The ongoing rivalry of Paterson 3rd Ward Councilman Bill McKoy and former At-Large Councilman Alex Mendez has less to do with divergent styles than it does with the substance of citywide power, their opposing personalities and now their acrimonious history simply making their next collision convenient, even if it was already inevitable.
While livery driver turned realtor Mendez channels perpetual incandescence – “A game show host,” one of his detractors deadpans, hardly in the mood to concede bombast as a public virtue; auditor McKoy, by contrast, refines the art of public austerity and reserve, always using dignity, not necessarily effusive likeability, as an organizing principle.
“Competency is a real issue,” McKoy, the master of ironic understatement, grimly told InsiderNJ in 2018, when he ran for mayor, evidently hoping his myriad backslapping nemeses would create such a blur of excitement that finally the voters wouldn’t see them alongside a stately – if unerringly sedate – alternative.
It didn’t work out that way, as McKoy’s increasing frustration on the citywide trail found outlet in soaring, righteously indignant oratory, climaxed by his extraordinary debate takedown of a candidate well on his way to winning, who, in fact, did win. And now rather than have the second floor of city hall from which to observe the unfolding 2020 ward races, McKoy, immigrant son of a Jamaican cooper, must defend that Ward 3 seat he has occcupied for 20 years, in the face of a man who sees him as a warm-up act for a showdown with the mayor who defeated them both.
Each deprived of his own right to sit on the throne, McKoy and Mendez must fight to remain in the throne room.
“Fortunately we don’t have any new combatants,” McKoy said Friday (but, in fact, a third candidate will get in the race: community activist Sharieff Bugg). “Paterson knows both myself and former Councilman Mendez. They will judge us on that.
“Each ward is different,” the councilman added. “The 3rd ward is a little more considerate of the record.”
He let the word stick.
Mendez, meanwhile, spent Christmas in New York.
“Since I left the council I focused all my energy on my foundation and working on issues related to citizenship and services for people,” he told InsiderNJ. “They want me back on the council because they value my fight against tax increases, and so a month ago I sat down with my family and received their blessing again to run.”
The word “again” has special resonance here.
It started nearly eight years ago, when Ward 3 incumbent Councilman McKoy struggled to attain victory.
He would survive, but Mendez shocked him, sending a message to the city in narrowly losing to a ward
icon: “I’m coming.” Two years later, in 2014, Mendez won an at-large council seat as a comebacking Jose “Joey” Torres felled ambitious Ward 6 Councilman Sayegh.
The Dominican community had officially arrived.
By the time the state attorney general’s office separated Torres from city hall on corruption charges, Mendez was ready to personally vie for the mayor’s seat.
Of course, so was McKoy.
And so was Sayegh.
They scrapped, and the presence of a financially well-connected and organized Pedro Rodriguez (17% of the vote) in the contest inhibited Mendez from defining a coalition of Hispanic voters. Sayegh beat him in a landslide, 41-22%. Still, Mendez beat McKoy (12%) to come in second citywide.
Unofficially, that made them one and one.
McKoy beat Mendez wardwide in 2012, and then Mendez beat McKoy citywide in 2018.
Now they’re back in the 3rd Ward, where the allies of Sayegh have fastened themselves to the sitting councilman, seeing his fourth place finish as less of a threat than second (albeit distant) place finishing Mendez, whose presence on the council would give him a restart runway toward a 2022 run for mayor.
Sources say McKoy recognizes the political advantage of allying with the mayor. The councilman has a solid base of 1K voters. But Sayegh will undoubtedly give him structures connected to the Passaic County Democratic Party. “Bill doesn’t have a strong operation,” a source noted. “He has strong supporters but lacks boots on the ground. Andre will provide that for him.” In Sayegh’s favor, a friendly McKoy will potentially stop Mendez, while presumably giving the mayor a voting ally on a council occupied by numerous individual personalities where the front office sometimes struggles to find a majority.
There’s some irony there.
Part of McKoy’s resentment of Sayegh in the lead-up to the 2018 mayoral election stemmed from the 6th Ward Councilman voting last on difficult budget votes and opposing tax increases, sticking McKoy with a record that included aye votes on those increases. When McKoy ran for mayor, Sayegh used his rival’s votes on property tax increases to score points and ultimately stagnate the 3rd Ward Councilman’s candidacy.
When Sayegh became mayor and announced that he would have to raise taxes, McKoy volubly bristled.
He never liked that kind of slippery gamesmanship.
Still, he made his point.
Time to move on, particularly with Mendez lurking.
“I’m no longer competing with Andre Sayegh,” McKoy said. “We had the campaign for mayor. Some have not known when a campaign ends. Well, it did end.”
The council is ordinarily too individuated to present a united front against the mayor, but Council President Maritza Davila, and Councilmen Shahin Khalique (Ward 2) and Flavio Rivera (at-large) often run together. Sometimes they join routine Sayegh rival Ward 1 Councilman Mike Jackson as part of the opposition, such as it is. There’s talk that Sayegh’s allies wouldn’t mind breaking that up by getting behind former Councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman to take out Khalique next year. The others tend to buck the mayor when they want. Strictly on the political front, At-Large Councilwoman Lilisa Mimms is all in with her colleague, 4th Ward Councilwoman Ruby Cotton.
Forget about his future intentions in 3 – Mendez back on the council could at the very least present a significant vote-to-vote obstacle to Sayegh.
He’s willing to work with the mayor.
“My job as a councilman is to provide advice and consent,” he said. “That has been my approach: to recognize when the campaign ends and governance begins. Mayor Sayegh and I have had our disagreements, but I look to support those things where I can shape the direction of the city.
“There’s an adage in retail, which is that the customer is always right. Well, the voter is always right, and as councilman I have an obligation to work with that individual who is mayor for the good of the voters,” the councilman added.
A source familiar with the developing race told InsiderNJ to expect – as if there were any doubt – a dogfight. Changing demographics may appear to favor the always auditioning Mendez (no to mention the presence in the contest of Bugg), and eight years ago “Alex almost got him. But this is the precursor for the mayor’s race.
“This is the mayor’s race right here,” the source added. “For Sayegh, this is his  reelection. You beat him [Mendez] here, you keep him out of the way. I’m not saying Mendez beats Andre if he beats Bill, but he will have moved a step closer to keeping himself in the public eye in city hall, and the mayor can’t want that. And of course, Bill wants to keep going, so they’re good, Bill and Andre. They both see a common opponent.”
Of course, Mendez has a template for how to beat McKoy: Sayegh’s 2018 mayoral campaign. His early attacks on his opponent sound like the stories that sank McKoy citywide.
“I think my biggest concern about how government is being run right now is how many tax increases we’re seeing, including a new way of billing the residents for sewer,” Menedez said. “The councilman has been voting in favor of tax increases since he was there. I think he has done enough damage for 20 years.
“These are complaints that are not coming from me only,” the former at-large councilman added. “They are coming from the taxpayers.”
If Mendez is fighting the mayor-allied McKoy with the mayor’s message in an effort to eventually get back at the mayor, questions persist about the role Rodriguez (who finished third in the 2018 race) will play next year.
Mendez is somewhat coy on the subject.
“Pedro, since he left, they see me as a new leader working very close with him,” he said. “I am blessed to have the full force of the community behind me.”
Sources say the ebullient Mendez could vastly benefit by having Rodriguez with him.
“He’s not a great fundraiser,” a source said in reference to the former councilman. “He’s simply pure energy, a great retail campaigner, but beyond that there’s not much to him. Pedro would give him what he lacks, which is what McKoy lacks without Andre: a great operation.”
Vote by mail will play a big role, too, everyone agrees.
Unexcitable McKoy said he’s ready, his indignant outsider’s message from the 2018 race tempered by mild, conciliatory praise for the establishment. Of course, he can’t resist an almost William Carlos Williams “every man is a city” flourish. “I’m always optimistic about my city, because I am part of it,” he said, before hastily adding, “We have made strides with Mayor Sayegh, working with the DCA [Department of Community Affairs].
“The governor has been supportive, too,” he added dutifully.
Crime is stubborn, of course.
“We need to improve on the economic conditions at the grassroots level,” the 3rd Ward Councilman added. “Gun violence is plaguing the entire nation and we too are all wrestling with those problems.”
Finally, he said, the people will judge him alongside Mendez and see a more consistent philosophy. “One of service,” McKoy said. “I was elected five times not because of popularity but service; while Mendez will always be challenged in terms of being honest and transparent.”
Finally, it will come down to the 3rd Ward, he pointedly added.
“This is not a business for people making a name for themselves,” said the longtime councilman.
- 3rd Ward
- Al Abdelaziz
- Alex Mendez
- Andre Sayegh
- Bill McKoy
- Bill Pascrell
- Flavio Rivera
- Ken Morris
- Lilisa Mimms
- Luis Velez
- Maritza Davila
- Mike Jackson
- Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman
- Paterson Democrats
- Ruby Cotton
- Shahin Khalique
- Sharieff Bugg
- Silk City
- William "Bill" McKoy
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