Better Together

Members flock to Passaic County Conference Porterhouse Night to come out for the Survivor & Welfare Fund and once again experience all the benefits of being part of the NJSPBA

Photos by Jim Connolly

It’s always thumbs up when PBA brothers and sisters come together to support a cause so near and dear to their hearts.

Handshakes, hugs and kisses filled The Brownstone on April 13 when the Passaic County Conference hosted a porterhouse dinner that heralded the eminence, importance and necessity of NJSPBA brotherhood.

Brotherhood is a unisex term in PBA settings like these. It was marked on this night by expressions such as Wayne Local 136 State Delegate Lorenzo Passano embracing every member who attended this magnificent event. And the splendor of State Campus Police Local 278 President Liz DeSantis and Howell Local 226 State Delegate Ryan Hurley, who were unequivocally the best dressed of the multitude of members who attended to feel the bond, the passion, the chance to relax and be human and the true blue blood running through the room.

Passaic County Conference members sported chic black shirts for the occasion, connective tissue to be sure accentuating that when the PBA gets together, it’s a time to be comfortable, to be hip, to be all-in. This event was first and foremost in support of the NJSPBA Survivor & Welfare Fund, which continues to step up and support members and family members who have been ravaged by the pandemic. Similar events are scheduled for May to help replenish Survivor & Welfare, including the annual PBA golf outing on May 3 and the Inaugural Cigar Gala, slated for May 18 at Crystal Springs.

Handshakes and hugs were the order of the night as Passaic County Conference leaders welcome members to The Brownstone for Porterhouse Night.

Hugs and kisses will no doubt fill all of May when the PBA brotherhood exemplifies its dedication. The Passaic County Conference certainly brought back that family way of the PBA and the profession that reminds its sisters and brothers before others, and nowhere is that more abundant than on a night like this one at The Brownstone.

“Hopefully, this will be the start, the kickoff of togetherness again,” confirmed Passaic County Conference Chair Rob Ormezzano, the North Haledon Local 292 State Delegate. “You just want everybody to be united in this environment. And you see the smiles on everybody’s faces here. That’s what brings everybody back together.”

Getting it together

The ties that bond start with the style members of the Passaic County Conference showcase as part of the family way that makes the PBA such a renowned brotherhood.

Anticipation of coming together created a buzz that rippled as far south as Monmouth, Ocean, Mercer and Atlantic counties where members drove in from to see sisters and brothers for the first time in more than a year. Supporting Survivor & Welfare and The Brownstone’s famous steaks would be enough of an attraction to meat and greet, but the prospect of being blue like this stirred those good vibrations only PBA members get to feel to such intensity.

Anticipation of coming together has that ability to give a PBA event an opening-night, red-carpet allure.

“My county guys were making fun of me because I was like, “I’ve got to have the dress. I’ve got to have the hair done,’” DeSantis revealed. “It’s definitely a morale uplifter, and it’s a reason to be motivated be out here with the guys. And for such a good cause.”

The fun and energy of being brothers could be seen most at the porterhouse night in retired Paterson Local 1 member Scott Verrone. The Passaic County Conference liaison to Retired Members Local 600, Verrone stepped up to orchestrate the event as he used to do when Local 1 ran it seven years ago.

He wanted to make sure it would be benevolent and fraternal. Seeing how Survivor & Welfare responded to COVID made the benevolence a given. Keeping it casual with no suits and ties, a short program and just a nice way for everybody to get together and break bread fueled Verrone so much that it was hard to keep up with him. You just had to watch him work his cigar and work the room.

“You see more hugs here tonight than you’ll see at a family wedding,” he gushed. “Even when you’re not on the job, this is what keeps you going. We’re all blue.”

 As the lead event organizer, Retired Paterson Local 1 member Scott Verrone exudes brotherhood in taking on the role of host for the night.

As soon as the Passaic County Conference decided to host the event, one of Verrone’s old friends, NJSPBA Executive Vice President Marc Kovar, called to let him know there would be a great turnout. And he knew why.

“We’re at our best when tragedy happens,” Kovar began. “Unfortunately, we lost 14 officers this year to COVID, but when tragedies happen, our girls and guys come together. It’s in their blood. You can’t teach that. If an officer needs help, we come out.”

So happy together

Certainly, all PBA members need somebody to lean on at some point. But the feeling they also get at events where the brotherhood flows more abundantly than the beer can be the tonic that gets them through tough times like every law enforcement officer is enduring these days.

Springfield Local 76 State Delegate Brian Trotman arrived at The Brownstone and was immediately engulfed with greetings that made him realize, “Everybody needs this camaraderie. It’s all about shaking somebody’s hand, looking in each other’s eyes and saying, ‘How’s it going?’ Everybody needs that.”

Maybe being immersed in the fraternalism allows PBA members to feel like everybody else. “We can let our guards down and just be like human beings like everyone else,” Irvington Local 29 State Delegate Kim Woods confirmed as she sat down and prepared to take a bite out of the atmosphere before doing so to a porterhouse.

“It’s a special elixir,” Paterson SOA President Mason Maher added. “To be able to celebrate being together with our brothers and sisters and to have it for a good cause, it’s even better.”

Such will be the case on May 18, when the multitude of members will journey north to Crystal Springs in Hamburg for the Inaugural Cigar Gala to benefit the Survivor & Welfare Fund. Many of the trimmings that accompany a top-shelf gathering of PBA members will be on display to create what event co-organizer and Dunellen Local 46 State Delegate Joe Dudley classifies as a premier event.

Crystal Springs will offer indoor and outdoor accommodations to allow for proper distancing and space for the cigar aroma to properly circulate. Name-brand cigars will accompany custom-rolled, Survivor & Welfare offerings. It will include everything to “design an event that will be a destination for members to look forward to on an annual basis,” Dudley describes.

Perhaps the greatest prop for a night of brotherhood is a good cigar. Somerville Local 147 State Delegate Vito Spadea, the gala co-organizer and one of the PBA’s leading cigar aficionados, knows how a good stogie breeds connection. It takes an hour or more to thoroughly enjoy a cigar, so imagine the relaxation that comes with sitting around like that with your fellow members.

“We can let our guard down a little bit because we’re with our fellow officers,” Spadea continued. “We’re going to be together. We’re going to enjoy ourselves. We’re going to toast to those we lost and remember them. And sometimes there’s no better way to do that than with a cigar.”

All in this together

It’s not hard to see and feel members relaxing and decompressing at Passaic County Conference Porterhouse Night. It’s a night like so many others in the past – and to come – that presents something special about being with sisters and brothers who share the same job and the same passion.

These are the events and the feelings that help PBA members decompress. They are held at The Brownstone, Crystal Springs and the like, but they could easily be backyard barbecues.

It was not hard to see that at Porterhouse Night with the style of recently retired Perth Amboy Local 13 State Delegate Jorge Martinez. The hat he sported was perfect attire to accessorize the ties that bond.

“It’s like your brother and your sister or your father or your mother. The police world is a family,” Martinez reasoned. “The PBA does an amazing job of keeping that family atmosphere, and that’s one of the things that I truly enjoy about being a PBA member. It’s an amazing experience, and it’s been the greatest experience of my life.”

As Retired Perth Amboy Local 13 State Delegate Jorge Martinez shows, a good cigar always enhances a night of coming together for PBA members.

Members, of course, are bonded by a like-mindedness, presumably built on that omnipresent desire to help people. But you get them all into one room or under one tent, and the feeling becomes even more personal.

“The women and men who get involved at that level just need to,” Dudley elaborated. “They have that extra special thing inside of them that they want to go the extra mile to take care of their sisters and brothers who are busy taking care of their communities. It’s that extra drive. And I think that’s what makes that bond between everyone so much tighter.”

So the brotherhood is built on the people who truly value everything they do. And there are not many crowds a law enforcement officer can walk into where there is such an understanding of what they actually go through day to day. Being in a roomful of people who get that, who can have the conversation, is relaxing, decompressing and all of the above.

Attorney Frank Crivelli, whose firm Crivelli & Barbati, LLC serves many PBA Locals across the state, came to the Passaic County Conference Porterhouse Night to support those who take care of their brothers and sisters. And he said he saw that bond that is singular and unique.

“I don’t want to just say they are sticking together,” Crivelli observed. “It’s a lot of good, like-minded people who love America.”

Keep it together

So what draws you into the brotherhood? Is it that all law enforcement officers share the same attitude and perspective about the world, a vista that always makes them go for the seat in the corner at a restaurant so they can watch the rest of the room? Certainly, the feeling of being backed into a corner these days by the anti-police rhetoric has intensified the bond.

Perhaps that is why Survivor & Welfare has become such a unifying force. Many PBA members know what its like to endure dark times, and the fund is a bridge they can all contribute to and count on to come back from the dark side.

“It’s how much people want to make it bigger than just themselves, their agency, their Local, their county conference,” Dudley stated. “That’s the motivator that drives you. It’s the feeling that in some way you made a difference and the work you did is worth it.”

Individual members, Locals and county conferences all go above and beyond for the cause, whether it’s Survivor & Welfare, fundraising for scholarships, turkey giveaways, clothing drives or any of the hundred other endeavors they take on every day. Spadea submits the common denominator in brotherhood is the commitment of seeing that when one person need help, everybody goes.

DeSantis articulates that brotherhood is that feeling of knowing, “It can be the middle of the night and I can call somebody if I need some help. My brothers have never turned their back on me.” Kovar notes that it escorts members all the way to the end of their careers and to a point upon retirement when you feel, “I’m not going to miss police work. But I am going to miss my brothers and sisters.”

It’s always hard to say goodbye, which is probably why Passaic County Conference Porterhouse Night reached such an emotional crescendo. Near the end of the night, Ormezzano quipped that his headache had finally subsided, likely a nod to confirming that the event had reached every expectation, including generating thousands of dollars for Survivor & Welfare. And a nod to something members get in this environment that they don’t get anywhere else.

“The handshakes, the hugs, the thank-yous,” Ormezzano declared. “It goes a long way in law enforcement when you just get a thank you. You don’t do it for anything but somebody saying to you, ‘Good job.’”

Good job, Ormezzano, Verrone, conference co-chair Bill Comerro, who did so much behind the scenes to make the event a success, and the rest of the Passaic County Conference for perpetuating the NJSPBA way that enables sisters and brothers to come together.

Actually, great job!