Council members bid farewell to two-term councilman Julio Tavarez who was the only member of the governing body not to seek re-election in May.
“Our city is better because you’ve given us your ideas and you put those ideas into action,” said Andre Sayegh, a close friend and political ally of the outgoing councilman, as he presented two plaques to Tavarez for eight years of service on Tuesday evening.
Council members unanimously approved the resolution to honor Tavarez for his service to the 5th Ward.
Sayegh said Tavarez championed “progressive public policy” like increasing recycling in the Silk City. He also made history for the city’s Dominican-American community by becoming the first Dominican-American to be elected to a ward seat, said Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman.
Tavarez also became the first Dominican-American to hold the council vice president seat and council president posts, said Sayegh.
The outgoing councilman credited his mentor deceased Juan Jimenez for influencing him to enter public service. “He said to me, ‘I think you’re talented, but if you don’t put that talent to work to help our city, then you might as well move like everyone else,’” recollected Tavarez.
“This person became a friend, a mentor,” said Tavarez, who almost broke down, while speaking from the dais.
Tavarez took Jimenez’s advice. He was elected to the 5th Ward council seat in 2008 and then re-elected in 2012.
“He believed that Dominicans were able not only to elect people, but also be elected,” said Tavarez.
Jimenez worked to elevate his community politically in the city. He convinced Tavarez to enter public service by arguing the image of Dominican-Americans as drug dealers and criminals had to be changed by young men like him.
Jimenez’s star dimmed in his community after he was among 15 people charged in connection with a voter fraud scheme involving former at-large councilman Rigo Rodriguez’s election.
Rodriguez is also a Dominican-American. Jimenez was let off with 15 hours of community service and Rodriguez has been barred from ever holding public office.
Tavarez also had his own controversies. His poor attendance at city council meetings led to his colleagues passing an abortive ordinance to subtract pay. Last year, the city council approved a no confidence vote on the outgoing councilman for making allegedly racial remarks on Spanish radio program.
Tavarez filed a defamation lawsuit against his colleagues and the city seeking $1 million in damages over the no confidence vote.
During his tenure Tavarez opposed tax increases by voting against budgets. He also opposed mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ $35 million borrowing plan. He often butted heads with the mayor as well.
The outgoing councilman dedicated a poem to his mentor that highlighted the dreams and aspirations of the city’s largest Spanish-American community. “Today, I would like to tell you, Dominican-Americans are here to stay/ And we’re growing stronger every day,” read Tavarez.