PATERSON – Silk City might have had its first U.S. President had fate not intervened and knocked off Garret Hobart with a heart attack prior to the assassination of William McKinley, who left the presidency to Hobart’s VP successor, Teddy Roosevelt.
As it turned out, Roosevelt got the White House and ultimately a ranking as one of the county’s most consequential presidents, while the Socrates Tuttle-schooled Hobart received a consolation prize of a statue cast in his likeness and set on a pedestal in front of City Hall in Paterson.
One can imagine Hobart’s ghost in the back of a cab somewhere reworking Terry Malloy’s classic line: “He gets the title shot outdoors in the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville.”
Yet right now, locally, that same City Hall that looms over Hobart’s shoulders is not a consolation prize for the six men running for mayor, but nothing less than the 2nd story housed offices of executive leadership and emblem of citywide victory and maybe – if former Mayor and sitting U.S. Rep Bill Pascrell (D-9) is any indication – more. Having run for mayor twice (2010 and 2014), Ward 6 Councilman Andre Sayegh finally believes he has the campaign apparatus on the ground to complement the establishment party and labor support he’s harvested to get him the win in New Jersey's most ethnically diverse city.
“We’ve got a one Paterson campaign, and they’ve got a one-dimensional campaign,” he cracked today, standing on the cropped grass at a backyard Bengali barbecue on the property of Taj Uddin, the patriarch of a very well-connected and influential family here in the 2nd Ward.
Elders sat on folding chairs to here Sayegh – and two At-Large Council candidates (Lillisa Mimms and former Ward 2 Councilman Aslon Goow) speak.
“The highest achievers in our schools are your sons and daughters,” Sayegh said. “Thank you for sending them to our schools.”
Applause greeted the remark on this street above the Paterson Falls, where Uddin and his family figure into a Bengali community estimated to number around 15,000 in the 150,000 (and 23K voters, in the 2014 election)-strong city – one of Paterson’s fastest-growing and most active ethnic groups. Goow felt their power in 2012 when Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman defeated him, then himself lost the seat to the second Bengali to win the 2nd Ward: sitting Councilman Shahin Khalique.
The Bengalis are the dominant politically organized group in the ward now, but no single mayoral candidate can claim their exclusive support, as – at the very least – Sayegh, At-Large Councilman Alex Mendez, and former Deputy Mayor Pedro Rodriguez have drilled here to generate critical backing for the respective mayoral campaigns.
In Sayegh’s case, the half Lebanese half Syrian son of the 6th Ward requires a broad coalition to break
through the natural – and powerful – Dominican base Mendez commands as an elected official in the city for nine years (five on the school board, four on the council). Paterson Democratic Party C0-Chair Al Abdelaziz (who ran unsuccessfully against Sayegh for the 6th Ward seat two years ago) backed Sayegh with a show of support from the city’s strong, Ward 6-based Palestinian community (Muslims number 30,000 in Paterson); and the candidate insists he has made valuable inroads into the city’s African American population. This morning, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35) talked him up at a Brownstone breakfast.
“This race is not about race,” Sayegh announced eight years ago when he first challenged incumbent Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, a line that he could just as easily apply to this year’s campaign effort, a required mantra, in fact, as he tries to reach across ethnic lines in a city that is home to 52 different languages but finally a 58%-advantage Latino stronghold.
Running with the backing and/or input of key members of the same team that helped Governor Phil Murphy win the 2017 Gubernatorial Election (including Brendan Gill and Dave Parano, and Miguel Diaz), Sayegh’s political problem in two challenges against Torres – the second a heartbreaking 6,633 to 8,382 nip – included the incumbent’s ability to galvanize his Hispanic voter base, which is not to say he didn’t, too, build a coalition of his own. Torres ran with the backing of Ward 3 Councilman Bill McKoy (who is himself a candidate for mayor this year, and subsequently issued a no-confidence vote in the later jailed Torres), and even of the city’s old Dublin-area population, including former Councilman Tom Rooney.
Everyone builds alliances here across ethnic lines, or tries.
But downtown at a rally where he and at-large Council candidate Flavio Rivera collected the support of the Latino Leadership Alliance PAC, Mendez demonstrated his ability to muscle up with the impassioned backing of his base. The largest growing Latino community in the state, the Dominican population increased in every county between 2000 and 2010, led by Passaic (+20,479); and Paterson specifically gained more Dominican population (+12,095) than any other municipality, followed by Newark, according to U.S. Census data.
That’s Mendez country.
Granted, there is another Dominican in the contest: Rodriguez, whose downtown headquarters hums with well-organized political activity. Rodriguez is an engineer, and his campaign looks like a machine. Just this past week, he showed off his own ability to forge alliances across ethnic lines when he rolled out the endorsements of Fetty Wap and Fat Boy. Trying to muscle his fellow Dominican American and prove his superiority as a citywide alternative to Sayegh, Rodriguez has slapped at Mendez – “Tigre”, he calls him, for failing to raise any money toward his mayoral effort.
But Mendez appears unrelenting in channeling Latino power.
He too has obvious ties to other communities.
“How are you, Councilman,” he greeted Bernard Jones, an African American at-large council candidate in a field that numbers 14 for three (two vacant – the one now occupied by retiring Councilman Ken Morris, Jr. and the other occupied by Mendez) seats.
But the bulk of attendees is undeniably Latino.
Meringue music follows him, sustains him, flows in advance of his arrivals.
The entire campaign seems to be accompanied by an upbeat and unmistakable tempo.
You can picture guys with woodblocks banging to supply the sound effects whenever Mendez steps on the sidewalk.
The rhythm, the rhythm; the beat, the beat.
At his event in front of City Hall today, the people went bonkers when he showed up.
“He has my trust, respect and best wishes for what I know will be a successful administration.” said Dr. Maria Teresa Montilla, president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey (LLANJ).
An avalanche of cheers ensued as Mendez went to the podium.
An accomplished academic with an advanced degree from Columbia University – a college professor by trade, and avid conversationalist – Sayegh used to easily be the most charismatic politician in the city. His allies certainly also identified him as the hardest-working – a handshaking and door-knocking animal. But now Mendez – an almost always broadly smiling, stocky, fast-moving former livery business owner who does not appear to have a bookwormish or wonky bone in his body a total people person – is the city’s resident sun up to sun down fellow human interacting berserker.
“I’m going to arrive at City Hall with my hands freed, to work for you all, and for the media, I want you to look at all the people here – they are all volunteers,” he shouted, in Spanish and in English.
The crowd loved it.
“Pedro doesn’t cut into Alex, because Alex has his own base,” a source at the rally yelled over the driving drumbeat as people engulfed Mendez.
A member of the Spanish-speaking media danced as he tried to simultaneously cover the event.
“All this comes to an end next week,” a source muttered, anticipating more negative stories to drop on the Dominican American.
He bounced a slew of checks.
He hasn’t filed any ELEC reports.
That was bad enough.
But more will drop, and it won’t be good for Mendez, the source promised.
“Derailment,” he winked, and one of those imminent stories hit here.
Sources, however, say that the source is applying conventional rules to the game here. Mendez’s supporters appear to love the candidate so much, whatever difficulty he encounters will only serve to motivate deeper loyalty.
The party organization headed by Chairman John Currie wants Sayegh. So does Bill Pascrell III, son of the U.S. Congressman of the same name.
Of course, they’ll rain heavy fire down on him.
Mendez will be bunkered in with the people, he argues.
He doesn’t need money because the people love him. The people love him because he’s with them, he says. He doesn’t need to build conventional campaign networks because the naturally inure to his advantage.
He doesn’t need to go negative or plant booby traps for other candidates.
He’s just thrilled to be a perpetually grinning and electric Alex Mendez, who won the most votes in the 2014 election.
The other candidates insist they’re going to win.
First elected in 2015, Ward 1 Councilman Mike “It’s Time” Jackson actually seems to have more devious fun articulating what Mendez acts out in broad strokes on the trail: namely that having strong fundraising resources is a deficit not an asset. It just means being handcuffed to development and powerful special interests, he argues, a sideswipe at his colleague Sayegh, who leads all candidates in fundraising. An anti-establishment figure of sorts in this campaign, unshackled by the learned behavior of making endorsements and money the main parts of a campaign, Jackson has penetrated with that message at some of the debates. But it might not necessarily drain Sayegh. One of two African American candidates in the contest, Jackson has arguably forced 20-year incumbent McKoy to start throwing punches at City Hall in an effort to prevent himself from being utterly engulfed as the longtime face of the establishment. Earlier this week, McKoy – amid Jackson’s incessant argument about experience in office not necessarily meaning much – suddenly slammed the city’s business administrator (and state senator Nellie Pou.
Routinely reminding voters about 54% tax hikes in the last ten years, Jackson cuts into McKoy, or so runs the conventional wisdom on the ground. Even his slyly delivered somewhat let-it-all-hang-out message undercuts the buttoned up auditor by profession McKoy, who at a debate last week seemed almost exasperated when he reminded voters that he’s done the homework and wouldn’t have to rely on someone else doing it for him.
But if Rodriguez is supposed to hurt fellow Dominican Mendez, there’s also an argument to be had that the youngish fellow advanced degree candidate cuts into that brandy snifter and or fed-up-with-corruption voter in the 3rd Ward who might be inclined to back Sayegh and/or McKoy.
One can get overly focused on how fracturing among the candidates ultimately produces a single foreseeable winner. But if Sayegh has money and resources, a strong leg up on labor and official endorsements and a demonstrably strong looking conventional campaign that has him – out of necessity – trying to shore up connections among all groups, Mendez has the best citywide numbers going back to 2014 in a majority Latino city, and supporters who shake signs as if their lives depended on it, as Mendez Campaign music – complete with a personalized song about the candidate – today on Market Street completely drowned out the feeble strains of Barry Manilow emanating from a rival campaign HQ, cranked up in vain to apparently – preposterously – offer resistance.
Backed by the Latino Leadership Alliance PAC, Mendez addressed the impassioned crowd in both English and Spanish:
At-Large candidate Aslon Goow (a former Council President and Ward 2 Councilman) talked about the city’s recent history with InsiderNJ:
The At-Large Councilwoman Maritza Davila InsiderNJ Interview:
The At-Large Council candidate Lillisa Mimms InsiderNJ INterview:
Sayegh compares 2010 and 2014 to now:
- Al Abdelaziz
- Alex Mendez
- Andre Sayegh
- Aslon Goow
- Bernard Jones
- Bill McKoy
- Bill Pascrell III
- Brendan Gill
- Dave Parano
- Fetty Wap
- Flavio Rivera
- Joey Torres
- John Currie
- Ken Morris
- Latino Leadership Alliance
- Lilisa Mimms
- Maria Teresa Montilla
- Maritza Davila
- Miguel Diaz
- Mike Jackson
- Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman
- Pedro Rodriguez
- Phil Murphy
- Shahin Khalique
- Shavonda Sumter
- Taj Uddin
- Tom Rooney
Click here for the full Insider Index