Paterson Flashpoint: Rodriguez Says He Doesn’t Think Mendez Makes Finish Line of a Mayoral Campaign

While four council people scrap on the inside, former Deputy Mayor Pedro Rodriguez has the advantage of being able to launch his offensive from the outside, in the developing race for Mayor of Paterson. Jose “Joey” Torres went face down last Friday, leaving the seat to Council President Ruby Cotton, who won’t run for it next year. She’s strictly a place-holder.

But Rodriguez – who was with Torres in 2014, on the team, and then out prior to Tores’ indictment – insists he’ll be there.

“We’re in this election to win it,” he told InsiderNJ this morning. “90% of the humble people who were with Joey Torres are with us. That’s why we’ve been able to hit the ground running. I’m self-funding my campaign, as a statement, because when politicians start getting money from special interests, that’s when the problems start. I want to shield myself from that.”

An engineer by trade with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, who now works for the city police department, Rodriguez has turned heads early with his organizing skills. In the trenches of New Jersey politics, whether it’s Paterson or Perth Amboy, people who have worked urban campaigns for the last decade plus know Rodriguez. He feels confident that his campaign skills give him an edge in the race, even against the man many presume to be the citywide juggernaut, At-Large Councilman Alex Mendez.

“I don’t see Alex as the largest competition out there at all,” Rodriguez told InsiderNJ. “I put Alex in politics. Whenever we ran, we helped Alex. This is not a game you can win by yourself. In 2014, we helped him with everything, and it was the perfect storm for him, where three Latinos were running for mayor and two were Dominican. He was the only Dominican at-large candidate. So it came together for him.”

Mendez was the top vote-getter that year.

But now, “He doesn’t have a team,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t see him at all as someone who can compete. In the end, particularly now, this will require that you have a clean track record. I don’t think he’ll stay in the mayor’s race. I think he’ll protect what he has and run again for the at-large seat.”

Although intimately involved in the mechanics of Torres’ storied 2014 citywide campaign, Rodriguez said he evacuated the mess prior to the AG’s indictment of the mayor.

“When I saw things developing as they were, I stepped away,” he said. “It was September or October o flast year, way before the indictment. I said ‘I can’t be part of this. I have four kids. This is not what we talked about. So I resigned and thanked him for the opportunity. I want to manage this town in a decent way, and we have experience. Everybody we have supported has won, including Wilda Diaz in PErth Amboy, and candidates in Hackensack and Saddle Brook. We have the know how and we will have the money.”

The son of a barber, Rodriguez first came to Paterson when he was 12. Factory workers, his grandparents lived in the 4th ward. His four boys attend the Paterson Public Schools.

“I’ve been preparing myself for this for a long time,” he told InsiderNJ. “I served as commissioner on the school board, and on the zoning and planning boards, and as deputy mayor. In the private sector, I oversaw a larger budget and personnel than the city. I elect to live here. The difference between us and others is no one will be able to pull a chain. Look at the direction of the city now. Our kids don’t have safe parks to play in, and all the city council people just approved a dog park.

“A dog park,” he repeated with incredulity.

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