On May 13th, those in the city of Paterson will go to the polls to select their choice for mayor. Mayor Jeffrey Jones has far from a favorable path to reelection and the mood of the city would say that a new person will be taking office soon. As previous discussed, it has been an intense contest involving a deep field. While exchanges have been made and a lot has been said, it is worth stepping back and taking a closer look at those vying to be the mayor of Paterson.
First, the current mayor: Jeffrey Jones. Normally, incumbents in races have name recognition and cash advantages. That is not quite the case for Jones as he is not garnering the most cash in the race nor does his name stand far above his challengers. Even though there are two other African-Americans in the race, he has a majority of those voters in the city largely those from faith leaders who can rally support. African Americans makes up nearly a third of the city's voters and getting a majority of those votes certainly will assist the mayor in his quest to get reelected but it is far from enough to make him feel comfortable.
Any of his strengths in the race are being overshadowed by some his weaknesses. The biggest one might be his decision to support former Congressman Steve Rothman in 2012 against Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ9) in their primary race. Pascrell would go on to win that race and has been waiting to get some revenge for Jones turning his back on one of Paterson's favorite sons. Pascrell is not the only one among an important group of Democrats in the area not supporting his campaign. Additionally, Jones' handling of Hurricane Irene in 2011 in the city especially when it came to him receiving overtime pay when the city was stretching its resources. Jones is now left to deal with his errors of the last four years as voters hold his future in their hands.
Two primary challengers have emerged as the biggest threats to Jones' future as mayor. One is the man he defeated four years ago to become mayor and the other is surging politician for the city.
Jose "Joey" Torres is a proven winner in Paterson having won election in 2002 and reelection in 2006. He ran into a surging presence in Jones in 2010 who would go onto defeat him. With nearly 60% the city being Latino, it creates a large coalition from previous years to potentially lead to another term for the former mayor. He has also been better prepared this time around for the type of candidate Jones is and with a deep field he is not taking anything for granted.
While he certainly brings strengths like the growth he helped to start in the city during his time as mayor, Torres has an albatross around his neck this campaign. That being the fact that the city paid him $74,000 in unused sick pay that encompasses over 20 years of service to the city. While it is within the rules and regulations, much like how Jones took extra money; Torres' decision has not been ignored by his opponents during this race.
The other primary foe for Jones is Council President Andre Sayegh. He finished far behind both Jones and Torres in 2010 and has spent the last four years building his presence in the city. Probably more than any other candidate, he is very good at hitting all parts of the city and hitting upon all the groups and ethnicities in the city. Even more important is the fact that he has individuals like Congressman Pascrell and pretty much every important Democrat in the area behind him including fellow council members. That broad has support has garnered him attacks like he is a puppet or being used to set some type of agenda.
With many strengths in his corner going into Election Day, the biggest piece left to his puzzle of winning is coalescing a coalition that matches his campaign approach. He will need to stipend black votes away from mostly Jones, get Latino votes from Torres' base, and also compete for Muslim votes with Aslon Goow Sr. in the race. Goow has been a wildcard candidate and thus making it harder for Sayegh to truly separate himself from the field to feel comfortable enough with his position.
Speaking of Goow, he entered this race having previously served as Ward 2 Councilman and a special police officer in nearby Haledon. Revamping the city's approach to law enforcement has been an important part of his campaign and definitely a major selling point for a city that could use some of his ideas. He also has been building steam reaching out to voters that might be on the fence or turned off by one the previous three mentioned.
Working against Goow is the way he lost his council seat. He twice lost his home ward to the current councilman, Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman. Akhtaruzzaman is a supporter of Sayegh. Like the other three candidates, he is working to build a base of support. Unlike them, his window and the group who he is fighting for is smaller thus making his path more challenging.
Then there is Donna Nelson-Ivy. Her job as the city's Director of the Department of Health and Human has allowed her to not only reach out to voters but also build a support network among faith groups and some important Paterson leaders including a former member of city council. While she has that support among some members of the black churches, she trails the type of support Jones has. That support branches out to black voters in general. Adding to her struggles is the fact that there are not one but two African American opponents in the race.
That third African American candidate is David Gilmore. The former IBM aerospace project manager and director of housing for the City of Waterbury, Connecticut is hoping to bring his executive background and skills to Paterson and through being the next mayor. He has tried to sit back and allow the other candidates to attack one another. He is roughly jumbled in with Nelson-Ivy and some see him trying to build towards something else if he loses. The same could be said for Nelson-Ivy as well as they both trail in the race in the back of the field.
Maria Teresa Feliciano is a retired public administrator from the criminal division of the Judiciary and has the support of the Latino Leadership Alliance-PAC. She has not held back against his opponents and despite trailing the leading trio of candidates (Jones, Torres, and Sayegh). That style has kept her in the race and is hoping that the vast majority of the city's population being Latino will help her as they look for a different voice. Largely Torres of the three is her biggest weakness. He is taking many of her would-be votes and At-Large Councilman Rigo Rodriguez being in the race does not help either.
Speaking of Rodriguez, he came into this race for mayor having served on city council for nearly a decade. He has a large base of Dominican voters mostly and he has been working to grow that Latino support for himself while pulling in other voters. More so than Jones and Torres when it comes to questionable money decisions, Rodriguez has an even bigger negative spotlight on his campaign. That being the fact that he is under indictment for election fraud.
With all of that in mind and where each candidate stands, a poll by Gallowglass Group of Wood-Ridge painted the state of the race. Based on the poll it looked like a heated race between Sayegh and Torres at the top of the candidate field.
With a field of eight candidates, it should be no surprise that no one is able to pass the always sought after 50% threshold.
Of the 400 registered likely voters who were polled, they give Sayegh and Torres 33% equal support with Jones in the distance at 15%.
Among the favorable/unfavorable numbers: Sayegh is viewed favorability by 57% and unfavorabliity by 12%, Torres is viewed favorability by 48% and unfavorabliity by 41%, and Jones is viewed favorablity by 36% and unfavorability by 55%. A quick look at these three candidates and those numbers shows Sayegh with not only the highest favorablity number but also the lowest unfavorability number by a wide margin.
Rounding out the poll was Goow at 5%, Feliciano at 2%, Nelson-Ivy at 2%, and Rodriguez with 2%. Gilmore did not show up on the poll.
Thus as the election heads into the final stretch, it will ultimately be about who can get to those last voters and put together a strong enough base of voters who will go to the polls and push them to victory. If one were to gauge the highest likelihood of reaching the necessary level of success with that, you would have to view Sayegh as the one with the most weapons at his disposal. He will have Pascrell and Passaic County Democratic Committee Chairman and state party chairman John Currie leading the charge for Sayegh until the polls close. He has fellow council members working their wards and getting their support among their ethnic groups as Sayegh does the most with retail politics he can and building that cross culture and race support his campaign. Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35) is another huge resource for Sayegh with his connection to the city. He is most valuable with pulling African American votes to the Sayegh column.
While Felicano and Rodriguez trail Sayegh, any Latino support that goes to either one of them will not go to Torres. That is something to watch on Tuesday as Sayegh is ultimately working to outlast Torres. Sayegh's style and campaign has him positioned well for Tuesday but it will not be easy.
That is because of largely Torres. He knows what it takes to win and also knows what not to do after losing four years ago. His own brain trust is very loyal to him. That group includes state Senator Nellie Pou (D-35). While Wimberly and Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35) are helping Sayegh, having Pou is certainly an important ally for his campaign. It speaks to his ability to be able to have some "establishment" support for campaign. Beyond his own grow of avid supporters is the fact that he will likely have the broadest support among Latino voters and getting as much of that block of voters that make up 60% of the voters overall is very important to his campaign while he focuses on other areas to build a winning strategy.
Similarly to Sayegh, Torres is hoping that another candidate in the race could take some votes away from his prime obstacle to winning. Goow and Sayegh are competing for similar voters in the Arab community and Sayegh is hoping to get enough to go along with the Latino voters being taken away from Torres to win. Torres clearly is hoping for the opposite to happen. Equally important for both Sayegh and Torres is how many African American votes Jones receives. The higher the total, the better it is for Torres as Sayegh is hoping to get a good chunk of those votes.
Jones clearly is trying to cover any holes and a decreasing level of support. With most key contributors falling behind mostly Sayegh but also Torres, it leaves Jones without much going his way. How much can he get out of his base and expand that?
Goow, Feliciano, Nelson-Ivy, Rodriguez, and Gilmore are all trying to find ways to get a late push for each of their campaigns as well.
After months of a campaign with heated words and jockeying to be the mayor of Paterson, voters will head to the polls. Based on the way things have shaped up, it will either be a new leading voice for the city with a record that has been slowly growing or a former mayor with a mixed record and approval who emerges as the winner.