PATERSON, NJ- Paterson’s mayoral candidates battled it out in another debate on Sunday night, this time at the Alexander Hamilton Community Center. While the event’s co-hosts, the Eastside Neighborhood Association and Paterson Branch of the NAACP won near unanimous reviews for the well run format, the tensions and competition of the race became more apparent in the candidate’s responses than in previous debates.
First Vice President of the Eastside Neighborhood Association Joe Griffin called the debate an opportunity to “illuminate each of the candidates positions,” and suggested it was being held to help all residents “find a proper mayor to Paterson to a great future.”
As other debates have, this one allowed candidates a number of opportunities to share their vision and thoughts on key issues including public safety, education, and economic development. Media personalities Brenda Blackmon and Greg Kelly were the moderators for the evening, keeping the candidates on task, while lightening the mood throughout.
Participating in the debate were:
The chair of the Council’s economic development committee, Sayegh began with a focus on economic development. While touting the success of attracting investment into his Sixth Ward, Sayegh suggested what has happened there needs to be replicated in all six wards.
Touting his record of shutting down loud clubs and other businesses that hurt the community and became hotbeds of criminal activity Sayegh said that the first step to bringing investment into Paterson is by making it safer. “If you want a stronger city, you have to have a safer city.
He advocated for continuing to increase Paterson’s police force and increase their direct involvement with the community.
Continuing with his theme of economic development, he suggested hiring a grant writer to be paid based on performance as a way to increase recreation funding without adding to the budget.
In his closing statements, Sayegh recommended coming together as Patersonians, and that it shouldn’t matter that he is the only white candidate running. “This race is not about race. This race is about results,” he said. He referenced his specific vision for Paterson, which includes a new hotel and the development of the Great Falls area.
“What we have to stop is the corruption in the city of Paterson,” said Mendez. Much of his focus on the night was the way that this alleged corruption hampers the city’s budget, taxpayers, and many of its policies and programs.
Mendez feels that the police presence in Paterson needs an upgrade in accountability. “Every police officer needs to be assigned to a specific neighborhood,” he said repeating his call to adopt a model where police officers spend 45 minutes of each hour in their vehicle and an additional 15 walking the streets. He also suggested a civilian review board and mandatory body cameras.
As a former commissioner of the Paterson Board of Education, Mendez offered a number of education policy ideas. He suggested an increased focus on recreation by entering into a shared services agreement with Paterson Public schools in order to keep our parks safer. “After 3pm there’s nothing for children in the city of Paterson,” said Mendez.
The first disagreement of the night came when Mendez laid claim to instituting the Paterson School’s uniform policy which Sayegh had earlier staked as one his accomplishments.
“One of the biggest problems that we have in the city of Paterson is when you elect somebody you don’t see that person again,” he commented in his closing remarks. Mendez stressed that a mayor needs to be available and willing to work for the taxpayers as opposed to special interests and outside influences.
Paterson PBA President focused heavily on public safety and his 24 year record as a Paterson police officer. He recommended adding police substations in the 1st and 4th wards. Additionally, he recommended reconstituting the “mountain bike squad” that he once served on. Police on bicycles, he suggested, can not only be more visible in the community but can also respond more quickly to emergencies than those on foot, and at times, in cars.
Cruz criticized a number of current Paterson’s current policies. He recommended bringing New Jersey’s Inspector General into Paterson to investigate the city government and administration. “We have to reevaluate our entire office,” said Cruz, who expressed outrage at “the abuse of our tax dollars.”
He was attacked by Michael Jackson on questions of his Paterson residency, which was cleared by an appellate court last month. “A judge approved this man to be on the ballot when he lives in the city part time,” said Jackson. In response, Cruz suggested that even if he did live in the city part time, he has still “done more for the community and affected more lives” than Jackson.
Closing on his desire to reevaluate city government, Cruz pitched his idea to bring in an “independent office.” He stressed this idea as emblematic of his vision and commitment to help Paterson “move forward collectively.”
As in previous debates, Jackson put a focus on city employees who do not live in town. “98% of the people that make the decisions that impact our community don’t live here,” said Jackson. He suggested that the city could hire new police officers with a $14,000 salary and “give a stipend of twelve or thirteen hundred dollars a month for a residency policy to force them to live in the city.”
Jackson turned his sights to the accountability of city administration and elected officials. “Accountability is the highest measure,” he said. He took shots at current city officials and his colleagues on the council. Often the single ‘no’ vote on council resolutions, he suggested that Paterson residents would be surprised to find out what goes on behind closed doors.
In response to Cruz’s comment about affecting more lives than him, Jackson described his role in the community as a charitable volunteer and a coach. “I’m ingrained in the community. My kids play here, they don’t have to play in Little Falls,” said Jackson, again referencing the debate over Cruz’s residency.
Jackson closed on his worries that Patersonians are being taken advantage of. He feels that the city needs to be taken seriously, and cannot allow themselves to be treated like “the gum under the state of New Jersey’s shoe.”
William ‘Bill’ McKoy
Paterson’s longest-serving member of the city council, McKoy has centered his platform on increasing the efficiencies within the day-to-day running of the city. An accountant by trade, he likened the municipal budget to a family budget, repeating his oft-used phrase that if they don’t have the money to spend, they can’t spend it. The candidate once again shared his proposal to increase the duties of the Department of Public Works (DPW) to include trash and recycling pick-up, and to enter into shared services agreements with neighboring municipalities to drive revenues into the city’s coffers.
On public safety, he agreed with the need for increased police presence, but took shots at other candidates who presented what he feels are unrealistic proposals. “We have to recognize that with the solutions we put forward, we still have to be able to afford them,” said McKoy. He suggested supplementing an increased police presence with cameras and technology as a more practical solution than just hiring more officers, and to move police officers from behind desks and onto the streets.
During his closing remarks, McKoy took shots at the concept of relying on the assistance of individuals from outside of Paterson to help move the city forward. “I’m not someone that’s going to have someone do my homework for me and turn it in as my work,” said McKoy.
McKoy wrapped up by reminding the audience of his experience and ideas. “I remind you that I come to you with sound service and proven leadership,” he said, describing himself as someone who is make practical and informed decisions.
Following the debate candidates stayed on talking with residents, posing for pictures, and conducting interviews for Paterson’s City Post newspaper which they were broadcasting on Facebook Live.
Speaking with TAPinto Paterson many attendees appeared already sure of their mayoral pick, including Delores Kerr who wasted no time saying McKoy is a “man of integrity” and answered all of the questions candidly.
Baxter Gerald, also in the audience, said his mind is “still open” as it relates to his vote, though has focused mostly on McKoy and Jackson, saying that he just wants a mayor that will “do the job and not bullshit the people.”
For Paul Fernandez it was newcomer Alex Cruz that caught his attention. “He’s fresh voice,” Fernandez said lamenting that because the others are all incumbents on the city council they are already “part of the problem.”
“Andre again showed that he is best fit to represent Paterson at the highest level,” said political activist and Sayegh supporter Wayne Witherspoon. “When others go low he goes high,” he offered referring to some of the barbs that were thrown during the evening. “That’s what we need in the mayor’s office.”
Absent from the event was candidate Pedro Rodriguez who was hosting a “youth empowerment” event at his headquarters featuring local rap star Fetty Wap. In a statement following that event Rodriguez said that he viewed it as an opportunity to “encourage our young leaders to use their voices in deciding Paterson’s future.”
Wap, whose real name is Willie Maxwell II, was joined by Justina Valentine and Fat Boy SSE, and according to the statement all spoke with the attendees about the “importance of registering to vote and participating in this election.”
In offering his endorsement to Rodriguez Wap stated “the youth are Paterson’s foundation and Pedro will be able to provide better recreational outlets for them to thrive.”