PATERSON – The bulldozed ravages of what they refer to here – without irony – as Silk City, played smoldering host to a candidates’ forum tonight where the last mayor ended up in handcuffs, a demise that barely registered on the outrage scale amid boarded-up factories, tax increases of 54% in ten years, rusted warehouses, an eroded ratable base, and mills that at one point morphed from silk to heroin.
Insiders insist the May 8th contest is a two-man race, but six contenders want the mayoralty, and evidence of a more complex contest emerged tonight. Five of
them participated in tonight’s program sponsored by the Eastside Neighborhood Association and hosted by television personalities Brenda Blackmon of WOR and Greg Kelly of Fox 5:
Ward 6 Councilman Andre Sayegh;
At-Large Councilman Alex Mendez;
Ward 3 Councilman Bill McKoy;
Ward 1 Councilman Mike Jackson;
And Paterson PBA Prez Alex Cruz.
Only former Deputy Mayor Pedro Rodriguez did not attend the debate forum.
Twice an unsuccessful candidate for mayor (in 2010 and 2014), Sayegh – widely perceived to be the frontrunner based on fundraising totals and amassed establishment endorsements – kicked off the debate forum when Kelly prodded him for an opening statement. “Paterson is waiting to happen,” the councilman said. “Even Camden has happened. We are the first planned industrial city in the country.”
Paterson just needs leadership, he insisted.
Mendez didn’t disagree.
He just believes he’s that guy.
“I have the leadership, vision and the energy to move Paterson forward in another direction,” said the at-large councilman, a Dominican American who commands natural demographic advantages as a member of one of the city’s largest and fastest growing communities. “Paterson needs a mayor who is independent, not based on the special interests.”
Some observers have taken comments like that to reflect a hard fact: he has no money or fundraising arm, which he continues to insist is a plus not a deficit.
For his part, Jackson crafted a sustained argument based on reprioritizing jobs and jobs growth for Patersonians. Too many people on the police force don’t live in Paterson, he said. Too many people making decisions on the development end don’t reside in the city.
“We all know the majority of those prostitutes on Van Houten don’t target [Patersonians],” said the former pro-football player turned local business owner and elected official. The city also needs to do a better job of identifying the influx of guns to the city.
Jackson set himself up all night as the “rock in the shoe” guy onstage, a moniker bestowed him by retiring At-Large Councilman Ken Morris, Jr. who sat in the audience. Whether it’s the state’s bumbling stewardship of the schools, department heads sound asleep during police and fire crises in the city, or a county keen on manipulating Paterson for its own ends, Jackson kept the voting public of Paterson paramount in his answers.
They’ve been victimized by the outside world.
It’s not dissimilar from the kind of argument Ras Baraka made in Newark in 2014.
An auditor by trade with years of experience in city government, McKoy throughout the debate made his case for better organization.
“In my administration, we would know how to spend our money wisely, as any household does,” said the 3rd Ward Councilman.
McKoy also called for stronger federal gun regulations as a crack down on local crime.
But what really emerged was how McKoy and Jackson – supposedly fighting for the same Black base in the city while Rodriguez, Mendez and Cruz apparently fracture the Latino vote, are fighting from utterly opposing standpoints.
McKoy is the guy who’s been there.
He knows how to run the city.
Jackson hasn’t been there.
He grabbed the seat of a corrupt, jailed councilman in 2015. Now, just three years later, he wants to supplant the corrupt and jailed former Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres.
If McKoy has a political lifetime of building and sustaining relationships, and a fairly impeccable professional record, Jackson has spotty business experience, and made early enemies in City Hall, or at least has defined himself again as that “rock in the shoe” presence who doesn’t mind irritating other elected officials.
He proved that tonight when he went after Cruz.
The two apparent frontrunners kept it more simple.
“We have to be more aggressive in our community to target those people who are bringing guns into our community,” Mendez said.
Sayegh agreed, and only deigned to slap Mendez once when he reminded his rival that the city already has some of the city services Mendez argued need implementing.
Then there was Cruz.
Hounded by a residency issue, which Jackson brought up again tonight, he attempted to get out of the gate with a denunciation of the city’s tax hikes, even as an insider in the crowd crowed about how the police department chews a bulk of the city’s budget. “He’s the president of the PBA,” the source cackled. But Detective Cruz, a public safety officer for 25 years, later framed himself as the public safety
candidate in the contest.
Sayegh throughout the forum burnished his close ties to Governor Phil Murphy.
“He’s made gun control a priority,” the councilman said of the the governor, “but I agree, we have to be pro active.”
It was a safety-first performance that bespoke of a good position in the field.
He even winced when Jackson beat up on Cruz, and when Blackmon and Kelly both blundered early by calling him “Alex” Sayegh, he didn’t appear flustered but only gently corrected them by noting that his name is “Andre.” Friendly, In-Control. Still, his detractors seethed that the performance was too canned and, at times, too geared toward an establishment audience, even as Jackson relentlessly – and to the exclusion of those who live outside Paterson – defined his base as real city voters. Jackson gambled on that portion of the voting public in Paterson no longer being able to bear polished rhetoric and ringing slogans, and so appeared unafraid of dinging Cruz at will. But Sayegh’s calculation appeared to include an educated transmission of mild exhaustion with ghetto logic, and highly organized and well funded GOTV to find, come Election Day, that fracture between Mendez and Rodriguez while Jackson and McKoy canceled each other.
But with just under a month to go before Election Day, it was volatile.