PATERSON, NJ – Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman is heading back to the City Council, where three of his once and future colleagues supported his arch-rival in this month’s special 2nd Ward election.
Council members William McKoy, Kenneth Morris and Julio Tavarez all had recorded automated phone messages expressing their endorsements of former councilman Aslon Goow in the special election.
Council President Anthony Davis was the only member of the municipal governing body to endorse Akhtaruzzaman. Freeholder Theodore “TJ” Best also did a phone message on Akhtaruzzaman’s behalf.
The other four city council people remained relatively neutral in the race.
But Akhtaruzzaman and other officials said they do not think the Goow endorsements will create any lingering problems among the council members.
“Everybody has the right to do that,’’ Akhtaruzzaman said. “Whatever they were thinking, I cannot say. It’s their personal prerogative. I’m not holding a grudge against anybody.’’
McKoy and Morris had been colleagues of Goow on the council for the past 12 years and they said his experience was the main reason they had backed him.
“I don’t think it’s a major problem,’’ said McKoy, “maybe just a slight distraction. He’s been duly elected and he’ll fulfill the rest of his term.’’
The Passaic County Clerk’s Office certified the election results on Tuesday. Akhtaruzzaman ended up with 1,459 votes, followed by Sonia Torres with 1,423, Goow with 1,332, Maidul Islam with 598 and Zalal Uddin with 235.
The special election became necessary after Goow successfully challenged Akhtaruzzaman's May victory on the grounds that his voter registration had been invalid.
As a result, the council has had a vacancy for more than two months. Akhtaruzzaman’s return will make it somewhat easier for the council to put together the six votes required to pass budget resolutions and ordinances.
“We’re finally back at full strength,’’ said Councilman Andre Sayegh. “We owe it to the people to have a full complement of council persons.’’
Akhtaruzzaman said he was anxious to get back on the job. “This is not about me, this is about Paterson, and making the 2nd Ward better,’’ he said. “So many people helped me out. It was like a united effort. I got help from the African-American community. I got help from the Latino community. I got help from the Bengali community.’’
Akhtaruzzaman in May became the first Bengali-American elected to public office in North Jersey. In the special election, two other Bengali candidates – Islam and Uddin - ran against him.
Councilman Rigo Rodriguez said the emergence of the two other Bengali candidates in the special election is the reason why he did not back Akhtaruzzaman in the race. “I have a lot of respect for the Bangladesh community,’’ Rodriguez said. “They deserve to have a Bangladesh representative.’’
At-large councilman Kenneth McDaniel, who lives in the 2nd Ward, did not campaign for Akhtaruzzaman, but he gave him moral support. “I respect Mohammed,’’ McDaniel said. “I did encourage him to stay in the race.’’
McDaniel said he doubted there would be lingering hard feelings from the race. “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for Mohammed,” McDaniel said, “and these seasoned council people, they won’t have a problem with it either. They’ve all been there.’’
Councilwoman Ruby Cotton said she considered herself friends with the various candidates who ran in the 2nd Ward race. Did she consider endorsing any of them in the race? “None of them asked me,’’ Cotton said.
Goow has raised questions about the legitimacy of the large number of absentee ballots Akhtaruzzaman received. His 389 mail-in votes propelled Akhtaruzzaman from third place based on the voting machine count to first place.
Akhtaruzzaman’s campaign manager, Henry Sosa, dismissed Goow’s criticisms as sour grapes. Sosa said his campaign “micro-targeted” voters who would be voting through absentee ballots by checking public records on the mail-in applications on a daily basis and then reaching out to those people.
“He (Goow) always wants to question the public’s motives or the hard work of a campaign,’’ said Sosa. “He should face the fact that the people just do not want him anymore.’’