Newark deputy mayor fires back at critics, says she's victim of dirty politics

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on August 13, 2015

Newark Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Quiles, right, with Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz at the 54th Annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in Jersey City in 2014

 

NEWARK — Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Quiles is responding to harsh criticism from members of the Puerto Rican community, saying she is the victim of dirty politics.

Quiles, a former Miss Puerto Rico New Jersey who most recently worked for Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz, said she has been subjected to harassing phone calls and other unfair criticisms since Mayor Ras Baraka appointed deputy mayor for community engagement in April.

Last week, At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana alleged that he had been pressured to fire his longtime chief of staff, Nelson "Butchie" Nieves, because of his open criticism of the appointment, and threatened to withhold an appointment to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission if he did not comply.

The allegation laid bare a deepening rift between Quiles and some members of the Puerto Rican community, who have openly objected to her hire because she had been living in Perth Amboy, and what they claimed was her mishandling of the city's annual Puerto Rican Parade.

The city initially declined to make Quiles available for comment on the criticisms, but in an interview Wednesday afternoon, she said they were motivated purely by politics.

"The problem is that I'm not working with them, I'm working with the mayor. I'm uniting thousands of Latinos for the mayor, and that's the problem."

Puerto Ricans comprise one of the city's largest ethnic groups, and are considered a formidable voting bloc in city elections. The community was largely behind North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. in last year's mayoral election, until he dropped his bid last February in order to endorse Baraka's opponent Shavar Jeffries.

Quiles said she believes her critics are motivated out of fear that she could convert some of the community into Baraka supporters and tilt the scales in his favor for the 2018 election.

"It's obvious. I'm willing to work with them. They're thinking about politics and campaigns. I'm thinking about uniting my community, giving them information, trying to work with everybody," she said.

Baraka has declined to comment on Quintana's allegations. Spokeswoman Marjorie Harris has said only that the claims were "untrue", and that his nomination to the Commission was still before the state at the mayor's request.

For Quiles, the opposition comes from those who she once counted among her strongest supporters.

Born in Newark, she attended Hawkins Street Elementary School in the East Ward and Newark Tech High School before earning a business degree and earning the Miss Puerto Rico New Jersey title in 1992.

She soon became involved with the city's Puerto Rican Statewide Heritage Parade, serving as a spokeswoman and delegate before being elected president in 2006 - a prestigious title in Newark's Puerto Rican neighborhoods - with backing from Nieves, Quintana and other power brokers. She spent six years in the position, during which the parade drew nationally known musical acts and attracted record crowds — facts acknowledged even by her detractors.

However, Nieves and other respected members of the community involved with the parade claim she left the organization in shambles when she vacated the position in 2012, leaving behind tens of thousands in bills.

More recently, they claim she and other city officials have attempted to sabotage this year's version by delaying permits and poaching sponsors over to the Latin Festival, which drew thousands to the North Ward earlier this month.

Quiles admits that she got off on a bad foot by not consulting with Puerto Rican power brokers before accepting her appointment, which some interpreted as "disrespectful."

However, she strongly denied suggestions that she had left the parade organization holding the bag, saying she had received permission from then-Police Director Samuel Demaio to pay only a portion of bills for off-duty officers who served as security at the event.

She also denied any interference with the parade, saying she remained attached to the event she had been involved with for so long.

"How can I be against the Puerto Rican Parade when I gave 22 years of my life to the parade?" she said.

For now, Quiles remains focused on the Latin Festival and other forms of outreach to the city's Hispanic and Latino communities, which she claims has far outweighed any criticisms.

"If you go to the community and you ask around, you're going to get great feedback. I represent the whole city, not only Puerto Ricans," she said. "I was a great leader until I started working for Mayor Ras Baraka. Now I'm no good."

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