With Paterson’s non-partisan election underway today, the candidates have marshalled their forces to the extent that they can, hoping to capture the attention of a populace which is primarily concerned with public safety issues and increasing taxation, according to various candidates who spoke with Insider NJ.
The five-man mayoral race, all Democrats, pits incumbent Mayor Andre Sayegh seeking a second term against Councilman Alex Mendez, Councilman Michael Jackson, Councilman Luis Velez, and former Councilman Aslan Goow.
Ten people are running for three at-large City Council seats: incumbent Maritza Davila, incumbent Lilisa Mimms, Forid Uddin, Juan Santiago, Casey Melvin, Mark Fischer, Jeyss Abreu, Sonia Deliz, Melissa Baralt, and Gilman Choudhury.
As the candidates power their campaigns and staffers through the Election Day crunch, the city has taken on the atmosphere of one where the carnival is in town, but few people are excited or able to participate, given more pressing day-to-day concerns.
Universally, the campaigns have said that quality-of-life issues are the priority for besieged Patersonians. Public safety foremost among them.
Insider NJ spoke with some of the candidates on the streets during Tuesday’s final push.
“I have a great feeling about today,” Councilman Alex Mendez told Insider NJ. “We’re going to win this election. The people are coming out and they are voting because they’re tired of this administration.”
Mendez assailed Mayor Sayegh as one of the mayor’s campaign trucks, carrying a large billboard blasting music drove slowly past the corner near Riverside Vets where Mendez had taken up position. At the same time, a Mendez truck with cranked music of its own turned onto River Street, the vehicles positioning themselves as though two battleships under sail were preparing for a broadside. Lacking cannons, of course, the trucks could only roll past. Mendez continued. “[The people] want to see Andre out of office. He is the worst mayor in the history of the City of Paterson with the most corrupt administration. There’s a lot of animosity in the election. A lot of the machines are freezing when people go to vote. The machines in School #8 are not working, so we are going to stay on top of this and make sure they don’t steal this election. People don’t trust Andre, they know they know that he’s corrupted and we just gotta stay on top.”
Mendez saying that he could not trust Mayor Sayegh to play by the rules, potentially “stealing” the election, was a bold statement. Sayegh and Mendez have been bitter rivals throughout the campaign.
Dr. Lilisa Mimms is seeking re-election to the City Council and rolled out a campaign headquarters that was vibrant and bustling with energy. Her campaign was thematic and upbeat, going so far as to employ a parade float which was parked outside awaiting its hoped-for triumphant procession through the city’s heavily-potted and cracked streets. “People are voting, I’m really excited about that, and I’ve been so all the polling sites and we are going to rock out on our float. Today is a great day, the sun is shining, and I believe that’s another blessing and a sign from God. We’ve done the work—not just because of me running, but I’ve been doing the work for years.”
Mimms and Davila, interestingly, were the only candidates to be endorsed by Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly. The assemblyman had endorsed Sayegh in his unsuccessful 2014 campaign, and again in his successful 2018 campaign, but this time he has withheld issuing any mayoral endorsements. “I’m not going to stop working until 8:30 Just in case the clocks are not synchronized,” Mimms said. “I will work all the way until I sweat my wig off to make it happen.”
Council candidate Md Forid Uddin was very optimistic when he stopped in at his campaign headquarters. “I believe that we are doing wonderfully out there. I went to almost all the polling location and I talked to the voters, I talked to my canvassers. I think we’re getting very good responses from the community members and am very optimistic. I can see myself as one of the top three.”
For Uddin, high taxes were the top priority in Paterson, one of the few candidates who did not immediately jump to crime as the Number One issue. “Every year taxes are getting higher and, in opposite direction, the services are going down, and that should be fixed. The reason for our high taxes is because we are giving tax breaks to the developers, and that burden is one the homeowners are taking. I think we cannot give tax breaks to the developers anymore. We have to also make sure that we are not giving tax breaks the commercial buildings. For example, Home Depot, Lowes, and other commercial buildings pay $3 on average per square foot in taxes, while we the homeowners and taxpayers are paying $6 average per square foot. This is not fair. Why should we, the homeowners, have to take the burden?”
Alsan Goow (pictured, above) and his staff had been touring the City in a Charger, while a Ghostbusters-esque campaign wagon cruised through Paterson’s pulverized pavement to tout the former councilman as the city’s best choice. Goow said that Mayor Sayegh was deeply unpopular with the people he had been speaking with. “It’s been consistent. There are those who think that he will win—he believes he will win—but every candidate believes the same thing, that they’re going win this election. The truth is, it’s a horse race. I don’t think it would be 80 to 1 like the Kentucky Derby the other day, but I think it could be anybody’s race, especially given the climate and how things are right now.”
Goow, who had been a special police officer in Haledon, said that there were a host of issues facing Paterson, but pointed to crime first. “People want to be safe. The safety component right now is a big issue for everybody. Then again, it’s almost everything: safety, taxes, recreation, parks—it’s one big package because for the last four years, this guy has been missing in action.”
Goow’s claim that Sayegh has been an absent mayor is, according to him, because Sayegh has a different set of priorities—turning his ambitions beyond Paterson’s 8.7 square miles. “He has been campaigning on a different level—he has abandoned the city. He made it about him, and he has aspirations to be a congressman, it’s no secret. I just heard it again from some people who said that I should wait for the next election because he’s going to be moving up. It’s almost a done deal according to some.”
It is likely that the immediate winner of the mayoral election may not be known, as votes-by-mail will require time to process and they could, in fact, swing the election either way. Some have said that Goow is likely to take votes away from Sayegh, which in turn would benefit Mendez—Sayegh’s most dangerous threat. Unlike the previous electoral race, the dynamics present a challenging road to victory for Sayegh, but the mayor has proven himself to be a political survivor, adaptive, and has the weight and power of the incumbency to demonstrate his achievements against a field of critics. Paterson so often defies convention and predictability, and so only the people, not pollsters, pundits, or political scientists, will determine who will be the city’s next chief executive.