By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Philipine-born Bergenfield (pop. 27,373) Mayor Arvin Amatorio may well be called a pandemic mayor. As a first-termer, his administration had been fighting to keep Bergenfield up and alive in the midst of the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
The second Filipino American (Robert Rivas was the first FilAm mayor in 2000-2002) mayor, Amatorio said that his administration is relentlessly emphasizing on testing for asymptomatic patients.
During an interview with the digital show Issues & Inspiration on Saturday January 16, Amatorio, 48, said that Bergenfield is the first town of Bergen county to open the testing of asymptomatic patients in May this year. It has set up two drive through covid19 test sites for those with or without insurance coverage. “We have the power to stop this virus. So everyone should get tested,” he said.
After his inauguration in January 2020, Amatorio immediately faced the horrific challenge of the pandemic: illnesses, death and business closures. Some 2300 residents have been infected by the virus which have claimed the lives of 47, so far.
Bergenfield businesses have been badly hit by the pandemic, a significant number of these have closed. “We made efforts to support them,” said Amatorio. “Last summer, I opened Washington Avenue for restaurants to hold businesses. I have also invited them to avail of state funds for business. Is the effort enough? I would say no it is not enough. But we try to keep Bergenfield moving on,” he said.
Amatorio won narrowly against Republican incumbent Norman Schmelz in 2019 by 127 votes. Schmelz campaigned negatively against Amatorio, citing that he was not a licensed US lawyer. In response, Amatorio filed a case in court against Schmelz.
“Politics is ugly. It doesn’t mean that when you sit (in a political position), things are over,” he said when asked what’s the most difficult political challenge he had to face.
Amatorio served as councilman and council president in Bergenfield before running for mayor. There are currently about 5000 Filipinos in the borough, over half of them are voters. New Jersey is home to the largest Filipino population in the East coast, followed by New York.
Amatorio said that he is fortunate to be working with an amazing team. “I have paved more roads in my term than in the past 20 years. Our food pantry is very stable with various churches and stores donating, aside from the county and the state.”
He commended the cooperation of Filipino-owned stores and other businesses in setting up the borough’s food pantry.
Bergenfield, a predominantly Democrat borough in Bergen county, is ranked second as the most livable town in New Jersey and the second safest in the entire US, according to Bloomberg.com.
Amatorio said that peace and order and education are Bergenfield’s advantages thus earning a high livability status. He created an economic development team, another first for the borough, last year in order to develop new commercial areas and mixed use zones for commercial and residential purposes.
Amatorio said he hoped to see a new borough hall and a modern soccer field and multi purpose area in his term.
Asked if there was a difference in being a Democratic or Republican in leading and managing a city, he said that leadership has no political color. “What matters is your commitment to serve. Regardless of your being a Democrat or Republican, if you have the heart for your town or city and you listen, you will be able to lead.”
Amatorio said during the interview that he would seek the guidance of some Democrat mayors whenever he needed to be enlightened about matters on governance. “I get advice and guidance from them. I am sure that there are also a lot of Republican mayors who are doing well as chief executives.”
He said that he is a proud Democrat and the principles which the party stands for such as equal opportunity and social justice. “We are strong advocates of immigrants like me. I would not be here right now without the strong immigrant values of our nation. Being a Democrat makes me closer to the people.”
Amatorio is an immigration lawyer by profession who passed the New York Bar in 2006. He was born and raised in Baler, Aurora in the Philippines by his parents who were both public school teachers. He is married to Ilya Evangelista, a nurse, and they have two sons, Lance and Andrew.
As a father, he said he is trying to do his best to give time to his children. “Sometimes I think it is not fair for them. Even at home, my phone does not stop ringing. But I have told my sons that I am leaving a legacy,” he said.
Amatorio encouraged Filipinos in the US to engage in public processes. “I enjoin the youth to participate in democratic processes of the country. I am not here forever. We are born leaders and we could be patriotic.” #