School board member Flavio Rivera secured several key endorsements on Thursday night in his bid for an at-large city council seat during a campaign kick-off fundraiser attended by close allies and political supporters.
Rivera received endorsements from assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, state senator Nellie Pou, and Passaic County freeholder Theodore “TJ” Best. He also received the support of five of his school board colleagues.
“You’re no stranger to the city of Paterson. People know who you are,” said Pou. This is Rivera’s third time running for a council seat.
Rivera, 39, ran for an at-large seat in 2012 securing 3,565 votes. He fell short by almost a thousand ballots. He ran for the 3rd Ward council seat in 2016 receiving 731 ballots. This time, he fell short by little over 300 votes.
“We need someone like you to be a part of the governing body,” said Pou, who works as the city’s business administrator. She said someone with financial background is badly needed on the council.
Rivera described Pou’s endorsement as “unexpected.” Other endorsements were expected. His baseball coach from Eastside High School, Wimberly, described Rivera as a “financial whiz.”
“He is a financial whiz. Knowing what we know that needs to be done in the city of Paterson. You need someone like Flavio at the table,” said Wimberly.
Rivera has worked for the Passaic County government for almost 11 years. He serves as the county’s treasurer. He makes $97,400 in that title.
Wimberly described Rivera as a tough kid to deal with at Eastside High School.
“His intelligence was shown at an early age. He’d challenge me,” said the coach. Wimberly said he had to kick Rivera off the baseball team a “couple of times.” He also described Rivera as “loyal.”
“I can’t think of no better person with better qualifications that the city needs today than Flavio Rivera,” said Best. He credited some of the county’s fiscal successes to Rivera. The county government received five bond rating upgrades, stabilized taxes, and had a zero-percent tax hike last year, he said.
“Part of the reason why we’re in such great position is because of Flavio,” said Best.
Rivera thanked Best and others for their endorsements. He made a small number of promises at the Riverside Manor event attended by 75 people. Tickets went for $100.
Rivera promised to provide better fiscal oversight of the municipal government and help repair the city’s tattered reputation among vendors. He also wants to change the way business is done in the city.
“The main thing we have to change in this city is the culture, the way things are done. You cannot continue to run the city the same way it’s been run for the last 30 years,” said Rivera.
Rivera lamented the city’s poor relationship with vendors that discourage companies from bidding on contracts. When fewer firms are competing for the city’s business, taxpayers end up paying more for services.
It’s “scandalous” yelled a member of the audience.
“You need to have a good working relationship with your vendors. Make sure they get paid on time,” said Rivera. “When you put out a bid and only one person bids out of 50, we have a problem.”
The city has struggled to get more firms to bid for contracts. Vendors refuse to do business due to the wait to receive payments. For example, the city took six months to pay a demolition firm in early 2017.
Rivera said he plans to ask for monthly fiscal reports to provide better oversight of municipal finances. The city reduced its overtime spending from $5.98 million to $4.3 million in fiscal year 2016 after council members demanded and received periodic reports. When a report showed overtime spiking, council members criticized the administration forcing it to keep spending down.
Rivera, who has been on the school board for the past four years, reduced overtime in the district using a similar approach. Five of his colleagues — Oshin Castillo, Nakima Redmon, Manny Martinez, Vincent Arrington, Joel Ramirez — endorsed him.
Rivera touted his fiscal skills to sell himself as the mechanic the city needs to address its fiscal woes.
“When your car breaks down you don’t take it to anyone. You take it to a mechanic. When you are sick, you go to the doctor. You don’t just go to the corner store,” said Rivera. He suggested, when you have fiscal problems, you bring on a financial whiz.
“I’m your guy,” said Rivera.
This report was updated at 2:30 p.m.