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Campaign Notebook: A Presidential Photo Op Becomes an Issue in City Council Race



PATERSON, NJ – Considering how popular Barack Obama is in Paterson, getting a photo taken with the President would seem to be a political gold mine for someone running for city council in May.

But that hasn’t been the case for 6th Ward candidate Maria Rivas. Instead, having her picture taken by a Star-Ledger photographer last summer with Obama has put Rivas somewhat on the defensive. That’s because the picture was taken in a restricted area of Wayne while Obama toured flood damage with other dignitaries, including Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Bill Pascrell.

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Incumbent 6th Ward Councilman Andre Sayegh is citing the photo as evidence that Rivas lives on Fayette Street in Wayne and not in Paterson. “We all know access to him was very limited,’’ said Sayegh. “I couldn’t even get close to him.’’

Rivas dismissed Sayegh’s assertions, saying she has lived at 994 Madison Avenue in Paterson for the past five years. “This is a free country,’’ Rivas said, explaining her presence in Wayne during Obama’s visit. "If I had my picture taken in The Bahamas, is he going to say I live in The Bahamas?’’

Rivas isn’t the only rival whose residence Sayegh questions. The third candidate in the 6th Ward race, Eliecer Montoya, lists his address 263 21st Avenue. That’s the location of a Banana King that Montoya says he owns. Sayegh said he believes Montoya lives in Passaic Park.

But Montoya said he has lived in Paterson for 18 years, including the last 10 in an apartment above his business on 21st Avenue. Montoya acknowledged he owns other homes and properties in Passaic Park, Passaic, Elizabeth and North Bergen. None of them, he said, is where he lives.

“I think he’s a little scared,’’ Montoya said. “He doesn’t want anybody else to run against him.’’

Indeed, for a while, it seemed Sayegh might run unopposed. No one else had picked up petitions as 6th ward candidates until two business days before the filing deadline. Then, Rivas and Montoya jumped in. So far, neither of them has questioned Sayegh’s listed address of 384 Trenton Avenue.


Maybe their campaign staffs got the dates wrong. What else could explain the near-empty room last Wednesday when Paterson Public Schools held a special meeting about its budget?

Six people are running for three open seats on the Board of Education and only one attended the budget meeting. That was Erroll Kerr, who happens to be the only incumbent in the race.

None of the five other candidates - Arleen Barcenas, Manuel Martinez, Joel Ramirez, Corey Teague and Daniel Vergara – were there.

But on the night before, when the City Council held its biweekly business meeting, five school board hopefuls made an appearance at City Hall and signed up to speak during the public portion. Only Ramirez was missing from the list.

Why would Board of Education candidates attend the City Council meeting and not the special session on the schools budget? After all, both of them are aired on local cable television.

Folks in politics say it may have something to do with viewership numbers. The City Council meetings run as live TV - almost a reality show of sorts - and tend to draw a greater following, political insiders said. The school meetings don’t seem to be as popular with Paterson viewers.



The City Clerk’s office last week held the drawing for ballot positions in the city council races. Here are the results:

At-Large: Frank Filipelli 1B, Flavio Rivera 2B and Kenneth McDaniel 3B

1st Ward: Luis Ona 1A, Anthony Davis 2A, Pedro Rodriguez 3A

2nd Ward: Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman 1A, Joseph Atallo 2A, Edwin Lozada 3A, Sonia Torres 4A and Aslon Goow 5A

3rd Ward: Alex Mendez 1A, William McKoy 2A

4th Ward: Ruby Cotton 1A, Wilkin Santana 2A, Mark Fischer 3A

5th Ward: Julio Tavarez 1A, Luis Velez 2A

6th Ward: Eliecer Montoya 1A, Maria Rivas 2A and Andre Sayegh 3A

Tavarez was the only incumbent to get the first line on the ballot, while Davis, Goow, McKoy and Sayegh found themselves in lower ballot positions.

[Editor’s note: will post Campaign Notebook on a regular basis during this this year’s election campaigns. There will also be stories on candidates’ positions on substantive issues, like public safety, city finances, and the quality of education provided in Paterson schools.]

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