Destination: Paterson

It’s Election Day in Paterson, where one man, Mayor Andre Sayegh, seeks to retain his office for a second term while four others—all fellow Democrats—are banging on the doors in the hopes of throwing him out.

Elected in 2018 on his third attempt, Mayor Sayegh today is fighting for re-election, facing the strongest challenge from Councilman Alex Mendez.  He had defeated Mendez handily in 2018, but this cycle is drastically different and every vote gained will be critical.

Mendez was on the ground today, greeting voters near the Riverside Vets polling location, exuding confidence that he’ll emerge victorious when the votes are all counted.

Numerous candidates, mayoral and council, have high-visibility efforts underway today.  They have deployed supporters near polling locations with signs and distributing literature, there are posters on business doors and utility poles, and the city streets are crawling with trucks outfitted with

Paterson

billboards.  There is even a float for Councilwoman Mimms.  Mayor Sayegh’s well-heeled campaign has trucks playing looped videos on their exteriors—political entertainment for those stuck at a red light.

Several campaign headquarters are bustling this afternoon with supporters and workers, following the morning voting period and ahead of the anticipated evening rush once the work day ends.

Initial in-person turnout today is difficult to gauge based on the various campaigns’ interpretations.  If course, each campaign believes that their voters are coming out in force and their preferred candidate(s) is or are heading towards an inevitable win.  This, however, doesn’t take into account the early voting period, which started on Friday, and the Vote-By-Mail ballot efforts waged by the campaigns.

Paterson has a unique history with Vote-By-Mails, where several races in recent years have had their outcomes decided by VBMs–and in a few instances, featured a candidate being indicted.  Of the five candidates seeking the office of mayor, two – Mendez and Jackson – have been indicted on vote-by-mail fraud charges although this has not deterred them from holding onto the political limelight.

 

The campaigns got ugly quickly. It is those very charges aimed against Mendez which he says is proof of a political vendetta and corruption by his chief rival, the sitting mayor.  There was an attempt to disqualify Mendez’s petitions in order to prevent him from being on the ballot, which was ultimately a fruitless effort.  Mendez survived.  The same goes for a residency challenge against former Councilman Goow, which was dismissed in court, leaving two of Sayegh’s toughest challengers in the race. Sayegh, meanwhile, has deftly use any opportunity to highlight his own integrity in office and accomplishments, certainly as they pertain to the handling of the pandemic in New Jersey’s third largest city, while reminding residents of the legal baggage carried by Mendez.

While the candidates are in high-gear, several observers said the mood in the city seemed slightly less enthusiastic than in previous years. Any Election Day excitement by the populace is tempered by the realities they are facing: not just the wearing-down wrought by the COVID pandemic and its economic and psychological impacts, but also high crime rates (a nationwide and state issue, not exclusive to Paterson), tax increases, and roads in dire need of improvement.

In short, all eyes today are on Sayegh and Mendez.  The most shocking outcome may be a run-away win by either of them in the end.  The race is close, according to most political observers, and with Vote-By-Mail ballots yet to be counted, the race may not even be over by Tuesday night.

InsiderNJ will report more on Paterson later.

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