It was a strange scene outside city hall, floundering for a sense of reality with storm clouds threatening and two men who won the election in their respective wards walking around smiling as if nothing were amiss in Paterson as they face charges of voter fraud. This is the town President Donald Trump tweeted about over the weekend, almost as if groping to find something on the order of absurdity – or misconduct – as his own response to the COVID-19 crisis, and ramming the vote-by-mail (VBM) fiasco here in this punched-around old factory town.
Despite all the ongoing drama, most of which appears to be headed for the courts, and unresolved – the
gentlest word possible – contests, Paterson would not be denied a day of pomp – and seemingly contrived circumstance. Slammed with voter fraud fraud charges by the state attorney general, Ward One Councilman Mike Jackson was nonetheless on the program, while Alex Mendez, the Election Night victor in Ward 3 but immersed in fraud allegations by incumbent Bill McKoy, was not, relegated to the sidelines with his supporters like a pack of paparazzi almost demanding that the sedate stage of luminaries turn their attention wholly on them.
It was almost as though the ceremony was going on as a backdrop to the center ring trapeze show of Mendez and his minions.
Mayor Andre Sayegh was there, of course, alert to the dimensions of drama tugging at the edge of the red carpet. “Looks like I have a fan club,” said Sayegh, the longtime rival of Mendez and winner of a 2018 citywide tilt for the mayoralty.
“Have some respect,” he added in the direction of the Mendez show. “I see a lot of NY hats. I take it you’re not Patersonians.”
The motor-mouthed Sayegh was having his own fun writing real-time circus dialogue.
“I guess somebody doesn’t want me to speak but I’m going to speak anyway,” he cracked.
Moments later, he stuck a dagger in when he asked for moment of silence for COVID fatalities in the city, abruptly ending the Team Mendez folk chant lapping and threatening with the storm to overtake the event.
“I’m not here to alienate anyone,” said the mayor, but couldn’t resist adding, “Have a safe trip home, guys,” again in the direction of his rival’s troops.
Aligned during the infamous May 12th election, the Mendez and Jackson contingents blamed Sayegh for contriving the charges against them, using his much-bragged about “in” with Governor Phil Murphy to leverage an avalanche of selective prosecutorial charges. Their ally, At-Large Councilwoman Maritza Davila, saluted them from the stage. “I’m glad your here because God doesn’t like ugly,” she said, referencing the Jacksonites. But it vaguely felt – as the council denied her the council presidency – like the spoken lyrics version of “The Night They drove Old Dixie Down,” or a last gasp drum-beat from a trampled confederacy.
“No more corruption. Andre Sayegh resign. No more intimidation. Respect our vote.” Those were some of the glimpsed signs in the vicinity of Mendez mayhem. But even as Sayegh semi-joked his way through the proceedings and again came across as a lovable second floor teddy bear, the undercurrent of a hard-edged trend tallied: namely, the mayor’s facility for eliminating political foes, going back at least to Jose “Joey” Torres. No one could prove Sayegh called in NBC, which led to the AG, to dethrone Torres, or again, this time, worked from the same NBC to AG playbook, but ultimately he – or his allies – could argue Mendez and Jackson – like Torres before them – as much as they wanted to seethe publicly about the shadowy, nefarious handiwork under the mayor’s backslapping exterior, would have to answer for their own deeds.
Jackson had another take – putting it mildly, throwing the focus on those in his downtrodden ward who have been the alleged victims of police brutality.
“Please remove the knee from my neck,” he said, a reference to the police killing of George Floyd. “We will fight for the privileges and rights of the people I serve.”
Far from the quagmire angst of wards one and three and in a subdued play for gravitas suggestive of future fortunes, Ward Six Councilman Al Abdel-aziz – who had no opponent in the May 12th elections – assumed the oath of office courtesy of area heavyweight Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.