republican Party is going to influence elections moving forward, especially in a blue state like New Jersey.”

This year’s gubernatorial race pits Democrat Phil Murphy, a retired Goldman Sachs executive and former U.S. ambassador to Germany, against Republican Kim Guadagno, who has served as Gov. Chris Christie's lieutenant governor for eight years. 

Castaneda said Murphy will win.

“I think it’s very clear that, not only is he a candidate that is very well educated and very well positioned to be Governor, but the opposition is not,” he said.

The biggest issue is education and funding public schools. He contended Christie has neglected that.

“This race is determining the next eight years,” Castaneda said. “It will impact the ways schools are funded and the next generation brought up.”

“We need a governor who understands challenges, but most important, opportunities.” He said. “Phil Murphy gets it.”

Adam Parkinson, the president of West New York’s Board of Education, agrees.

Parkinson graduated from St. Peter’s University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and American studies. He is a public school teacher in Weehawken.

“I agree more with Phil Murphy over Kim Guadagno,” he said. “As a teacher myself, I think that we need someone who is going to have the backs of public school teachers and the schools in general, which has really been neglected under the Christie administration.”

“After eight years of the Christie administration, I think that New Jersey is in dire need for a new path forward on almost every issue,” he said, contending Democrats have a better handle on immigration, crime and economics issues as well.

“There is a clear contrast between what Democrats stand for and what Republicans stand for. When you see the Republican leader being someone like Donald Trump, you can tell the path that we would be on if we continue to elect Republicans like Trump, like Christie. It’s a scary path forward.”

Parkinson said residents are starting to feel at ease with the policies local elected leaders have put in place, but there is always room for improvement when it comes to illegal drugs and public schools. He wants the community to focus on getting drugs off the street and funding their schools to create better opportunities for the children.

Dennise Mejia inviting a local resident to speak out. photo credit: Kevin Castillo.

Dennise Mejia inviting a local resident to speak out. photo credit: Kevin Castillo.

Dennise Mejia, a 27-year-old Associate Attorney with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Saint. Peter’s University, did not mention who she was going to vote for. She is a registered democrat and works alongside Parkinson as another member of the school board. 

“It’s very important that we elect a person that looks at both sides of issues as well as one that tries to bring people together from different perspectives and opinions, regardless of political party.”

“I think they’re both well respected individuals. I think they both have different things to offer to the people of New Jersey,” she said. “They come from different backgrounds, but that is not to say they are not qualified. I think Mr. Murphy definitely has a lot of support here in Hudson County, but I am sure our current Lieutenant Governor has her support as well in other counties of the state of New Jersey.”

Mejia mentioned that the consensus is that Murphy is going to win, but she did not rule out the possibility of a Guadagno victory. Although she is a registered Democrat, she voiced her perspective by saying that what makes a good governor is support and giving them the true opportunity to succeed, not judging them based off their political party.

“Whoever sits on that chair representing our state, I will still go ahead and give them my support regardless of political party,” she said. “You have to give them a chance whether it’s a Democrat, Republican, or independent because he or she is able to bring the parties together. I think that is more important and speaks more volume than a political affiliation.”

The main issue Mejia has seen is Education. And, while the issue many people have is funding public schools, Mejia says that in the town of West New York it is also educating in the sense that parents, students, and residents should be taught to go out and use their voice to make changes. 

“I think it’s more of education, whether that’s about the education system or voting in general,” she said. That’s important because you can’t make a difference if you’re not involved yourself.”

As a member of the Board of Education, she displayed a strong sense of involvement and why she believes that becoming involved is a huge part in bettering a community. 

“A lot of young millennials don’t know what’s going on,” Mejia said. “You want to encourage to get yourself involved. You can’t make an impact on a state level if you’re not making an impact on a local level. It all starts at home.”

Mejia gathered her thoughts on the community by describing the people of her town.

“I think the people of West New York are very hard-working people,” she said. “A lot of them come from immigrant backgrounds. A lot of the families instill the principle of hard work because nothing is easy. Also, humility is very important. You want to remember your roots and give back. I don’t know where I’ll be 5 or 10 years from now, but West New York will always be home.”


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This story is part of the Voting Block series and was produced in collaboration with The Record, NJ Spotlight, WHYY, WNYC, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Cooperative Media and New America Media. To read all the stories in this series, visit VotingBlockNJ.com.