(KACE Interns with Fort Lee Councilman Harvey Sohmer)

On July 19, 2012, KACE (Korean American Civic Empowerment) interns visited the Fort Lee Borough Hall to meet with Councilmen Harvey Sohmer (Dem) and Joseph Cervieri (Dem) of the Borough of Fort Lee. The interns prepared an interview session with Councilmen Sohmer and Cervieri to ask questions regarding various community issues affecting the Korean-American population in Fort Lee.


Harvey Sohmer


Harvey Sohmer, currently running for Councilman of the Borough of Fort Lee, has been an active resident for fifty-eight years and known to the people as “a diligent and self-motivated professional, saving taxpayer dollars and still delivering quality services.” Before his retirement, Sohmer participated and was a significant member of the community and held positions such as a Senior Customer Service Representative (employing more than 170 people) and past president of the New Synagogue of Fort Lee. His past record also includes working with the Americans with Disabilities (ADA), Historical Structure and Landmark Committee, Public Works Department, and the Fort Lee Volunteer Fire Department.


Currently, Councilman Sohmer is finishing his fourth year as Councilman in the Borough of Fort Lee and hopes “to continue the good and honest government.” Concerning the Korean-American community, Sohmer met the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea as well as the Deputy Director of Elections, presenting them the key to the Borough of Fort Lee in order to express their friendship. While the Chairman of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Sohmer assisted the Koreans through laws. In the matter of public affairs, he voted to promote a Korean American police officer to a higher rank, hire a Korean American nurse for the Fort Lee Health Department, and support the Korean Americans in the Board of Education. On a more personal note, Sohmer attends numerous Korean functions such as the Beautiful Foundation dinners and the KAAFL (Korean American Association of Fort Lee) golf outing.


In Sohmer’s belief, it is “the language barrier that is causing most of the current issues.” Therefore, he has advocated for the new Borough website, where all information is available to the public, to be read in various languages, including Korean. The Fort Lee Borough website provides information about the Borough of Fort Lee government in the Korean language. Regarding the business issue, Sohmer proposes that the Korean American businesses put up more signs in the English language in order to prevent businesses from shutting down even further. As one of his priorities, Sohmer was a newly elected Councilman to institute a BID (Business Improvement District) Program to hopefully benefit the merchants. It is in Sohmer’s wishes to help everyone, regardless of their cultural background.


Although the Mayor and the Council did support the last referendum presented by the Board of Education, Sohmer said that improving the educational system in Fort Lee “is the job of the Fort Lee Board of Education, the Superintendent of Schools and his staff.” As for the social programs of Fort Lee, Sohmer believes that these programs are being coordinated well through “fliers, discussions, [the] website, houses of worship, and [the] agencies in the Borough.”

Sohmer believes himself to be “an honest, civic minded person who has the best interest of Fort Lee in [his] heart.” Being a representative for all of the people of Fort Lee, an advocate of a good and open government, and a Councilman for the past four years, Sohmer concluded the interview by saying he “hopes to be voted onto the Council again for there are many more things that he would like to achieve.”


(Councilman Harvey Sohmer (Left) and Coucilman/Council President Joseph Cervieri)

Joseph Cervieri


Joseph Cervieri is the current Council President of Fort Lee and serves as a Chairman of the Zoning Board, as a member of the Parking Authority and Housing Authority. He has been a lifelong resident of Fort Lee, NJ and is from a family with German and Italian ancestry and is a third generation. Councilman Cervieri also works as a real estate agent and contractor outside of the Fort Lee Council. Councilman Cervieri described himself as “not afraid to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes and to listen to the community about the issues.” He also went onto mention that he has “improved the business area in Fort Lee without putting burdens on the business people.”


In regards to his connection to the Korean American community, Council President Cervieri mentioned that he “attended the 9th Annual KAAFL (Korean American Association of Fort Lee) Scholarship Raising Golf Outing, attended the Beautiful Foundation’s dinners, made many trips to Korea because of his job as a real estate agent and contractor and has many Korean friends in Korea and in America as well.” He also went onto say that “the Koreans share the same values that I want to encourage, such as strong family values and a strong work ethic.”


Continuing on about his connections and services for the Korean American community in Fort Lee, Cervieri went onto mention that “the information available on Fort Lee Borough’s website is translated into the Korean language, therefore making it accessible to the members of the Korean community who have better understanding of Korean than English.” He also emphasized “many Korean Americans have been hired to voluntary advisory groups, such as the Zoning Boards. Also, there some Korean officers in the Fort Lee Police Department who can speak fluent Korean and also a Korean nurse who works for the Fort Lee Health Department.”


When asked about various community issues such as unemployment and small businesses, Cervieri replied “Unemployment is an issue for everyone. The federal government has more power when it comes to creating jobs and raising employment rates. There is very little that local officials can do regarding that issue. In regards to small businesses, Cervieri went onto say “a BID (Business Improvement District) is in the works with a committee of businessmen and it would stand to spruce up Main St (Downtown Fort Lee) and benefit the merchants of that area.” Speaking of Korean small businesses in Fort Lee, Cervieri said that “it is important to encourage store signs to be in English, so that everyone know what the store offers and make it more likely that people will shop there.”


NEW YORK OFFICE: 163-10 NORTHERN BLVD. #307 FLUSHING, NY 11358 TEL: (718) 961-4117 FAX: (718) 961-4603