In Paterson, a Tale of Two Endorsements

An upbeat, defiant, ebullient and feisty Governor Phil Murphy today continued to try to brand the NJ Legislature as a bubble of establishment brain trust rust, disconnected from real people and himself as a popular vanguard.

The battle for mayor of the City of Paterson continues, with the lead contenders in the race being incumbent Mayor Andre Sayegh who is presently enjoying a comfortable lead, according to a TargetSmart poll, and Councilman Alex Mendez, a distant second.

Mayor Sayegh, who recently celebrated his 48th birthday, got a present from Governor Phil Murphy in the form of an endorsement less than a week after former Mayor Joey Torres endorsed Sayegh’s rival, Mendez.

Governor Murphy praised Sayegh’s handling of the pandemic and high vaccination rates in the city, restoring Hinchcliffe Stadium, and promoting economic development in the city which has struggled for decades.  Murphy said that Sayegh “shares my vision” for a safe, affordable, and family-friendly city.

Mendez launched his second bid for mayor at the epicenter of all southern Passaic politics, The Brownstone, in September of 2021.  Mendez, however, entered the election carrying an indictment, along with Councilman Michael Jackson, for voter fraud charges in the May 2020 Special Election—an incident which caught the attention of the Trump Campaign looking for ammunition to spread the idea that the 2020 election was not to be trusted long before voters went to the polls.

A host of barbs have marred the 2022 race, from the sophomoric—Mendez calling Sayegh the “Vladimir Putin” of Paterson—to the serious—Sayegh contesting the credibility of Mendez’s petitions.  The petitions, as of this writing, have been contested in court but Mendez remains a viable candidate.

Sayegh, along with developer and Sayegh-ally Charles Florio, have also been accused of bullying by

Aslon Goow

Councilman Aslan Goow, also running for mayor.  “The mayor is also spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to challenge anyone who thinks of running for office,” Goow told Patersonians via a NorthJersey.com video.  “His fear of losing his seat in office is costing our city a tremendous amount of money.”  Goow’s bid for office was contested, saying that he did not reside in the City of Paterson, an accusation Goow dismisses.  Indeed, Goow said that he has been living in the same Paterson residence for about 53 years and is taking care of his sister and his brother-in-law who is suffering from severe health problems.  Goow said that he hopes voters, “…are not discouraged or believe one word of what they are trying to say, that I do not live at this address.”

The Paterson scene has been a boiling pot of contention throughout most of the 21st Century.  Paterson’s first African-American mayor—and last Republican—the late Marty Barnes, saw his political career end with a 37-month prison sentence for federal charges of corruption.

Barnes was defeated by Joey Torres, a non-consecutive three-time mayor who, like his original predecessor, also was charged with corruption and spent 13 months in state prison.  Unlike Barnes, however, Torres remained a public figure in Paterson.  He ran for mayor against Sayegh in this election cycle, despite being legally barred from doing so, until the City Clerk and acting Attorney General shut him down.

Mendez was endorsed by Torres at a jam-packed campaign event at, yes, The Brownstone, the same week Sayegh would later get an endorsement from the governor and four of Mendez’s contested voter petitions were upheld before a Superior Court Judge.

Torres and Mendez

 

According to the Paterson Press, Mayor Sayegh and his legal team have challenged over 350 of Mendez’s petitions to get him off the ballot.

In politics, it is not uncommon for there to be an “establishment” and an “anti-establishment” camp.  The incumbent leadership is, de facto, the establishment (whether they like that label or not).  The opposition is not necessarily anti-establishment, but anti-establishmentarianism can either be harnessed as a populist radical or reactionary movement with the same objective: become the establishment.

Without a doubt, Mayor Sayegh is the Paterson establishment.  He has garnered significant support among age groups and demographics in the city, the notable exception being Paterson’s enormous Dominican population where Mendez holds the greatest popularity.  He also, according to Governor Murphy, shares the “vision” the state’s chief executive has, without being overly specific.  If there is credibility in the accusations made by Mendez and Goow that Sayegh is using his power and influence to suppress their chances in the May election, it would hardly be unusual in the City.  And to the mayor’s credit, he does not have a background that includes a prison sentence, like Mendez’s chief ally Torres, nor has he been indicted on charges of electoral fraud, as Mendez himself is presently dealing with.  Indeed, Sayegh went so far as to say Mendez’s past remarks against him showed “recklessness” and demonstrated a “pattern of criminality.”

Voters are therefore given the option of the Paterson establishment with Mayor Sayegh, the Governor’s choice, or what may be less of anti-establishment and more dis-establishment with a Mendez option.  The embattled councilman is a man who needs to pull himself out of the quagmire Sayegh has laid out and also demonstrate autonomy from Torres, while somehow also building off the former mayor’s core supporters.

All this, of course, must culminate in a few weeks, and it remains to be seen whether Mendez is able to cruise into safer waters with Torres’ support, or if Torres’ ambitions and criminal past undermine him.  For Murphy supporters, the choice is clear, but Murphy cannot speak for the City of Paterson.

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