PATERSON, NJ – Almost three months ago, state treasury officials sent former mayor Martin Barnes away empty-handed. They deemed his time in office dishonorable and denied his application for a state pension because of his conviction on federal corruption charges.
Not everyone is so unforgiving.
On Tuesday, Barnes will be among 13 people to get citations by the Passaic County freeholders as part of their Black History Month celebration.
Neither Freeholder Director Pat Lepore nor Deputy Director Bruce James returned a phone message seeking their comment on the situation. Freeholder Theodore “TJ” Best, who is running the event, acknowledged he was surprised to see Barnes among the honorees.
Best said the county did not put Barnes on the list. He said that was done by Freedom Boulevard, a Paterson-based group that every year works with the postal service to issue Black History Commemorative Stamps. PatersonPress.com was unable to contact anyone from Freedom Boulevard about Barnes’ selection.
The freeholders’ citation says Barnes is being honored as the first African-American mayor of Paterson. Appointed to the job in 1997 after Bill Pascrell was elected to Congress, Barnes was indicted in 2001 during his only full term.
Barnes did not run for re-election and pleaded guilty days after leaving office in 2002 to taking between $200,000 and $350,000 in gifts – including free trips, home improvements, a swimming pool and female companionship - from a city contractor. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison and was released in 2006.
Best, the only member of the freeholder board from Paterson, said that despite Barnes’ criminal history he felt he could not leave one of the commemorative stamp honorees out of the county’s event and include all the others.
Barnes’ legacy draws mixed reactions in Paterson. Some people despise him and others love him. “That’s the nature of any political official in Paterson,’’ said Best, a former school board member who was elected freeholder last November. “You could say the same thing about Joey Torres or Jeff Jones,’’ Best added, referring to Paterson’s former and current mayors.
Best said Barnes is well remembered in Paterson for his community work and was responsible for rebuilding the city’s recreation department. Barnes’ administration also was successful in providing quality of life public works services, like plowing the streets and fixing potholes, Best said.
The county will hold its Black History Month event at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday in the County Administration Building on Grand Street.
Other who will get citations as 2012 Black History Commemorative Stamp Honorees will be former assemblywoman Elease Evans; Mayor Jones; Councilwoman Veradine Ames-Garnes; former Paterson councilwoman Marilee Jackson; Judge Carol Newton; Judge Stephen Womack; major league baseball player Johnny Briggs; Carnie P. Bragg; Rev. Dr. Albert P. Rowe; Pastor Linda Stancil; Betty Veal and Sharon Smith.