In any fight, the victor will exploit a mistake by his rival to get the crucial upper-hand, and in the ongoing Paterson scrap between Mayor Andre Sayegh and Ward One Councilman Mike Jackson, a citywide seesaw of competing visions built on equal parts ego, pride, toreador testosterone, vanity, and political chicanery, all enhanced by a general societal mood of inanity, but bitterly serious finally, each focused competitor undertook his competing agenda while awaiting the other’s misstep.
Jackson would routinely pop the mayor on council items: a trailer park the city paid $1.4 million for that
was only worth $200k; an Ellison Street property for $5 million that was only $1.5 million; allegations of city employee mistreatment by hustler department heads from out of town; or a down-the-throat sewer tax unfavorable to residents. It was a role that seemed to come naturally for the man who had competed unsuccessfully for mayor in the last election: wait for the man who beat him to make a mistake and then rail against him at the scheduled meetings. Sometimes even a perceived mistake could be made to look like a colossal blunder. In Paterson, there was enough going wrong that sometimes it all naturally inevitably blended together on the front doorstep of the mayor. And Jackson – Jackson could do better, or so he argued.
“When this administration started he had my full support,” the councilman said of Sayegh. “I never believed in anything he did. He never wrote any substantial legislation as a councilmember. But he has relationships with certain people and he put together a pretty good team of individuals I had a great deal of respect for. I voted for things I didn’t necessarily believe in, but I wanted to give them the best opportunity to succeed.”
Needless to say, Jackson lost faith early – and utterly.
“A lot of press releases,” he concluded of the Sayegh Administration.
“His intent is not about Paterson and the disenfranchised population of Paterson,” Jackson added of the mayor. “His intent is to help developers and the political classes to enhance his political career to get to the next level – congress, senator – I’ve even heard some buzz that he has in mind governor, which is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Me? I have absolutely no political ambition. I am not interested in scaling political heights. I’m interested in Paterson.”
Sayegh, of course, hit back.
“It’s unfortunate that after the  election he decided to be a perpetual obstructionist,” said the mayor. “In fact, he’s such an obstructionist that people have taken to calling him ‘Stonewall Jackon.’ We have $130 million in state tax credits and all of them are targeted to the First Ward. Mr. Jackson wants to vote out of spite, not what’s right. It’s sour grapes, and for someone who has a background in professional football, he’s not a team player.
“Not to mention,” Sayegh added, “he never misses an opportunity to offend anyone.”
More on that in a moment.
An old jock – a football quarterback – turned businessman whose restaurant went belly up, who jumped into politics when Anthony Davis cracked up on corruption charges in 2014, Jackson came in a distant fifth when he tried to run for mayor, posting 1,028 votes behind 2,597 for Third Ward Councilman Bill McKoy, who decided to partner with the mayor ahead of this year’s elections.
“I’m no longer competing with Andre Sayegh,” McKoy told InsiderNJ last month. “We had the campaign for mayor. Some have not known when a campaign ends.”
He didn’t name names.
But the mayor’s moment in his ongoing turf tussle with the naysaying Jackson came this past September, when the First Ward councilman, criticizing the administration’s performance on the renovation of the city’s historic Hinchliffe Stadium, uttered this widely condemned remark in his effort to convey a conversation between himself and the Paterson Armory developer: “I said, ‘Mr. Developer, I respect you, I appreciate you for valuing our city, for offering the best price possible and not trying to go backwards to Jew us down.’” It was less a slip than an awful, ugly stumble that left the wildly swinging councilman open for a well-timed Sayegh counter.
So now it’s an election year, and at least three challengers have already submitted their names to take on Jackson for his ward seat. With citywide influence and a chance to reshape the council to better suit his own will at stake, one presumes Sayegh will find a way to back a candidate not named Jackson in the contest. Both School Board Member Nakima Redmon and Mosleh Uddin have either political or friendly ties to the mayor. A third challenger, Demetrius Davis is a local firefighter.
“For now, I am not endorsing a candidate in the First Ward race,” the mayor told InsiderNJ.
“However,” he added, “Nakima Redmon is a very viable candidate.”
While it remains to be seen how the sting of Jackson’s remarks return to haunt the coming campaign (will considerable outside money go against him to ensure that he pays for the bigoted comment), others who also criticized him on that one score nonetheless see his independence and rubber stamp resistance as plusses on the governing body, the sitting council president among them. Jackson backed Maritza Davila for council president, and as part of the deal obtained the position of council vice president. “I back Mike 100%,” Davila told InsiderNJ. “He is a real advocate for the residents of the First Ward. But I don’t plan to merely support him with words. I will walk and go door to door on his behalf.”
Jackson has a ready message to his constituents as the rest of the city gazes in on the First Ward, aware of the contest’s larger implications. “The necessity to have checks and balances is essential,” the incumbent said. “If not, then you have potentially a runaway of one group controlling the city.”
The race here relates to the 2nd Ward contest, and to McKoy’s Third, where potentially other opportunities exist for Sayegh’s allies to rid the council of Shahin Khalique (who usually lines up with Davila); or the mayor’s antagonists to eject McKoy. As with those other ward races, the outcome could impact citywide power and give an advantage to either the mayor or Davila (and conceivably Jackson). But for the moment, in the First, the challengers just want to harvest enough signatures to get on the May ballot.
Dissatisfied with what she sees in her ward, Redmon served as vice president of the school board during Paterson’s transition from state to city control. Her knowledge of government extends to her job with the Passaic County Planning Board, and as a member of the city’s historic preservation commission.
“I am a community-based person,” Redmon told InsiderNJ. “I have always been involved in the community.”
Born and raised in Paterson and product of the Paterson Public Schools, who served on the school board while the city made the transition from state to city-run schools, Redmon admitted, “It’s going to be a hard fought race. It won’t be handed to any candidate.”
For the moment, she elects to stay positive.
“The time we have is going to be short to run, and I respect the men in the race,” said the fledgling candidate. “It’s going to be a tough race, run at the height of politics.”
Another lifelong Patersonian, Mosleh Uddin said if elected he would be much more pro-active in the First Ward. “I would focus much more on public safety,” Uddin said. “We need police and fire personnel to reach out to constituents faster and improve response time. Sometimes residents feel hopeless, and that needs to change.
“I absolutely believe I could make allies in the administration; whoever is there I believe we can work together,” added the educator, who works with middle school students and volunteers his time as a substitute teacher and assistant coach for the basketball team.
Young Uddin comes from an influential political family in the Bengali community led by Taj Uddin, with roots going back to the 1940’s, when Mosleh’s great uncle came to Paterson from Harlem after leaving East Pakistan. “Politics has always been a part of my life,” the 31-year old candidate told InsiderNJ. “My father used to help the council and he has been very supportive of the mayor. My father came in 1990, and he always had the impetus to help people, and advocates to help improve our community.”
Sources describe Uddin potentially – whether intentionally or not – spoiling a chance for Jackson to regain support he once had within the Bengali community that resides in the First Ward. Then again, Demetrius Davis could help the incumbent cohere his own base and impair Redmon.
For his part, Jackson said he trusts in his own presence within his ward as a guy on the ground, to counter anything Sayegh shows up with in effort to get him out of there.
As for “the Jews down” comment, “I didn’t mean it,” the councilman said. “It was a term frequently used as kids growing up but it never had any malicious intent. A longtime Patersonian is someone I lean lean on, a great man, who is Jewish. He owns a store on Broadway and I always fell under his tutelage. I’ve gotten so many calls after that night, calls from Jewish community members, who told me they didn’t feel any insult by my comment. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m not exempt from that.
“The mayor’s office and the media are making a bigger deal of it than the residents,” he added.
Whoever emerges from among the developing candidates will have the challenge ultimately of drawing Jackson into a legitimate and sustained one on one, even as the councilman and the mayor cannot refrain from a rivalry bigger than the ward. “He is a completely compromised councilman with countless conflicts of interest,” said Sayegh, who sees Jackson’s slips as more considerable than those of the tongue, whose allies writhe under the gritty public interest superman narrative Jackson indulges, as though his cape doesn’t merely cover a multitude of other missteps, mostly at the gray nexus of politics and business.
From the Paterson Times: A company connected to Alma Realty, owners of Center City Mall, provided a $450,000 mortgage when councilman Michael Jackson sold his property on Grand Street that houses his restaurant Jacksonville more than two years ago, according to court records. …The lawsuit raises questions about Jackson’s ardent support for the Center City Mall expansion at a time when the mayor and the City Council are engaged in pitched battles over who should receive a chunk of the $130 million in state tax credits.
Pro-decriminalization and expungement but against recreational marijuana legalization, Jackson sees Sayegh shackled to moneyed and powerful interests that include the influx of marijuana grow facilities in Silk City. “My opinion on how the mayor has chosen to handle this is it reveals a great failure on his part,” the said councilman, pointing to the dearth of six-figure salary jobs as the new industry expands locally.
“The potential impact skipped over Paterson,” he told InsiderNJ.
If the men remain on their feet for now, the next misstep could prove more problematic, to say the least, in the context of a contest, for Jackson more immediately, but for Sayegh too, if the councilman remains politically alive when originally wounded (if it wasn’t politically fatal than what was it?), and reanimates, or gains as a specific consequence of the campaign.