Voters in Paterson will finally get to head to the polls this Tuesday and select their choice for mayor. It has been an intense journey for the city as the candidates have met in forums, exchanged words and platforms, and attempted to separate themselves from the rest of the field. Mayor Jeffrey Jones entered this reelection campaign knowing it would not be easy and the loaded field including a former mayor have certainly made for what could be a close outcome.
One of the first shots in the campaign came from retired Ward 6 Councilman Tom Rooney who would put his support behind former Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres.
It is so easy. It’s not hard at all. Andre (Sayegh) is a very nice guy, but it’s one thing to be a councilman and it’s another to be the executive. We’ve seen that with Jeff Jones, who I served with on the council. The mayoralty has been terrible. But with Joey. I was there for six of his eight years as mayor, and the main reason I would support him over Andre and the other people is the city now is in such an awful mess, we need someone who can go in there right away and do the job. We need someone who can get rid of these terrible differences between Paterson and state government. The fact is, Joey worked very well with Trenton and the council. What Joey accomplished as mayor here was extraordinary. He brought Home Depot to Paterson, and Loews. Look at Center City. Joey accomplished more in new construction than others did in generations.
Likely seeing Rooney's comments and hearing others' opinions, Jones was quick to fire back and defend how he lead Paterson.
Jones would state,
State government respects us. We’ve lived up to the standards of the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) and in very difficult times the city has still managed to receive $23 million dollars for over 30 odd projects. This is more about respect by the state that competence in city government exists rather than a case of everyone being friends and nothing getting done.
After Rooney's endorsement of Torres, another one would come from a candidate withdrawing their name from consideration. Lydia Robles, a local volunteer and member of the 6th Ward, would decline on a run for mayor and throw her support behind the former mayor.
As Robles would express,
After careful consideration, I have decided to withdraw my own candidacy to support and work with the candidacy of former Mayor Jose ‘Joey’ Torres on his journey to becoming mayor in the May 13, 2014 election. Like myself, Joey is committed to providing the highest quality service and resources to maximize Paterson’s potential, to maximize community engagement and improve the quality of life for every resident of Paterson.
As the campaign would continue to heat up with neighbor campaign trips by the candidates, Jones would again fire back at his critics as well as take shots at his challengers.
His first shot was directed at his critics along with Torres,
There is definitely some truth there (when discussing himself and Torres) We’ve been lumped together because our administration was saddled from day one with a lot of challenges and failures from the Torres years. And yes, some of the projects that Mayor Torres talks about – the parks, the armory -we finished; as if we cannot take credit for completing things he started. We don’t claim to be the originator, but we have moved them to the point where they are ready. But yes, we have had to do all the cleanup, that’s true. He transferred Section 8 Housing, for example, to the Housing Authority, depriving the public of access. And it’s timing too, because his failed administration had a willing Democratic governor, right? Despite us not having the same, and the fact that we've had to deal with a council from day one that was not willing to work with the administration on anything, we've put the city on the right course in part by cleaning up the Torres Administration’s mess.
Then he turned his attention to Sayegh and Aslon Goow, Sr. and pretty much dismissed them as serious challenges.
When talking about Sayegh, he would exclaim:
As for as Mr. Sayegh goes, he’s never brought anything to the table.
When talking about Goow, he would utter:
He throws himself out there as the crime fighting mayor, but that’s what you have a chief for. If that’s your goal, to run around the city and personally fight crime, I guess that means the rest of the departments are going to have no attention and a lack of funding. If you’re standing there as the crime fighter, you’re already saying you don’t have a clue about anything else.
Sayegh in particular has been a favorite of Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ9), largely for his loyalty to him during Congressman Pascrell's tough reelection campaign in 2012 when he faced Congressman Steve Rothman. Rothman was backed by Jones and thus expanded existing issues between Pascrell and Jones. Since then, Pascrell has been eyeing a chance to pay Jones back for his lack of loyalty to one of Paterson's favorite sons.
And speaking of Pascrell, Jones would make sure to say his gripes with Sayegh do not stem from his connection with Pascrell.
I don’t have a lot of confidence in Andre Sayegh, period. He’s a politician, I’m a public servant. I don’t know what influence anybody who would coronate would have over someone perceived to be crowned. Look, being independent has its flaws too. Finding the happy medium, God knows, I look for it. I don’t know what the perfect scenario is, but too much control is not a good thing either.
Jones would also comment on his two challengers who are the same race as his him; Donna Nelson-Ivy and David Gilmore. He would focus mostly on his race and what he has been trying to do for Paterson and not necessarily them in particular.
As Jones would state,
Nothing’s ever given. This is the process it never ends - even when you’re in office. I think the public overall has questions about who can lead Paterson. We have been suffering from so long, most of my term has been spent trying to undo the reevaluation killed the city. And now we have another one. I never feel like the frontrunner. For me to feel that way rright now – I’d be a fool. I’m trying to convince groups, I’ve met my match with this economy. Look at Obama. If the most powerful man in the free world finds himself battling people – and much of that has to do with race, by the way, than anybody would have a challenge right now. But I didn’t do it for any accolades. And I didn’t do it for a desire to go up the ladder of politics. It’s been hard, and it’s hard especially when where I live is in the hearts of people. I want the job, yes. I want it because we have taken care of the lion’s share of the mess the city is in and now it’s poised for bigger and better.
With Jones mostly dominating the commentary among the candidates, Torres would chime in. His focus surrounded around Pascrell's role in election and in particular his support for Sayegh in the race. Torres has felt it would be wise for Pascrell to refrain from interjecting himself into the race for any candidate especially if it was not going to him.
I think the congressman is going to support who he sees fit. If he’s going to do that – get involved in a local race – it will be the first time in a long time. If he does it, more power to him. But it’s a big mistake. It sends the wrong message. It’s no secret he’s close to Andre. Andre worked for them. There’s a relationship. But that’s an endorsement that would be based on relationships and not who’s best qualified for the job.
While most of the shots have revolved around Jones, Sayegh, and Torres early on; Maria Teresa Feliciano would enter the verbal sparring after Torres dismissed the validity of her candidacy.
Feliciano would fire back by voicing,
What does he mean, ‘I’m not real?’ How am I not real? Does that mean I don’t exist? How don’t I exist, in his drunken stupors or in his hallucinations or in the group of mayors who write themselves checks? Is that what he means? At first I laughed at his words only because it wasn’t clear. ‘I don’t exist,’ or you are in a state of mind that doesn’t allow you to see me or by believing you don’t see me, you think that I will go away. This little nitwit is part of this establishment that ignores women. Women are very familiar with this technique of repression and suppression. Even when we are better equipped and better prepared than those trying to dismiss us. Joey is in this race to prevent my election. Torres is a mayor of two terms with a mixed bag; some accomplishments in economic development but major failures in crime and taxes. He wants to come back for whatever reasons he has, but what he’s doing is preventing new leadership and putting personal needs ahead of the city’s needs.
With Torres and Jones going at each other and Feliciano entering the fray, Sayegh was hoping to limit attacks and political battles that could hinder his campaign at all. Essentially stay above the fray and outlast the others. But, before he knew it; Sayegh was getting attacked from a couple candidates leaving him to jump to defend his time as council president and his role in shaping Paterson for the better.
We did everything right. We did everything above board. I am the sponsor of the pay-to-play ordinance. I knew what I was doing. My votes were in the areas of development. This city is dying for development. We need growth in Paterson. There is no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole. As mayor I wouldn't take a partisan approach. I would take a pragmatic, practical approach. I don’t have any issues with the elections as they are now.
These exchanges would begin to set the tone for the type of race this election was going to be.