PATERSON – They summoned the worst feelings for each other two years ago, and now they stand together, their alliance undergirded by mutually advantageous politics, with Ward 6 Councilman Andre Sayegh trying to vault to the mayor’s seat, and Paterson Democratic Committee Co-chair Al Abdel-Aziz looking to claim the South Paterson ward Sayegh would leave behind.
Abdel-aziz has deep roots in the Palestinian community, while Sayegh – half Syrian and half Lebanese – spent years forging ties to all ranges of his ward, in what amounts, all tolled, to about 2,700 votes between them here in the south of the city.
“The 6th Ward seems solid and strong, and we’re just going to try and get the vote out now,” said Abdel-Aziz, Garrett Mountain over his shoulder in the distance down Dakota Street. “I feel confident. The last two years we’ve been mobilizing and energizing this area, the Arab and Muslim vote, and they’re excited about this election. They see what’s in line. They want Andre, and we’re going to get the vote out for him.”
The two men walked the ward, hitting the doors, hitting the corner stores.
“If you vote for him, it’s good for me,” Abdel-Aziz told a Palestinian shopkeeper, pointing at Sayegh as the relentlessly ebullient councilman worked the small room.
“Base maintenance,” Sayegh told InsiderNJ, about an hour before he would receive the endorsement of a dozen-plus Black pastors at his headquarters on Crooks, in a demonstration of his ability to reach into communities beyond South Paterson.
“Net gains,” he added with a wink.
Four years after Jose “Joey” Torres – since jailed for corruption – defeated him citywide, Sayegh – with nine days to go before Election Day – aims to generate as much of the city’s complex political network that he can muster, across a wide range of communities. Black Pastors on the heels of working his own ward and demonstrating his political friendship with Abdel-aziz landed on the campaign scene as one of the mayoral candidate’s most important signals of broader support.
His rival, At-Large Councilman Alex Mendez, has a strong and impassioned Dominican base but, according to former Deputy Mayor Michael Encarnacion – a fellow Dominican American, lacks the capacity to appeal to the broader Paterson.
“All he’s got is the Dominican vote,” Encarnacion said of Mendez, obvious to the dig.
Word was he was campaigning on River Street.
But he’s everywhere.
Mendez signs blanket the city.
In hurry-up mode now, Sayegh’s play to the African American community comes most obviously at the expense of Ward 3 Councilman Bill Mckoy, who last night – on the other side of town – up in the northern hills at the Haledon border – drilled into his own base at a backyard barbecue where his son, William Jr., worked the grill.
Asked if he thinks Mendez is competent, he said, “no,” of the man he defeated by 80 votes in 2012 (1,480 to 1,400) to retain his 3rd Ward council seat, two years before Mendez went live citywide to grab the same at-large seat that he abandons now to run for mayor.
As for Sayegh, “We don’t need a poet laureate in there,” said McKoy. “He may have gone to Columbia University graduate school, he may be a good historian, but he doesn’t know budgets.” In the final round of debates and on the trail, McKoy – an auditor, son of a hardworking cooper from Jamaica – winced at having to play, arguably, a supporting role to the Mendez-Sayegh show.
Former School Board Commissioner Malikah Abdullah backs him. They served on the board together and she said he’s the best mayoral candidate. “Experience,” she noted. “But he’s got to get the word out there.” Both ward councilmen, Sayegh’s run citywide twice already while McKoy has not – in 17 years on the city council. He says Sayegh’s base expansion outside his own ward is a function of Democratic Party fealty, not actual human construction.
“This is a nonpartisan election, said the candidate, while his friends feasted. “He wouldn’t have the independence that I’ll have as mayor.”
But Sayegh’s allies say McKoy hasn’t built on his own base, can’t really get out of the 3rd Ward, has little experience doing so, and fails to acknowledge the influence of the Democratic Party in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. They hope to drive Mendez – that 2012 failed (just barely) candidate against McKoy – into the smaller dimensions of the 3rd District, seeking to pit one mayoral rival against another back on McKoy’s home turf in time for the Jamaican American veteran’s 2020 council reelection campaign; kind of the way a back on his heels Sayegh and Abdel-aziz fought each other in 2016, in their own version of South Ward gladiatorial games – to the delight of a pre-fall muscular Torres – before reemerging as allies in the citywide coliseum this year, with Torres gone and his throne in the balance.
Mendez and McKoy, of course, have other plans, but at the moment – they’re mutually destructive; just as Sayegh, with the Black pastors, presumably cuts into McKoy, but can’t tolerate McKoy getting bigger than he is, lest Sayegh lose his attempt to win a sizeable chunk of the Black vote – a critical part of his bundled-together coalition, to add to what he and Abdel-aziz built in South Paterson, to stop the ever-present and just-as-effervescent Mendez, who wants to galvanize the majority Latino city’s biggest voting bloc to succeed the disgraced Torres.