The Torres Imbroglio

Torres

Could former Paterson Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres be using a costumed birthday party to conceal ambitions for an attempt to run for mayor, an office he is forbidden from holding?  The Mazawey Law Firm, representing Charles Florio, a prominent developer who is no particular friend to Torres, wants the New Jersey Attorney General to investigate.

Richard S. Mazawey, Esq. issued a letter dated November 11, asking the State Attorney General to investigate alleged fundraising activity which might be used to propel a 2022 mayoral race for Torres.  Mazawey asserts in his letter that a masquerade birthday party, held at the Brownstone, was possibly used as a fundraiser under the guise of a 63rd birthday celebration.

One of the exhibited items submitted included an invitation from “The Friends of Mayor Torres” which included “Donation: $75” for the event, held on October 28.  A second item included what appeared to be a bumper sticker boldly reading “Forward Paterson Torres Mayor 2022” with the added line “Paid for by Forward Paterson 2022”.

Torres is barred by a court order from ever holding public office, however.

Councilman Alex Mendez announced his candidacy, running against incumbent Mayor Andre Sayegh,

Mendez
Mendez

back in September.  Mendez, who is Hispanic, represents a threat to Sayegh but brings plenty of his own baggage.  Mendez, who was indicted in March of this year along with Councilman Michael Jackson on charges of voter fraud, among other accusations, has had a bitter feud with former councilman William McKoy, whom Mendez beat after a contentious race with recounts and in-your-face confrontations afterward, as seen in a shouting match at a Jamaican Day festival this summer.

McKoy aligned himself with Sayegh to keep Mendez out of the mayor’s seat three years ago when his own bid for mayor turned up short.

The introduction of Joey Torres entering the race throws another variable that keeps heads spinning.  While legally barred from assuming office, attorneys will need to determine whether or not he can actually have a campaign, which seem bizarre and self-defeating on the surface, but might serve an ulterior purpose.  Either way, Florio wants to make sure that Torres stays out.

The letter from Mazawey said of the former mayor’s birthday party, “…upon information and belief, in reality, Mr. Torres was laying the groundwork for a return to elective public office, a pursuit that he is prohibited by law, for life, forever, in perpetuity, as per the Order of Forfeiture and Permanent Disqualification from Future Public Employment between the New Jersey Attorney General and Mr. Torres as an absolute condition of his criminal case on September 25, 2017.”

Mazawey urged the AG’s office to begin an investigation, highlighting the mayor’s past legal issues.  “As your office is aware, on September 27, 2017, an Order of Forfeiture and Permanent Disqualification from Future Public Office, permanently and forever barring Mr. Torres from holding any office or position of honor, trust or profit under the State of any of its administrative or political subdivisions, was entered and filed by the Honorable Sheila A. Venable, P.J. Cr. In same Court Order, Mr. Torres certified that he understood that if he makes any future application for public employment, it would be in violation of that Order, and he would be subject to an additional charge under N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9a (Fourth Degree – Contempt of Court).”

Slamming the former mayor, Mazawey told the Attorney General’s Office, “After bringing disgrace and dishonor to all the residents of the great City of Paterson, his family, friends, municipal workers and electoral supporters, Mr. Torres is back in grand style.”

The attorney said, “Mr. Torres is no stranger to law breaking activity” and cited a $14,350 fine imposed by NJ ELEC in 2012 for “failing to include information on donors to his campaign for election in 2010.”  Additionally, the letter mentions “In 2017, he was recently sentenced to five (5) years in State Prison for utilizing DPW workers who were on the City time to do work on his properties, with taxpayers money.”  Mazawey also listed a 26-page report assembled by the Paterson City Council in January of 2014 which “reviewed payments made to Mr. Torres regarding salary payment irregularities.”  Among those, a 2008 memo written to the Paterson Treasurer requesting a paycheck for ten days of vacation in 2007, whereupon he was “forced to return $2,238.00 that he received in 2008 from $3,169.00 he claimed was a ‘payroll error’.”

Mazawey concluded the list of incidents in his letter by referring to Torres receiving a $73,996.00 “lump sum payment claimed for sick leave and vacation time” on his last week in the mayor’s office in 2010.  The City Council demanded the money be returned, “but Mr. Torres allegedly refused to pay back the funds absent the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, or the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office determined unlawful conduct and/or ethical wrongdoing.”

Paterson is a city which is often frustrating at best and damning at worst for most mayors, with a city council that is frequently at odds with other councilmembers’ clashing ambitions for the mayor’s seat.  Without regard for the notion of the public good, the mayor is frequently undermined and disempowered precisely because of an often ungovernable council, and as a consequence, the seat so hotly pursued is one which has been emasculated and disempowered as a consequence of the council’s dysfunctionality.  The council’s quarreling and individuals’ bitterness on a personal as well as political level toward one another, and the sitting mayor, makes their own ambitions largely self-defeating on a functional level, with the exception of it being an objective unto itself.

But what if a man cannot actually be the mayor and still runs?

“If Mr. Torres is wrongfully soliciting donations for his own personal benefit, while he knowingly is aware of his permanent bar prohibiting him from being an elected official, he is allegedly committing unlawful acts in contravention of the Court’s September 27, 2021 Order and he should not be permitted to take any monies under this wrongful solicitation or pretense,” Mazawey said.

Torres commands considerable support, and the animosity which exists between him and Sayegh is no secret.  Sayegh, Florio, and others were involved in Torres’ downfall, and with the former mayor spending time in jail and legally barred from holding office by a court order, he seemed to be more or less out of the way.  But Torres is not the type to let convention stand in his way.

Find him at a Brownstone function and Torres will still be greeted like a beloved friend by many, an honored leader of the community.  Paterson seems to demonstrate a particular willingness to look past certain things, so long as the future seems like a more appealing prospect.

Legal authorities will need to determine what can and cannot happen, but as for Torres, he has been quoted as saying at his party that since he is allowed to vote, he sees no reason why he cannot run.  Meanwhile, in September, the state Attorney General’s Office stated that it was “so clear” Torres was disqualified that they would not comment on him potentially running again.  But Florio nevertheless has entreated the AG to investigate Torres’ activity with respect to running once more.

Sayegh ahead of the rain.
Sayegh

 

In a hypothetical scenario, Torres running a race he cannot actually win, against both Sayegh and Mendez, would be damaging predominantly to Sayegh.  Passaic Democratic Committee-embraced Sayegh himself is a sort of stateless actor within the complex ethnic and cultural coalitions that define modern Paterson political constituencies.  A Roman Catholic, Syrian and Lebanese, he does not command the natural base of support from Paterson’s large Hispanic and Muslim voting blocs.  Torres is an institution in his own right and can be expected to turn out plenty of loyalists.  Mendez, who is Hispanic, would stand to benefit from Torres eating away Sayegh support.

Would Patersonians take the effort to vote for a man who cannot take the oath of office?  Someone who still commands significant appeal in the city but has a court order blocking him from holding any governmental office or trust?  Possibly—if only to deny Sayegh another term and to not directly support Mendez.  But that is, in fact, what it would be.  Should the $75 birthday donation be, in actuality, a kind of backdoor campaign contribution, it demonstrates that there are plenty of players willing to put their money where their mouth is, knowing that a donation of $75 or $7,500 would still not put Torres in the captain’s seat.  This says more about their views on Sayegh than the pragmatic reality of a hypothetical Torres restoration.

If there was a race with the three players, and should Torres reduce Sayegh’s own base to the point where he comes in second to the former mayor, being disqualified Torres would still be out.  This would leave Mendez as a claimant to the throne if not in a legal sense, but in a public relations sense.  Pity the poor election and poll workers in this situation.  Should it come to pass, which would indeed be reckless, this constitutional crisis would likely trigger a flurry of lawsuits and a special election, severely damaging the political integrity of the city and Sayegh’s political career.  All this is understood unless the state steps in to snuff out Torres’ campaign before it takes flight in the first place.  To lose ground to the man Sayegh helped bring down—one with a rap sheet that denies him from taking the prize he seeks to win—would not look well upon the incumbent to say the least.

Mendez could then make his own case again for the inevitable pugilistic contest that would follow over the rubble of Paterson’s electoral scene.  None of the actors involved are strangers to, or afraid of, a protracted and grinding political war.  The question remains, what would be left for the victor to inherit at the end as he slumps into the mayor’s seat bruised and further weakened?

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