With about a month to go until election day in the race of mayor of Paterson, the candidates were under the same roof for a forum and chance to highlight themselves and go after their opponents.
Andre Sayegh would not waste too much time hitting Jeffrey Jones over his lack of attention to the city especially during tough times like Hurricanes Irene.
As Sayegh would voice,
We don’t punch a clock. We work around the clock (pointing to the way Jones handled his pay and hours of work during that fluid situation). Receiving $74,000 in severance pay is entirely inappropriate and unjustifiable. No elected official is entitled to sick or vacation time. You don’t put out your hand and beg, you raise your hand and say ‘Thank God I was healthy.' There’s no reason for anyone to collect money on the way out the door or for overtime.
Jones would spend most of the evening's forum again defending his record with occasional jabs mostly at David Gilmore, a candidate he is largely competing with along with Donna Nelson-Ivy for black voters in Paterson.
Jones would comment,
Paterson has been broken for a very long time. Four years cannot fix the depth of all the challenges. …You do the best you can with the little you have. I took office with a $70 million budget deficit and a state that believes in voter suppression. The realities will not change. I’m here because I live here.
While Maria Teresa Feliciano rallied for someone new to guide the city. She would express,
We've seen behavior that people come to see as normal. I still believe character and integrity are qualities we want in our elected officials. It’s concerning to me that when you hear something repeatedly, you can become callous and accept it as normal.
Nelson-Ivy too would look to rally voters for a new leader for the city. For Nelson-Ivy,
I know what we can be. During the last four years, the Department of Health and Human Services has been the best run department in the city. I am a citizen. I love Paterson. My husband passed away when my son was 12 years old, and today he is a mechanical engineer. I got him through college and now I am the grandmother of a girl who looks like me.
While Gilmore thought he was being snubbed by Democratic operatives as their support was going to other candidates and Sayegh in particular. For Gilmore,
The Democratic Party is anointing Andre Sayegh as their choice in a nonpartisan town. This is a diabolical scheme.
As Election Day continued to near, strong support continued to solidify around Sayegh. In addition to Pascrell, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35) threw his support behind Sayegh's candidacy. Also, largely due to Passaic County Chairman and Democratic State Party Chairman John Currie's support; Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.
A bit of surprising addition to the endorsement shuffle in general was Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35). Sumter had originally wanted to not choose a candidate and let the process play out and the voters decide and she would support whomever was chosen. She was a prime supporter of Jones four years ago but did not feel she had the time to play a similar role this time. She also has close ties to Currie and ultimately her connection to him led her to follow him and throw her support behind Sayegh.
Sumter would voice,
I love both men – my chairman (John Currie) as well as Jeff Jones the man - they both know my feelings. I support my chairman with no hesitation, though Jeff will always remain my brother. Unfortunately I can’t keep my word [to stay neutral in the mayor’s race, her original intention] - that’s the hardest part of this. It’s definitely a fear of going backwards with Joey Torres that motivates me. That’s why I got in this in the first place. I’ve worked hard on the political front.
Reflecting on the growing list of those behind him, Sayegh would state;
I’m humbled and honored by these significant endorsements (referring to the support he landed this week of U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35)). These are two powerhouses in Paterson. We raised a considerable amount of money and knocked on 10,000 doors, and this adds to the momentum we are building up. I’ve received an endorsement from elected officials on every level of government. These relationships will help Paterson secure resources we sorely need. I will have a better line of communication with Washington, lawmakers at the state level and Passaic County government.
He would add when talking about his candidacy in general,
Unlike 2010 (when he came in distant third place behind Jones and Torres) many people feel I’m ready and I believe in my bone marrow that I am up for the challenge. I see it when I go door to door, I see people who weren't with me who now are; who have seen me manage meetings as city council president and one thing they all say is they are impressed with my work ethic. My case is that in the last 12 years Paterson has suffered due to mismanagement, abuse and overall lack of leadership. We don’t need to turn back the clock, we need to turn the page. We are reaching out to every part of the Paterson population. I cultivated a great number of relationships in the city, and on May 13th I am expecting positive results for my candidacy.
That coalescing of support around Sayegh has not been ignored by Sayegh's opponents and their campaigns/supporters. It has led to rallies and a call against "anointing a candidate". That is no doubt that Sayegh is a strong candidate alone and it is within the rights and abilities of those who oppose him; chiefly the other candidates to voice their opposition to him and his supporters' efforts in getting the Council President elected mayor. That dynamic of the race has certainly been interesting to watch as Election Day nears closer.
Sayegh would respond to the rival campaigns' efforts by voicing,
I believe it was poor form. Here is my advice: you should save your energy for May 13th. They should have been out seeking to touch voters.
With the growing Democratic braintrust around Sayegh in mind, Joey Torres would exclaim;
Democratic leaders (have) displayed poor leadership because all of the candidates are Democrats and so basically they disenfranchised seven campaigns, seven groups, from the process with the selection of one. I think we were united against the party leaders displaying poor leadership. There is no room for party involvement in a nonpartisan race. You saw people power there (when referring to the rallies against Sayegh and his supporters like Pascrell).
Feliciano would be equally sharp in her repudiation of the Democratic leaders' support for Sayegh. She would exclaim,
Andre is a party puppet. He is no different from the other male candidates in the race. When you sit there in the debates you hear the fights among them, arguments over their records. Some are downright illegal, others bordering on unlawful. The leadership in this city is a disgraceful. By endorsing Andre Sayegh, the Democratic Party is trying to get control of Paterson by electing a puppet of the party. I think the endorsement corroborates my position against this establishment. The people will see it for what it is and they will reject it.
With a loaded field and top Democrats in the state and area putting their support behind one candidate, it has created a bit of a closing narrative between the campaigns as voters prepare to make their choice.