Michael Soriano had a college
degree in hand and had worked in jobs he enjoyed. But nearly 25 years ago, he changed
his career path and followed his father into the trades when he began a New
York Local 3 apprenticeship.
|Michael Soriano said his intensive door-to-door campaigning was a key to his victory in Parsippany. The Local 3 member is shown here visiting with voters last fall.
“I like creating,” Soriano said. “I like building. I like the work. I like the camaraderie.”
Little did he know it would be an ideal route to becoming the mayor of a growing northern New Jersey community, too. Last November, the 50-year-old Soriano was elected mayor of Parsippany (population 53,000), knocking off a two-term incumbent in the process.
The city has trended Republican, with the GOP holding the mayor’s office and all five city council seats before the election. But Soriano built a coalition that led to his victory and two other Democrats running for council seats, setting a blueprint for other IBEW members who might be looking to run for public office.
“You know what working in construction and being in a union teaches you?” the journeyman wireman said. “To talk to people with a completely different view than you.”
Soriano did just that. He spent months knocking on doors. He raised money not just from allies, but from small donors through a link on Facebook. He campaigned on jobsites and talked to workers with Donald Trump stickers plastered on their safety helmets.
At first, he thought they might be dismissive. Instead, most pledged to vote for him.
“I mentioned to them they were Trump supporters, but they said, ‘Yeah, but you’re one of us,’” Soriano said. “That told me something. When we were out campaigning, I didn’t just knock on Democratic doors. I talked to everyone. And, I listened.”
Longtime friend and Local 3 business representative Louie Sanchez said anyone who has spent time around Soriano knew he was destined to be a leader. He was active in several Local 3 clubs, including serving as legislative director of the Santiago Iglesias Educational Society, which works to develop relationships with the New York Latino community.
Because of that, his success in last November’s election wasn’t a surprise, Sanchez said.
“People take to him really quickly,” he said. “He’s the type of guy, you put him in with any age range or ethnicity, he’s going to shine.”
Soriano was born in Augusta, Ga., while his father Ramon served in the Army. Following his father’s discharge, the family moved back to New York City while Michael was an infant. Ramon began his apprenticeship and became a Local 3 member soon after. Michael earned his Eagle Scout rank while a member of Troop 357 in Electchester, the community built by Local 3 members.
The elder Soriano was a volunteer throughout his 42 years of active membership. Among his responsibilities: Serving as a driver for Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers Union and beloved Mexican-American civil rights leader, when he traveled to New York and met with legendary Local 3 Business Manager Harry Van Arsdale, his son said.
“My father has been taking me to Labor Day parades since I was a child,” he said.
|Michael Soriano, New York Local 3 member and mayor of Parsippany, N.J.
Michael geaduated from John Jay College and worked in executive positions with the Boy Scouts in New York City and a neighborhood community center. He enjoyed the work, but never forgot the pride his dad took in being a Local 3 member.
“Let’s just say the (electrical) business was always something on my mind,” Soriano said. “In 1993, I said to myself, ‘I’m done doing this, I want to come into the union.’ It was home.’”
Parsippany became home when Soriano and his wife Jennifer moved there in 2002. They now have a 12-year-old daughter, Eleanor. Michael kept working as an electrician, serving as a foreman on several projects in New York City, and got involved in politics in New Jersey, eventually becoming chairman of the Parsippany Democratic Committee.
Republicans have dominated local politics in Parsippany in recent years, but Barack Obama twice won the town during his Presidential runs and Hillary Clinton carried it during the 2016 election.
“It’s not really a red town,” Soriano said. “It’s more of a purple town. The demographics have been shifting. The number of Democrats is rising while the number of Republicans is falling.”
Still, Soriano says he was hesitant to run when some people asked him to. He wasn’t quite sure if the community would accept a union guy as a leader.
But he was concerned by a local government he felt was answering more to corporate interests and insiders instead of its citizens. Sensing an opportunity, Soriano announced his candidacy in February 2017. He took pride in his union background, but it wasn’t his campaign’s centerpiece. He pledged to cut wasteful spending and attract more business to enhance the city’s tax base. He took advantage of a mood where business as usual was no longer acceptable.
“I think my opponent underestimated me,” Soriano said. “He had no idea what I was about. He was complacent after being in office for eight years. He didn’t talk to people outside of his bubble.”
On Nov. 7, Soriano got nearly 53 percent of the vote and was sworn in on New Year’s Day by New Jersey Gov.-Elect Phil Murphy, who would take office himself a few days later. Both Murphy and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker campaigned for him in the days leading up to the election.
“He talks from the heart,” Sanchez said. “If you get him to talk about anything that’s personal, he might even tear up. But he’s very good at getting his point across and speaking to all people. I think that’s his biggest asset. He can speak to everybody.”
Added Soriano: “All the people from Local 3 who came out to help and campaign inspired me and fueled me.”
Local 3 Business Manager and International Executive Council Chairman Christopher Erikson said Soriano’s win in New Jersey was a win for the entire IBEW.
“All of us who know Mike aren’t surprised,” he said. “His passion for helping others has been evident since I first met him. We’re so proud of him and know he will do great things in Parsippany. We’ve got so many smart and talented people and I hope his success encourages more of our brothers and sisters across the country to run for office, too. We need to have a seat at the table in local communities, where most of the decisions that impact our livelihood are made.”
Soriano said managing development intelligently is a key in his growing community. Finding ways to alleviate traffic issues is a top concern. He’s currently working on a new master plan for Parsippany. He wants to protect the charm of the city’s neighborhoods while also figuring out to how increasingly attract younger workers and their families.
“Those people don’t want big buildings with spaces,” he said. “They want amenities.”
Soriano’s focus remains on Parsippany. But he echoed Erikson’s thoughts of the importance of IBEW members running for office. He hopes his success encourages others to do so, particularly at the local level.
“Union members, IBEW members, we know to work with people,” he said. “We know how to work with people. We know how to set a goal and achieve that goal. We know how to be accountable. What happens on the school board affects our taxes. What happens at the town council and community boards matters. We need to run for those offices.”