ROLANDO R. LAVARRO, JR.
Council President, City of Jersey City
First elected via a special election in November 2011, after besting over a dozen other candidates, Rolando Lavarro was sworn in as Council At-Large on November 21, 2011, the first Filipino and Asian American to serve on Jersey City’s Municipal Council. Lavarro was re-elected to a full term as Councilman-At-Large in 2013, becoming Council President on July 1, 2013. In November 2017, he was re-elected as Council At-Large and was top vote-getter. His Council colleagues reappointed him as Council President in 2015 and more recently in January 2018.
Council President Lavarro is a “home grown” product of Jersey City. His parents, Drs. Rizalina and Rolando Lavarro, Sr., immigrated to the United States in the late 1960s, traveling from New Jersey to Illinois to Wisconsin. After living in several states over eight years, the Lavarro settled in the Greenville section of Jersey City. It was in Jersey City that Mr. and Mrs. Lavarro’s modeled the values of hard work and sacrifice that remain with Councilman Lavarro today. He was raised by his extended Filipino family in Greenville and the St. Paul’s Church community, including going to school at St. Paul’s Greenville. He is a proud alumnus of St. Peter’s Preparatory High School, where he received a Jesuit education. Rolando attended New York University’s Leonard Stern School of Business earning a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing.
Rolando’s background in community organizing goes back to his days at Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University) when he served as President of the Filipino Cultural Association, and brought history, cultural education, and issues to the college community. He was a student leader within the Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue (FIND), which promotes cultural appreciation, and unity amongst Filipino college students. It was during this time when he first learned about the plight of the Fil Am World War II veterans and joined the fight to secure benefits for our elders and heroes for many years into his adult professional life.
Rolando continued his focus on youth as one of the founders of Sumisibol, which provided culturally-rich, engaging programs to high school youth and produced among others the Lakbay (Journey) Mural that was showcased at the Jersey City Museum. He served as program coordinator for Jersey City Communities That Care Coalition, under PAFCOM’s auspices, for the prevention of alcohol and drug use among Jersey City youth. He oversaw intergenerational and cross-cultural programs, such as Healthy Aging and Strengthening Families.
Working as a Council Aide to Ward B Councilwoman Mary Donnelly, Rolando got his introduction to local government and his first glimpse into the rough and tumble world of Jersey City government and politics. He was also the Director of Constituent Services for Assemblyman (now State Senator) Bob Gordon in NJ’s 38th Legislative District, learning the machinations of the state legislative process. Rolando learned the value and importance of integrity and hard work in politics modeled by Councilwoman Donnelly and Senator Gordon.
Prior to City Council, Rolando worked over a decade at World Education Services (WES) and at New Jersey City University (NJCU) for nearly eight years. At both institutions, his role was critical in creating access and opportunity for students and underserved populations. At WES, he started at the bottom, eventually serving in several capacities as a manager and consultant assisting immigrants and foreign students transition to the U.S. At NJCU, he secured millions in grants that enhanced academic programs, particularly in STEM fields; provided scholarships; and increased retention and graduation rates among low income and minority students.
Council President Lavarro has an unparalleled legislative record that demonstrates his commitment to Jersey City’s working families. Lavarro co-sponsored Jersey City’s living wage ordinance with Mayor (then Councilman) Steven Fulop, which boosted the minimum pay for low-wage workers in city-owned and some city–leased buildings. He is a vocal proponent of the Fight For 15 campaign to boost minimum wage in New Jersey. He sponsored legislation establishing and expanding earned sick days, which provides paid sick time for most people working in Jersey City. The Council President enacted wage theft protection, protecting workers of Jersey City businesses against unscrupulous employees. Other accomplishments include legislation enabling farmers markets and banning smoking in City parks.
As a strong advocate of a diverse and inclusive Jersey City, Council President Lavarro supported Tuition Equity and the passage of the NJ DREAM ACT. He helped raise thousands of dollars for Typhoon Haiyan relief. He pushed for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for the Philippines and Nepal during the calamities that impacted both nations and thousands of immigrants. Rolando worked with Puertorriqueños Asociados for Community Organization (PACO) to strengthen police minority recruitment and diversify the Jersey City Police Department. Council President Lavarro established Jersey City's first Immigrant Affairs Commission to give immigrants a voice and a seat at the table, advising the mayor and council on immigration issues; monitor effects that federal, state and local laws have on immigrants; promote recognition of the contributions of immigrants to Jersey City; and more.
Lavarro is currently the Chair of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency Commission and the Jersey City Municipal Alliance to Combat Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. He also serves as a member of the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation Board of Trustees.
Rolando Lavarro remains a resident of Greenville-West Side with his wife, Veronica, and daughter, Gabriela.