Paterson's Race to the Bottom
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 • 5:22pm
The third largest city in New Jersey is Paterson. Most people from NJ are aware of Paterson but try to avoid the city because it has been in decline for many years. Fewer and fewer Americans are aware of the importance of this great city or that in its center stands the largest falls south of Niagara Falls. In a little over three months, Paterson will go through another election cycle for City Council and Mayor. As a graduate of Political Science, one is taught to believe elections are about people using their right to vote for the individual with the best ideas and proven record of public service and who has similar if not the same goals for the community as you do. If that were the case, then why is the City of Paterson in such disarray? Why is the city covered in garbage and dealing with increasing violent crime and property taxes? There are many ways of answering this question, but one key reason seems to be that Paterson residents no longer vote for the best candidate for elected office, now they vote for the candidate who is either of the same race, can get them a job in their administration or paid them to work on their campaign.
Although this does not describe 100% of the voting public in Paterson, it does represent enough votes to change elections. The slate for this May’s Mayoral election includes: Mayor Jeffrey Jones, the incumbent who has been overwhelmed in scandal, crime, and now poorly planned snow removal; former Mayor Joey Torres, who won two terms and lost to Jones in 2010, some say because his protégé, Andre Sayegh, turned on him and took votes away; City Council President Andre Sayegh, who came in third in 2010 and who has publically admitted to being power hungry, looking to elevate himself to Congress in the future, and who has had scandals of his own; Councilman Rigo Rodriguez, who is also dealing with scandals of his own from his last election; and Aslon Goow, former 2nd Ward Councilman who was involved in a very heated and controversial re-election campaign that ended up in the courts; plus a few other candidates who have expressed interest in running.
Jones and Torres have been and is mayor and have had the opportunity to show the residents of Paterson what they can do, have done, and plan to do; depending on who you speak to, flaws can be found with both. From my point of view, both men had good intentions but did one thing that sent a clear message that things in Paterson would not change- they both appointed all the key department leadership paid positions to people of the same race. There is no law against this action or anything wrong with it initially, but in a city of over 43 different nationalities, a sign that you are in tune with your residents is represented by who you surround yourself with. A mayor needs to select the best people for the job and not the best people for the job that look like them. But this is just one point of view.
This race has one new player that is not seeking the office of Mayor and who knows what it is to be Mayor of Paterson- Congressman Bill Pascrell. The rumors of the Congressman getting involved in this year’s Mayoral election is big news for the city and great news to at least one candidate running. The key to winning in Paterson is a combination of money, a numbers guy (works with voter lists and statistics), an aggressive vote by mail campaign, and a massive Get out the Vote (GOTV) program. As of right now, before any involvement by the congressman, Council President Andre Sayegh and Joey Torres have the biggest campaigns, with Mayor Jeffrey Jones coming in third and Councilman Rodriguez in fourth. If the congressman does not get involved, the race will be a repeat of 2010, with the results probably favoring Joey Torres; but if the congressman does get involved in the race, this would imply that money and staff will come with his support even if the county chair denies any such thing. The rumor is that Congressman Pascrell will give his support toward City Council President Andre Sayegh, who worked for Pascrell many years ago. If this turns out to be the case, the City of Paterson will have a new Mayor who has basically been untested; regardless of how many years he has been on the city council and who has made it clear he wants more, as former Mayor Joey Torres found out when Andre Sayegh ran an aggressive campaign against him in 2010
But what the city needs is a mayor who is not afraid to make decisions that are not politically correct or popular; who is not afraid to hire the best, who most likely are not from Paterson and are not of the same race; who will cut their salary as mayor by 50%, until the city gets back on track; who will address the quality of life concerns first (crime; taxes; garbage; infrastructure; education and reputation) before promising any big projects and who will agree to disagree with whomever is on the city council and work on common ground. These are some of the characteristics of the type of mayor Paterson needs. The answer to the city’s ills is not in Trenton or in a long list of empty or in some cases costly promises, but in those who are elected to manage it. Wanting to be mayor does not mean you know how to govern; it just means you received more votes than everyone else.