The Passion of Jose ‘Joey’ Torres of Paterson

Apparently about to eat corruption charges, Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres won his first mayoral race in 2002, becoming Paterson’s first Hispanic mayor after beating incumbent Martin Barnes, who himself fell on corruption charges.

Torres won again in 2006.

There was even talk of lieutenant governor in 2009 on a ticket with incumbent Governor Jon Corzine.

With a campaign war chest of over a million dollars, Torres was in cruise control in 2010 when he told Union City Mayor Brian P. Stack that he had only token opposition as he sought a third term in office.

Stack did a double take but said nothing as he made a mental note.

The last time he heard the term “token opposition” was when then-Perth Amboy Mayor Joe Vas explained the dynamics of his 2008 reelection campaign.

Vas lost to bank teller Wilda Diaz.

So it was too two years later that Torres, facing his race as light exercise, got shocked and upended by At Large Councilman Jeff Jones.

Jones won by capitalizing on big African American turnout that year (future Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly – a legendary high school football coach – was on the local ballot). Torres was also victimized by the presence in the contest of 6th Ward Councilman Andre Sayegh, who chewed up some Dominican support in his own third place finish.

Following his loss, Torres went to work in Toms River as the town business administrator. Ocean County Republican Committee Chairman George Gilmore helped secure Torres the job.

He bided his time in the wilderness for four years while Jones tanked, persecuted by a city council choke full of ambitious former colleagues. In the words of one Paterson insider, “Everyone on the third floor of city hall [council chambers] wants to get to the second floor [the mayor’s office].”

In 2014, the former mayor made his move in a big field of challengers that included the incumbent, Sayegh, former Ward 2 Councilman Aslon Goow and At-Large Councilman Rigo Rodriguez.

Rodriguez was tangled up in a ballot fraud case that weakened him, Jones was stuck to a damaging story about Hurricane overtime pay in his administration that smacked of opportunism and treaded at the edge of outright corruption. Goow looked strong early but fumbled away his advantage as a law and order candidate when stories surfaced about early adulthood arrests.

The contest came down to Torres versus Sayegh, who had the backing of the Passaic County Democratic Party and the two-headed alliance of Chairman John Currie and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9).

Currie and Pascrell felt confident after the congressman won his 2012 redistricting duel with fellow Democrat Steve Rothman of Bergen.

But Torres – now with operative Omar Rodriguez in his corner – cohered key Latino groups, including the Peruvians, to add to his Puerto Rican base. Sayegh had the challenge of trying to buck up African American voters disenchanted with Jones, but as a Ward 6 commodity had no natural connection to the voting bloc. Although Currie in particular sought to engage blacks on Sayegh’s behalf, Torres rolled out the endorsement of long time brand name Councilman Bill McKoy and had secret weapon At-Large Councilman Ken Morris, Jr. in his corner.

Torres won convincingly: 8,069 votes to Sayegh’s 6,515. Goow placed third with 2,028 votes in front of a limping (1,704 vote-totaling) Jones.

He had three strong years, or so it appeared, as Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop claimed him (and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka) as an ally and partner in the tri-northern cities alliance as Fulop pursued the governorship.

But an NBC News story last year alleging the mayor’s use of city workers for private projects almost instantaneously put distance on Torres from the higher office-seeking Fulop.

The loss of his power projection platform as that third of those big city northern mayors seeking better representation for their constituencies in Trenton represented that first sign of coming trouble for the Paterson mayor…

 

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