PATERSON, NJ – In the years since his retirement from the City Council, Thomas Rooney often has returned to City Hall to chastise current municipal officials. Most of the time, Rooney’s targets are the property tax assessments and the city’s fiscal practices.
But last week, the man who spent 28 years as a Paterson and about 18 months as mayor aimed his criticism at a person rather than a policy. Speaking at the televised December 26 council meeting, Rooney urged Patersonians not to return Mayor Jeffery Jones to office.
“If he’s elected to another four years, I totally believe before that four years is up that the state will have to take over the government of Paterson,’’ said Rooney, who served more years as a Paterson election official than anyone else alive.
“If he’s so sure about that, then take me out of office now, because he says so,’’ said Jones, dismissing Rooney’s comments as “politics” and “theatrics”.
During the 2010 mayoral campaign, Rooney supported then-incumbent Jose “Joey” Torres in his race against Jones. But after Jones prevailed in what political pundits deemed a stunning upset, Rooney generally has refrained from any attacks on the new mayor. Until last week, that is.
Upset about drug dealing and a massage parlor in his 6th Ward neighborhood, Rooney accused Jones of doing little to address the problems that he previously complained about. “If all this were going on over at his house,’’ Rooney said, “it would be over in an hour.’’ Rooney argued that the fact that the problems have persisted in South Paterson “means he (Jones) wants it to continue.’’
Jones was not present at the council meeting. The mayor’s business administrator, Charles Thomas, tried to offer Rooney an explanation, but the former councilman refused to listen to him. “I don’t want to talk to you,’’ Rooney told Thomas. “Tell the mayor to do what he’s paid to do.’’
Thomas did address the City Council about Rooney’s comments. He said that drug dealing is prevalent throughout Paterson and that the location that Rooney complained about is no different from other areas where the city police department tries to enforce the law.
In a subsequent interview, Jones said Rooney seemed to be asking for a special favor. “By what authority or what urgency does he get to demand preferential service?’’ the mayor asked. “Because he’s Tom Rooney? I thought it was about serving the public. It sounds to be that what he’s saying is, ‘What about me?’’’
Jones questioned why the City Council often allows Rooney more time to speak at its meetings than it affords other members of the public, saying they were providing him with a “bully pulpit.’’ Jones also asserted that Rooney sometimes gets his facts wrong, particularly regarding the technology at the city tax assessor’s office.
“He says what he wants,’’ Jones said. “Politics can be a strange thing. He campaigns for people in a different way.’’
Rooney, in a subsequent interview, said his criticisms were not motivated by politics. “I’m not out to get Jeffrey or anything,’’ Rooney said. “Personally, I think Jeffery is a very nice guy. But what I see is what I see. What’s going on in this city is unprecedented.’’