(And always remember to be your brothers’ and sisters’ keeper)
This is my last report as your NJSPBA executive vice president. I’ve had a great run since becoming a law enforcement officer in Passaic in 1990, albeit with a hiccup here and there. I started as an NJSPBA State Delegate in 2004 and became executive Vice President in 2014. I also had the pleasure of serving on the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) executive board since 2014.
Many members might not be aware that an on-duty incident in May 2002 led to another officer and I being indicted and suspended from the job. I was suspended for 18 months without pay. I was in the fight for my life. Prosecutors offered me a deal of serving 10 years in prison if I pled guilty. I refused and opted to go to trial.
The charges against me were ultimately dropped after the start of my trial, and I returned to the Passaic Police Department. My experience motivated me to get involved in PBA business to fight
and make sure that anyone who had to go through what I did would have strong union support.
If I am being completely honest, I’ve never expected the titles and recognition earned over the years as a member of NJSPBA leadership. It truly has been the greatest honor in my career to serve the men and women of law enforcement throughout our state and
All of this started with my father, Allen Kovar, and Detective Captain Sam Kirshner, my cousin, who encouraged me to take the police exam. My career in law enforcement would not have been
possible without the encouragement of my father.
After charges were dropped against me in 2004, I returned to the Passaic PD. The Passaic Local 14 State Delegate position was open, and I ran for it. So began an 18-year run of serving my sisters and brothers in the most rewarding way.
To all my friends and colleagues with the NJSPBA, together we symbolize the strength of our support for each other. Thank you to the executive board and, especially my partner, President Pat Colligan. Pat took a real chance in selecting me as a running mate, and I appreciate the confidence he placed in me. Pat’s tenacity on behalf of every member, his unwillingness to cede ground when it would hurt any member and his dedication and care for every Local and
every member are what leadership looks like.
And to Pete Andreyev, who is moving up to take over as executive vice president, good luck. You will be great. I am confident Pete will do a great job continuing the fight for all members every day.
Because of the collective strength of the NJSPBA, we were able to stand against governors and powerful elected officials when they crossed law enforcement. Governor Christie was a particularly disconcerting enemy after he lied to us in an attempt to get our endorsement and went back on his word almost immediately upon taking office. Christie even doubled down by calling our president a “pension pig.” Together, we continued to tell law enforcement about Christie’s lie to law enforcement.
When Christie made a run at the 2016 Republican nomination for president, the NJSPBA sent an open letter to New Hampshire law enforcement, in which President Colligan disputed the Christie campaign’s positioning of their candidate as pro-law enforcement. The letter and resulting media coverage served to shine a light on behalf of the 33,000 members of the NJSPBA and define Christie’s actual relationship with law enforcement in New Jersey. And to
make sure voters everywhere had the facts.
And years later, the NJSPBA won its fight to take control of our Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS). We stood strong against the politics surrounding our pensions. Governor Murphy signed legislation that allowed us to take control of our pension funds.
This is a significant event in our union’s history. This was legislation that Chris Christie refused to approve multiple times. The new law separated PFRS from the rest of the state’s public employment retirement systems and gave greater management of our pensions to a newly constituted board of trustees with police and fire unions holding seven of the 12 board seats.
We tried to clean out the politics from our pension system throughout my entire career. Over the years we had support in the legislature but never could get Christie to support our efforts. With
a new governor that we supported and helped get elected, we finally were able to take control of the PFRS. This success should stay with all of us long into our retirements.
Another achievement that should have lasting impact came even as those fleeting days of law enforcement being hailed as heroes during the early days of the pandemic gave way to the shifting political discourse. Even when you all came under fire from the public and were branded with the misdeeds of law enforcement in other states amidst a changing national climate, you all moved forward, watching each others’ backs. I have always been proud to be a member of law enforcement, but never more so than during these last months and years.
During my time as executive vice president, I have taken an uncountable number of calls about law enforcement in peril, or worse. I would not trade even one moment of my experience working with each of you. Please know that, although I am moving forward and away from this position, I will always be a phone call away.
And I’ve always told you all to make sure to get home safe to your families at the end of every day. Now, that’s what I am going to do. I would have loved to serve longer, but unfortunately God had different plans regarding my health. So be safe and take care of each other.
And now, please allow me to pass along some important thankyou notes:
There are so many friends and colleagues to thank for helping guide me throughout my career, but I need to start with my wife, Nicole, and my daughters, Rachel and Isabella. They put up with me through 18 years of getting called away from family events for PBA business, including birthdays and holidays and missing my daughters’ sporting and school events. Nikki, you are everything to me. Thank you for all that you do for me and Rachel and Bella. Thank you.
It is almost impossible to remember all the people who have touched my career without forgetting someone. I am sorry in advance if I forget someone, but also know that there are some people I’ve left off for intentional reasons.
I want to thank every one of you for all you have done for the PBA and for me. Without our tremendous members having the strength and resolve to stand tall against all obstacles each and every day, our NJSPBA executive board would not have the capability to fight for the benefits and opportunities you all deserve. I have said repeatedly in these pages, in our meetings and directly to so many of you that together we are stronger, and that has proven to be true.
To my friends and colleagues in the city of Passaic, you are my foundation, where it all started. I will never forget my first partner, Michael LaGreca; and my longtime second partner, Craig Gilmore. Some former colleagues and friends who deserve recognition include: Ross Capuana, Jules Cirelli, Danny Cohen, Gabe Guzman, Luis Guzman, Neil Hoogmoed, Wayne Jennings, Billy Paranto, Howie Simbol, Andy White, Anthony Zampino Sr, and Anthony Zampino Jr. And I need to thank Hershel Rawlings for recognizing potential in me by selecting me to serve as Local 14 vice president in 1997.
In Passaic, I worked with excellent police chiefs who were active in the PBA and never forgot where they came from. Daniel Paton was a great chief. I never had the opportunity to serve under my friend Luis Guzman as chief. Also, Gary Schaer, was a mentor and someone from whom I was able to learn whether in the city or the statehouse. And I must mention one of my most loyal friends, longtime Passaic Local 14 President Mauro Farallo, a person who has been nothing short of having a brother from another mother.
I would like to thank the Passaic County Conference. Thank you to Bill Nativo and Tom Burke for accepting me as a State Delegate representing Passaic from day one. Both of you remain friends who I rely on today. Thank you to other former and active members of Passaic County Conference, including Jimmy Knepper, an example of a PBA member advancing to chief of police and never forgetting where he came from, Robbie Ormezzano, Ronnie King, Billy Marotta and Jerry Tolomeo.
To this day, NJSPBA Past President Mike Madonna and I have always had a strong bond. Thank you, Mike, for trusting me enough to let me into your tight circle and supporting me throughout my career. President Madonna offered me the opportunity to work with Tony Wieners, who at the time was serving as NJSPBA executive VP and would later serve as president. Tony was first to select me for our union’s executive board. Thank you, Tony, for the confidence you placed in me and the support that you and your team, including my predecessor as executive vice president, Keith Dunn, provided over many years.
There was an accountant, the late Vincent Foti, who I met for the first-time during contract negotiations in 1996. I’d see Vincent about once a year to go over Local business. I figured out years later that Vincent was active in the NJSPBA, and he became a mentor as I moved up in the leadership of our union. Thank you, Uncle Vince.
There have been attorneys throughout my career who were helpful to me, and more importantly to the NJSPBA, who deserve mentioning: Stuart Alterman, Bob Fagella, Anthony Iacullo, Paul
Kleinbaum and Charlie Sciarra and his associates with Sciarra & Catrambone.
To the NJSPBA staff – the men and women who work in our state PBA office in Woodbridge – thank you for everything you’ve done for NJSPBA and me over the years. Without your hard work, nothing would get done.
To John Hulse and Kevin Lyons, watching and learning from you both has helped me accomplish so much. Thank you for your help, your guidance and your leadership.
To Mike Freeman, Rob Nixon and members of the NJSPBA executive board, thank you for all your hard work on behalf of our union.
There are also so many people outside the NJSPBA who provide tremendous support to our efforts. Thank you to all these supporters, many of them who have become friends, including Dr. Stavros Christoudias, Sean Darcy, Keith Furlong, Jimmy Kourgelis, Mitchell Krugel, Joe Sanzari and Jeff Rosen. And it is worth mentioning “Charlie from PC Richards.” And Tommy Manzo, who became part of my family and is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met.
I need to mention the professional staff at NAPO for all their work on my behalf during my time serving in various positions, most recently as sergeant-at-arms. Thank you to NAPO President
Mike McHale, Vice President John Flynn and Executive Director and General Counsel Bill Johnson. It was a pleasure to work with fellow NAPO NJ representatives Keith Curry, Charlie Schwartz and Mike Tardio. NAPO is a coalition of police unions and associations from across the U.S. that does a great and professional job representing more than 240,000 law enforcement officers.
Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with various public safety union leaders, such as representatives for the men and women representing the NJ State Police, the Port Authority Police and the FMBA. I would like to specifically thank Chris Burgos, Eddie Donnelly, Paul Nunziato and Pete Stilianessis.
I want to recognize and thank so many people, and I will no doubt forget someone important, and for that I am sorry. The following PBA members need to be included in my thanks, and I apologize for the lengthy list of names, but the least I can do is thank them here: Bobby Bauer, Joe Biamonte, Brian Brownlie, Kenny Burkert, Mark Butler, Ed Carattini, Bruce Chester, Frank Cipully, Bill Comerro, Joe Eppi, Mike Graham, John Granahan, Andy Haase, Meg Hammond, Mike Kaniuk, Winslow Land, Mike McLaughin, Pat Moran, Mark Piercy, Chris Ricciotti, Luke Sciallo, Rob Slater, Brian Trotman, Scottie Verrone and Ed Weimmer.
I would be remiss if I didn’t end with a shoutout and thanks to Dr. Eugene Stefanelli, our director of clinical services, and Sherief Moustafa, Jeff Weinstein and Craig Ewing from FHE Health. They
have helped so many of our members address and get past the mental health issues that have become such a challenge for all law enforcement officers.
I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to serve you all. My final requests as your executive vice president are these: Continue to be your brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, looking out for each other and helping each other get home safe. And remember that our NJSPBA is only as strong as each one of you.
And if you need, remember that I am only a phone call away.