The Electrical Worker online
April 2018

IBEW Member Unearths Winning Formula
in the Garden State
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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.

"I like creating," Soriano said. "I like building. I like the work. I like the camaraderie."

Little did he know it would be his route to becoming mayor of a growing northern New Jersey community. Last November, Soriano, 50, was elected mayor of Parsippany (population 53,000), knocking off a two-term incumbent.

The city was trending Republican, with the GOP controlling the mayoralty and all five council seats before the election. But Soriano built a coalition that led to his victory, with two Democrats winning council seats as well. He established a blueprint for other IBEW members looking to run for public office.

"You know what working in construction and being in a union teaches you?" the journeyman wireman asked. "To talk to people with a completely different view than you."

Soriano spent months knocking on doors, raising money, and not just from allies. He campaigned on jobsites and talked to workers with Donald Trump stickers plastered on their safety helmets.

They weren't dismissive. Instead, most pledged to vote for him.

"I mentioned to them they were Trump supporters, and 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 and served as legislative director for the Santiago Iglesias Educational Society, which works to develop relationships with the New York Latino community.

"People take to him really quickly," Sanchez 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 for, and 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 went on to earn a degree 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 an 12-year-old daughter, Eleanor. Michael kept working as an electrician and got involved in politics in New Jersey, eventually becoming chairman of the Parsippany Democratic Committee.

Republicans have dominated local politics 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."

Concerned by a local government he felt was answering more to corporate interests and insiders instead of its citizens, Soriano announced his candidacy in February 2017. He pledged to cut wasteful spending and attract more business to enhance the city's tax base.

"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. 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."

Soriano's focus remains on Parsippany. But he hopes his success encourages other IBEW members to run for office, particularly at the local level.

"Union members, IBEW members, we know how to work with people," he said. "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."


New York Local 3 member and Parsippany, N.J., Mayor Michael Soriano.