PATERSON, NJ- Candidates for Paterson Mayor continued offering more details on their plans for the future of Paterson at a candidate forum hosted by the NJ Community Development Corporation (NJCDC), and sponsored by Eva’s Village, Oasis, Habitat for Humanity, and St. Paul’s CDC on Wednesday. The forum, held at the Great Falls Youth Center, was specifically focused on economic development in Paterson.
PBA President Alex Cruz, Council members Andre Sayegh, William “Bill” McKoy, and Michael Jackson, and former School Board member and electrical engineer Pedro Rodriguez were all in attendance. Councilman Alex Mendez was unable to attend.
NJCDC Founder and CEO Robert Guarasci introduced the forum as an opportunity to make sure that the “candidate’s positions on revitalizing Paterson are well-known to voters.” He asked each attendee to answer a number of questions on how they, as mayor, would help make Paterson a “comeback city.”
Cruz kicked it off with energy. “We have to take advantage of [Paterson’s] history, its natural resources, its vigor of bringing Paterson back to its grander years,” he said. He pitched a vision of a safer and cleaner community by utilizing its rail system and replacing parking complexes with store fronts.
He supports a plan of building a soccer stadium in Paterson’s downtown using $130 million in tax credits allotted to Paterson saying that it will help create jobs and that “we need all the economic development that we can advocate for.”
Cruz agreed with other candidates that increasing homeownership in the city is a must. He said that he will propose a plan that would “give the American dream to our community,” and would “make sure that everyone is a part of this process of moving Paterson forward.”
The chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee, Sayegh was appeared to be in his wheelhouse during the forum. As in other debates and forums, he made the Great Falls area the centerpiece of his plan for development.
Calling the Falls Paterson’s greatest asset, Sayegh highlighted a plan to build shops and restaurants around the area. On restaurants specifically, he believes that people visit Paterson to sample food from Paterson’s many cultures, which gives the city a chance to “monetize our ethnic diversity.”
Sayegh also suggested partnering with nonprofit groups to help take an accurate count for the 2020 census that would reflect the Paterson’s growing population in order to make it eligible for more government funding, describing it as “an initiative I’d want to pursue from day one.’
William “Bill” McKoy
McKoy has structured his platform around specific and practical ideas. He began by stressing the need to increase revenue streams into the city, “We must increase our revenue while we manage our assets tightly.”
On the issue of home ownership, McKoy hopes to institute a “homestead type program” for city employees to encourage residency. He also wants to ensure a proper quality-of-life as the homeownership increases. “We want to make sure we have high live in standards on every level,” he said.
McKoy worried that the current drug epidemic is putting a damper on the development of Paterson. “The negative perception of crime in our community clearly has been exacerbated by the opioid crisis,” said McKoy. An issue he stressed at the forum, as he has throughout his campaign, is the need to hold not only users but drug companies and providers responsible for the epidemic.
Throughout his campaign, Jackson has worked to cultivate a reputation as an out-of-the-box thinker. He says that his opponents use a lot of “buzzwords” but that they never present “any actual plan.” Jackson highlighted a proposal he presented to the council with former NFL star Ray Lewis last November as an example of an ‘actual plan.’
Jackson took issue with Sayegh’s designation of the Great Falls as Paterson’s greatest asset. “It’s the people, it’s the community in which we serve,” he said. In his eyes, the Falls plan doesn’t necessarily take care of all of the city’s residents. He stressed that any large economic development project “has to be an all-inclusive project.”
A frequent champion of a residency policy for city employees, Jackson fears that certain employees are being left without options. “How can we expect people to be able to become homeowners if we don’t pay them fairly?” he asked, specifically referencing first responders who are expecting raises.
“Who would want to invest their money into a city deeply rooted in corruption and crime?” Rodriguez asked showing a heavy focus on making Paterson a safer city to bring more development into.
He agreed with Jackson’s sentiment that projects need to positively impact all residents. “Economic development that doesn’t trickle down to serve the residents of Paterson doesn’t improve our city.” He opposed the proposed soccer stadium because he felt that it was a “missed opportunity” to service a more vulnerable population.
Rodriguez pitched a three-part plan for dealing with the abandoned property in the city. First, local residents would be given priority to purchase abandoned properties, blocking developers from buying up properties. Second, the city would “legalize basements and attics to make sure people can afford housing.” Third, it would partner with non-profits such as Habit for Humanity (one of the sponsors of the event) to ensure proper implementation.
The Fetty Wap Factor
The more the 90 minute debate followed others as a mostly civil affair with candidates trading barbs in a mostly low key way. The most heated exchange centered around the recent endorsement of Paterson born rapper Fetty Wap for Rodriguez. Jackson, who has been critical of the endorsement, as well as the event that featured another performer, Fat Boy SSE, giving out $20 bills to attendees, claimed that he has “text messages” that show that the performer was paid for his endorsement. Jackson did not produce those messages.
A spokesperson for Fetty Wap called the claim that the performer was paid “untruthful” in a statement after the forum. According to Fatima Brown, who described herself as a “representative” for Fetty Wap, RFG Productions and AMG Management, the group, including Fat Boy SSE “have chosen to put their support behind Candidate Rodriguez because the team approves of his ideas and share the common goal of ensuring the youth (of) Paterson are equipped with safe recreational outlets that will allow them to flourish and become successful young adults.”
Election Day is Tuesday, May 8.
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