After the candidates’ forum at Temple Avodat Shalom, JLBC had the opportunity to sit with Republican candidate for the State Senate, Mr. Fernando Alonso, and interview him. A very pleasant man, he started speaking of his background. He was born in the South Bronx to Cuban immigrants. They moved to Washington Heights where he spent the next 16 years. His mother and aunt worked hard to provide for him and get him a good education. He graduated from Xavier High School, a Jesuit school, on scholarship. At Holy Cross College he majored in history and English literature. He earned his law degree from Dickson Law School in Pennsylvania.
He began working with international currency and commercial paper for NatWest Bank and was a financial analyst for Moody’s. He worked as an aide to Gov. Tom Kean in the ‘80s. He then opened his own law practice in New York, specializing in financial services and estate planning. He now lives in Oradell and works at Fairleigh-Dickenson University’s Petrocelli College, where he is Director of the Puerta Al Futuro (Gateway to the Future) program, which helps students whose primary language is not English, mostly Hispanic students, to successfully complete their degree requirements.
The program starts with free ESL lessons because mastering English is the key to success. The program currently serves 50 students. Courses are taught by professionals in various fields, most of whom are bi-lingual, though the courses are taught in English. Most students participate in the Latino Promise, a program designed to help students earn an associate’s degree. Some of the students are graduates of colleges in their countries of origin, but need to master English and learn subjects from an American perspective in order to succeed in their careers. The program’s motto is “Dream It, Believe It, Achieve It.”
The program offers its students a 35 percent reduction in tuition and offers several types of grants, including Pell Grants. Mr. Alonso has brought his courses to a number of consulates where staff members are the students. Those classes now serve 50 diplomats.
Mr. Alonso is devoted to working with students at the college level. He tries to instill in them an appreciation of pluralism and diversity, the need to better oneself, and to help others. He has brought Barry Carter into the program to teach about Judaism and the concept of tikkun olam. Comparable students at other schools have a graduation rate of 6 percent in four years and 13 percent in six years for an associate’s degree. His students at FDU do much better.
He wants to bring tranquility to families who are struggling. He advocates for school vouchers, which most Latino families want in addition to access to charter schools. The NJEA (teachers union) opposes expansion of these programs. He would like to have Abbott funding to poor communities reassessed to bring more money back to schools like those in the 38th Legislative District. He would like to see more teachers hired. That would create more jobs, and their students would be better prepared to get good jobs.
He supports Gov. Christie’s 10 percent property tax cut proposal and would closely examine the state’s budget. He feels that “property tax rebates are a sham, just recycling some of the taxpayers’ money back to them.” He points to Harry Truman as a man who uncovered waste in government spending. He believes that Sen. Gordon is well-intentioned, but is unaware of the unintended effects of the programs he advocates.
After many Army Corps of Engineers studies, we have still done nothing about problems of flooding over the past 25 years. Panels are appointed to investigate the problems, but recommendations are not implemented. We need collaborative leadership to push forward measures to control flood damage.”
He observed that Rep. Bill Pascrell has taken such steps in regards to dredging the Passaic River. Anticipation of the next big storm is on everyone’s mind. Mr. Alonso applauds Mayor Bloomberg’s actions in helping New York recover from Sandy. And he is impressed that Gov. Christie travelled everywhere there was storm damage in New Jersey. We could do better by organizing emergency staging areas for speakers of Korean and Spanish.
Mr. Alonso would want the Affordable Care Act to be delayed, though he would maintain features like covering pre-existing conditions and children up to age 26. He feels one of the program’s worst features is penalizing companies for not offering their workers healthcare coverage. This leads them to choose to pay the low penalty and drop the healthcare insurance they now provide. This forces their employees onto the subsidized insurance exchanges or Medicaid. He predicts the program will be a disaster.
By Steve Tencer