The Rivalries Under the Paterson Ward 2 Rivalry: Khalique v. Akhtaruzzaman II

The Ward Two Rivalry in Paterson.

Their first showdown caused one of the most acrimonious Paterson ward elections in recent memory, with initial inconclusive results spawning a protracted courtroom collision that finally produced challenger Shahin Khalique as the 19-vote winner over incumbent Ward 2 Councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman.

It stunned Akhtaruzzaman, who made history in 2012 when he himself stunned Councilman Aslon Goow and became the first Bengali elected in Paterson. Why his fellow Bengali immigrant challenged him four years later remains a contentious question. Akhtaruzzaman insists it’s because Khalique likes money, not people. Khalique says Akhtaruzzaman divided the community, and Bengali elders appealed to him to run against him. Whatever happened, none of it healed, and now Akhtaruzzaman is back, in hardly ideal circumstances, whatever vision he had of riding in on chariot wheels as the returning pioneer diffused, as he tries to displace his old rival in the worst political weather: a COVID-19 crisis that has put Paterson – and the planet – on lockdown.

Moreover, May 12th is on the schedule as an all vote-by-mail (VBM) contest, which would appear to favor Khalique, who narrowly beat Akhtaruzzaman in 2016 on the strength of his absentee ballot output.

“This is my passion,” said the comebacking challenger. “People still love me. Five cars passed by me yesterday and people were telling me, ‘We got your back.’ I cleaned up the whole Second Ward, especially the Paterson Avenue area. I made public safety a priority and the mayor fully supports that.

Sayegh

“He’s doing an outstanding job,” he added of the COVID-19 crisis-saddled mayor, a former 6th Ward councilman with whom he served on the council during his four-year term.

Davila, left, and Marie Florio.

His comment about the mayor is telling, for if the contest demonstrates the ongoing political divisions within the Benghali community (whose consistent 2,000 to 2,200 core voters turn elections in a ward with 25,000 residents and 12K registered voters), it also underscores Mayor Sayegh’s ongoing tug of war with the city council. Elected mayor in 2018, Sayegh is taking a mid-term crack

Mimms
Mimms

at refashioning the recalcitrant third floor governing body with players more amenable to his designs. Each of the six ward battles (actually, Sayegh ally Al Abdelaziz does not face a challenger this year) fits into a larger rivalry, with sitting Council President Maritza Davila and Sayegh resister on one side, and her potential rival for the throne, At-Large Councilwoman (and Sayegh ally) Lilisa Mimms, on the other.

But there are some deeper-under-the-radar dynamics – and players – too, who should be considered.

Adamant about his independent voice, Khalique resisted the mayor at key junctures, voting against his $287 million budget and opposing the Hinchliffe Stadium tax credit plan. “I told the people I wouldn’t support tax increases,” Khalique told InsiderNJ.  “My opponent is there to support the mayor. The mayor puts forward budgets with tax increases and I have an obligation not to support those budgets. I don’t support the Hinchcliffe Stadium project as presented because it places too much risk on the taxpayers.”

Supported by Sayegh,  Akhtaruzzaman says he wants back on the council to focus on fighting crime and improving the quality of life for Ward 2 residents. “This election is a level playing field,” the former councilman told InsiderNJ in reference to the perceived VBM advantage enjoyed by his rival.

“He just has to be watched very closely,” Akhtaruzzaman added, giving a nod to the absentee ballot questionable 2016 election, which the councilman lost to Khalique on a judge’s decision.

Both graduates of Kennedy High School, neither man has a wholly pristine past. Khalique ate a driving while under the influence (DUI) arrest back in 2010; while Akhtaruzzaman as a councilman voted to raise taxes.

During the pandemic, Khalique – in the name of checks and balances – has used his position to gently offer constructive criticism of the Sayegh Administration. “We need a testing site in the city and we needed a better accounting of the numbers but things are starting to get better,” the sitting councilman told InsiderNJ. But he’s never been a flamethrower in the mold of Goow, for example, the Ward 2 councilman who predated both hmself and Akhtaruzzaman, who this past week offered his endorsement to Khalique.

“Goow’s an iconic councilman, and someone I looked up to while growing up in Paterson, who can’t be replaced,” Khalique said.

Akhtaruzzaman has a different view.

He beat him once head-to-head.

“Anytime, anyplace, anywhere,” he said, at the mention of Goow’s name.

As for Khalique’s charge that he divided the Bengali community, “He cannot stand the heat,” Akhtaruzzaman said. “Seventy percent of Bengalis are with me. He is the one who divided the community. I was the councilman and he ran against me. Look, this is a guy who drives around with an expired insurance card. He can’t even take of himself, forget about the second ward, let alone the city.”

Khalique seems less eager to scrap.

Maybe it’s because he has an organization with him (including veteran operative Henry Sosa), which beat Akhtaruzzaman once, and he’s confident he can do it again; or perhaps he’s convinced the tax hike argument against his rival does sufficient damage. Or both. The former ward councilman failed in a 2018 citywide bid.

“I wonder about it sometimes, politics – but finally I do it – I like it because it’s about helping people, and that’s what I want to do,” Khalique said.

For at least one long-time observer of the 2nd Ward, the Sosa angle should not be underestimated, and not only on the VBM/absentee ballot operations front. If the two combatants divide the Bengali vote in a tight contest, Hispanics will significantly come into play, and could decide the election. Certainly, Sayegh himself has worked the Hispanic vote for years, and grabbed key alliances going back to specific surgical Ward 6 key-in of the Dominican vote. In any event, Sosa  on the ground in his own corner of the field should not be discounted behind the scenes, as he was with Akhtaruzzaman in the Goow race (a special election resolution, actually, following a courtroom challenge), and Khalique in the Akhtaruzzaman race, and if Sayegh (not without his own operator’s ability) is with the latter in the public eye, Sosa is wholly with the sitting councilman in the shadows.

 

 

 

 

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