What’s Next for 2nd Ward Seat? City Council Members Offer Differing Opinions
Wednesday, September 12, 2012 • 5:59pm
PATERSON, NJ – At least two City Council members say Aslon Goow should be appointed as an interim replacement to fill the 2nd Ward seat that became vacant when a judge decided on Wednesday to remove Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman from the postilion.
Two other councilmen say they think the seat should remain vacant until a special election is held and three members did not back a specific course of action.
The city’s law director, Paul Forsman, said his staff was researching the law on the issue. He said he likely would issue a statement by Thursday on what options the city has for dealing with the open seat. The vacancy resulted from Judge Thomas Brogan’s decision to annul Akhtaruzzaman’s election victory in a lawsuit brought by Goow, who had been a 12-year incumbent until he lost by almost 500 votes to the political newcomers. Brogan ruled that Akhtaruzzaman was ineligible to run for office because his voter registration was not valid.
Goow’s attorney, Michael DeMarco, said the law requires that a special election be held to fill the open seat and allows the city council to appoint someone to the position on an interim basis until such an election is conducted. The timing of the election could be a key factor in the city council’s decision on whether to appoint someone to the opening.
DeMarco said there was not enough time to place the council seat on the upcoming November 2012 ballot. Instead, he said it would have to be held in May 2013 or November 2013.
“I’m in favor of doing what’s best for the city,’’ said City Council President Anthony Davis. But he wouldn’t say exactly what that means in terms of a specific course of action.
Back in January, Davis unsuccessfully urged his colleagues to appoint someone to fill the at-large council seat vacated when Benjie Wimberly moved up to the state Assembly. But Davis said that instance was different because another council member, Vera Ames-Garnes, had medical issues that prevented her from attending many meetings, which left the council with seven functioning members. Davis said he thought the council could operate fine with just eight members, although he preferred to have nine.
Meanwhile, Councilmen William McKoy and Kenneth Morris asserted that Goow should fill the vacant seat until an election is held.
“By any standard, I think he would be the choice,’’ said McKoy. “He’s experienced and he was the second highest vote-getter in the election.’’
“I think the people of the 2nd Ward would be disenfranchised if they don’t have representation on the council,’’ said Morris. “I’m inclined to appoint someone to the position and in this case we have a 12-year incumbent available.’’
Morris argued that this instance was different from others in which the council waited until a special election was held to replace someone. “You have a judge ruling that an election itself was flawed,’’ said Morris.
About nine months ago, Kenneth McDaniel had urged the city council to appoint him to the seat vacated by Wimberly, largely on his contention that he rightfully had won a council seat in the 2010 at-large election before his victory was overturned in a recount. But now McDaniel – who prevailed in the May 2012 special election for the remaining two years on Wimberly’s terms - says he thinks it best that the voters decide who gets the seat vacated by Akhtaruzzaman.
“The council members at that time made some pretty convincing arguments on why it should be done in a special election,’’ said McDaniel.
McDaniel lives in the 2nd Ward, as does Morris. McDaniel said the two of them would be able to look out for the interests of folks living in that part of the city.
In a touch of irony, Councilman Rigo Rodriguez, who won the 2010 recount to beat McDaniel, now agrees with him about what should be done with the vacant 2nd Ward seat. “I think they need to run for the seat,’’ said Rodriguez. “It’s my understanding that people elect their representatives. That’s the way it should be.’’
Councilwoman Ruby Cotton said she thought, “We all need to sit down and what’s the best thing to do.’’ On the one hand, Cotton said, Paterson’s track record has been to allow vacant seats be filled by elections, not appointments. On the other hand, she said, it would be “entirely too long” to leave the 2nd Ward without a council member until next November.
Councilman Andre Sayegh said he wanted to discuss the situation with other members before offering an opinion on what to do about the vacant seat. Councilman Julio Tavarez could not be reached for comment.
Goow has said he would welcome an appointment by the city council to fill the vacant seat. Also, he said he would run in the special election.
Akhtaruzzaman also said he would run again. But, according to DeMarco, Akhtaruzzaman is not eligible to be appointed to the seat on an interim basis.
Three other people ran in the May race in the 2nd Ward – Sonia Torres, the wife of former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, who finished third; Joseph Atallo, a former school board members and school district administrator, who came in fourth; and Edwin Lozado, a county sheriff’s officer, who was last.
Torres said she would have to discuss whether to run again with her family. But she said she likely would accept the seat if the city council offered her an interim appointment. "I got 100 votes less than a 12-year incumbent,'' she said of her tally in the election.
Atallo said he was considering running in a the special election and he hoped the council would opt to appoint someone to the seat until then. "I think the seat should be filled, but it should be filled by someone who makes a committment not to run in the special election, so no one has an unfair advantage,'' Atallo said.
ATallo said he thought it would be wrong for the council to appoint Goow as the interim councilman, saying that the incumbent got only about 600 votes of the roughly 2,800 ballots cast. Atallo suggested the council appoint former city police chief Lawrence Spagnolla to the seat.
Lozado could not be reached for comment.