Union City Honors Cuban patriot Felipe Gómez

Rafael Román Martel

Union City Mayor Brian Stack, his commissioners, and leaders of the Cuban community joined a crowd of Cuban-Americans this afternoon on 35th Street, where the Gomez family have resided for the past 50 years, to honor Cuban patriot and civic leader Felipe Gómez, renaming the street with his name.

El alcalde de Union City, Brian Stack, su junta de comisionados y un centenar de personas se dieron cita esta tarde en la calle 35, donde ha residido por 50 años la familia Gómez para homenajear al patriota cubano y lider cívico Felipe Gomez, quien ha dedicado la mayor parte de su vida a promover la democracia en su natal Cuba. El alcalde Stack ha rebautizado la calle 35 con el nombre de “Felipe Gómez Way”, además de entregarle las llaves de la ciudad y una proclama especial.

Felipe Gómez is greeted by his compatriots, and Union City Officials to honor his work in pro-democratic causes by giving him the Key to the City, a special proclamation, and renamed 35 Street “Felipe Gómez Way” as a tribute to his lifelong dedication to serve others, and his democratic ideals that involves his struggle for 50 years to promote democracy in his native Cuba.

Union City Mayor and NJ State Senator Brian Stack speaks at today’s event honoring Felipe Gómez, following his tradition with all communities and ethnic groups in this-one of the most desenly populated multicultural communities in the United States-Mayor Stack has been the best mayor for the Cuban Community-as well as all communities-this city ever had, naming the first school built in Union City in 73 years “José Martí’, building a park in honor of our apóstol-with domino tables where the mayor usually stops and brings café cubano to the players, building a small park and monument to Celia Cruz on 32nd Street, placing more Cubans in higher positions than any other mayor in Union City ever did-including two Cuban-American Mayors who passed by Union City leaving a property tax and a water tax legacy that castigates home owners every month to this day.

Stack recognized the needs and moral support of the ex-political prisoners, helping Cubans the same way he helps everyone else: selfishly and with total commitment.

Stack went as far as going against his own party when Elian Gonzalez was kidnapped by federal authorities, something a Cuban-American Congressman and a Cuban Mayor of Union City at that time did not dare do, to protect their own political interests.

When he ran for mayor in 1998 two of his three campaign managers were Cubans, Roger Suárez and myself. His dedication to his friends and his community is unsurpassed in the city’s history.

While others left Union City, Stack was and is always here, solving problems, improving the quality of life, caring for our people.

During the 1998 campaign Felipe Gómez was his most ardent supporter.

Felipe delivered torrid speeches where he called Stack “An angel that has fallen in Union City” raising crowds to a frenzy with his eloquence as the great orator that he is.

Today Stack celebrated Felipe’s struggle for the Freedom of Cuba, and his civic service to a community that is proud of him. Stack spoke about Felipe’s sincerity: “He always says what’s in his mind, in his heart”, he said.

As a friend Felipe is always there. Always. He is kind and upholds the values of friendship as a virtue. As a conservative he is committed to Republican causes, supporting legislature that would bring democracy in Cuba. In the 90’s he brought Arkansas US Senator Dan Burton to Union City. Most people don’t know that Felipe financed, out of his own pocket, most of the political activities he promoted.

In local politics he was an enthusiastic supported of Senator Bob Menendez at the beginning of his career, when he ran for Mayor of Union City. He was a supporter and friend to Rudy García, whose career he always saw as a triumph for the Cuban community but when he considered that Brian Stack was a better choice for mayor he ran in Stack’s ticket with zeal. He considered that the Alliance political machine was already corrupted by the abuse of power and wide spread manipulation of the Cuban-American vote in Union City.

The choice between running against Rudy García and supporting Brian Stack cost him dearly, since for Felipe, García was his sobrino, and the political differences became a sort of family feud when Felipe was, in a communist style, labeled as a traitor. Yet he didn’t wink about where his principles were.

Stack and his slate lost that 1998 election by 417 votes but they would rebound to make Union City the place that it is today: a city we are all proud of.

It was in 1998 that Mr. Gómez would mesmerize hundreds with his oratory; a gift he enjoyed sharing. Behind his eloquence, Felipe carried the weight of his vast knowledge of history, politics, and his experience.

Even though he praised Brian Stack and held him in the highest standards the politician he most confided on and the one he admired the most was Rafael Fajardo.

Felipe introduced me to Fajardo in 1998 referring to him as “my third son”. His love and friendship for Fajardo goes far beyond the boundaries of politics. Until today he still praises “The Lion of Elizabeth”, and refers to him in family circles as his son.

His sons Philip and John are a reflection of the love and respect that for 50 years he has shared with his wife Heida, a kind woman who has always been Felipe’s media naranja. They are both successful professionals.

Felipe brought to live the Cuban newspaper “El Litoral” in Union City with the journalist Felix Paret. He met my daughter Frances when she was 9 years old. Now a writer, Frances would talk with Felipe for hours and would write his editorials, that Felipe diligently dictated, as a writer inspired by his spirit expressed in spoken words.

They would argue about politics then hug each other and a bond of mutual respect took its course in their debates. Felipe was thrilled when Frances graduated from Harvard, and he was present at her graduation party, where he made new and valuable friends like Alberto Menendez and Elio Maradiaga.

He is also a close friend of West New York Mayor Sal Vega, whom he had known since Vega was a child. A few days ago Vega was at his home talking with Felipe for a couple of hours. Between the two men there is a common factor that unites them: their native country and mutual respect.

In “El Litoral” he dedicated editorials and pages to Eduardo Arocena, a political prisoner for the Cuban cause. Felipe, always affirming that Arocena was innocent of the charges he was convicted in a US court, spared no effort in trying to freed him.

Just like Rafael Fajardo said today, there are many stories to say about Felipe Gómez: the people that he helped, the causes that he sacrificed for but if we had to summarized Felipe’ts life we’d had to saydignity, human kindness and Christianity He is one of the few men whose principles are not for sale.

Even though in several occasions we bump heads in US politics, he was always respectful and gracious as he was a tenacious debater.

I was assigned to speak at the event held for Felipe and I did. It was easy, I thought, to speak about Felipe.

I was wrong.

I had so many stories to tell that I limited myself to echoed the speakers before me. One of them “The Lion of Elizabeth”, Rafael Fajardo, whom he loves like his own son.

The affection shown today by his friends was a demonstration of who he is: an integral man. The affection that Mayor Stack showed for Felipe today speaks of Stack’s humanity and determination to be loyal to his friends to the end as well of Felipe’s dignity and patriotism. That explains why Felipe has a street named in his honor and Stack has the heart of the people of Union City.

Felipe Gómez es recibido en el acto con gritos de “Te Queremos” y “Gracias Felipe”. Algunos cubanos le cantaron canciones, otros le besaron la mano. Y es que no le alcanzan manos para que le agradezcan aquellos a quien ayudó a lo largo de su productiva vida. Hoy, en medio de una batalla con una enfermedad seria, recibió el cariño de los que lo queremos bien.

Un compatriota le canta a Felipe a manera de homenaje a su llegada al acto en el que fue reconocido por la ciudad de Union City. Esta fue una de las muchas manifestaciones de amor y agradecimiento que la comunidad cubana le ofreció este 12 de octubre del 2010.

El alcalde Brian Stack estrecha la mano de Felipe Gómez en el acto del 12 de octibre del 2010. Entre sus muchas actividades cívicas, Gómez corrió para comisionado en el ticket de Stack en el año 1998, donde desarrolló una execlente labor como candidato para el cambio en Union City. Felipe se alejaría de la política local años más tarde para dedicarse totalmente a su prioridad: la democratización de Cuba y el apoyo a causas humanitarias. A muchos ha ayudado en silencio, sin pretenciones, desinteresadamente, así fue ganando a través de su vida entrañables amigos y la satisfacción de como suele decir él: “cumplir con la verdad.”

* Felipe Gomez passed away in Union City on October 20th, 2010.


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