PATERSON, NJ – As county election officials worked late into the night counting ballots on Monday, Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman retained his lead in the 2nd Ward City Council race.
Akhtaruzzaman had 1,459 votes, followed by Sonia Torres with 1,423, Aslon Goow with 1,332, Maidul Islam with 598 and Zalal Uddin with 235, according to unofficial totals released by the Passaic County Board of Elections at 8:30 pm.
Those totals covered all votes cast on voting machines on Election Day, through mail-in ballots and provisional ballots, said John Currie, the election board’s chairman. The updated numbers include for the first time more than 200 provisional ballots – those filled out by hand on Election Day by voters whose registrations raised questions at the polls.
Election officials would continue on Monday night counting ballots cast by displaced voters – folks forced to relocate to other counties because of Superstorm Sandy. But officials said it was unlikely there would be enough of those votes to change the outcome in the 2nd Ward.
The apparent victory culminates an incredible roller coaster ride for Akhtaruzzaman, who soared to a historic victory in May but ended up being removed from office in September when a judge nullified the result.
“I’m really excited,’’ said Akhtaruzzaman, who again becomes the first Bengali-American to win elected office in North Jersey. “I want to thank the people of the 2nd Ward for coming out for me. I want to work together with all the other candidates to make the 2nd Ward better. You don’t do that on your own.’’
When asked about the difficulties surrounding his removal from office, Akhtaruzzaman said, “Some things are just meant to be. I believe that’s what had to happen. I don’t blame anybody.’’
Torres, who had the early lead in the race before mail-in ballots were counted earlier this month, could not be reached for comment last night. Goow said he “still had concerns” about the surge in absentee ballots that put Akhtaruzzaman on top.
“For a guy to get 400 absentees almost, that is extremely, extremely rare,’’ said Goow, who had served as the 2nd Ward councilman for the past 12 years. “I don’t care how hard you work, it just doesn’t come out that way. I don’t trust the process. I just hope the Board of Elections did a thorough, thorough review of the signatures to ensure the integrity of the process.’’
“If everything was done on the up-and-up, then I wish him all the best,’’ Goow added.
It was Goow who filed the successful lawsuit that resulted in Akhtaruzzaman’s ouster in September. Goow questioned his opponent’s residency on the grounds that many public documents, including his daughter’s school registration and the family’s application for Hurricane Irene food stamps, showed Akhtaruzzaman living in Totowa after the election deadline for moving to Paterson. Akhtaruzzaman said during the trial that the inconsistencies on those documents stemmed from misunderstandings.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Thomas Brogan ended up saying the evidence on Akhtaruzzaman's’s residency was inconclusive, but he nullified the election result based on an erroneous address on the candidate’s voter registration form. That necessitated this month’s special election in the 2nd Ward. For the past two months, that seat on the council has remained vacant.
Officials said they expected to certify the results in the 2nd Ward race by later this week.