PATERSON, NJ- While the moderators and majority of audience members were not yet of the legal age to vote, the questions, and responses, were no less meaningful at Wednesday’s candidates forum than they have been at any of the other similar events filling candidate’s calendars over the past several weeks.

Hosted by the Paterson Youth Council (PYC), and held at the recently opened Great Falls Youth Center, the event featured five of the six mayoral candidates and touched on a wide range of topics including crime and safety, education, and the refurbishment of the historic Hinchliffe Stadium.

While making final preparations for the event to start co-moderators Amaya Perez and Maria Chowdhury told TAPinto Paterson that it was fitting for the PYC to hold the forum as it is their generation that “will be going through the changes the next mayor will make.”

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The PYC, they said, was established to “represent the voice of youth in Paterson,” and to make sure that the city’s young people have a chance to play a role in the community and politics of their city. Perez and Chowdhury were joined in the moderating duties by Sharif Hassan, the three serving as the PYC’s top elected officers.

"Our historic city has been under scrutiny for far too long," Perez told the candidates to open the Forum. "We aim to show that a student from Paterson can be just as successful as a student outside of Paterson."

Participating in the Forum were:

 

Michael Jackson

 

Jackson, who currently serves as the city’s First Ward Councilman, started off by joking that given his name alone the audience, and voters, could be assured his work to date has been extraordinary. He’d go on to tell those assembled that he takes his role very seriously and that every vote he has taken in his short tenure on the council has been “cast in favor of the community.” Often the lone dissenting vote among the nine-member council Jackson said that he has not cast one vote he wishes “he could take back.”

When it comes to safety and recreation, Jackson said that “we must restore respect to the community,” and that children deserve “state of the art facilities.”

The candidate encouraged young people to stay involved and to pay attention, telling them “what happens in closed door meetings effects lives greatly.” When asked about the March for Our Lives Movement to end gun violence Jackson reminded the audience that many of the most important social movements have been started by young people, pointing specifically to the Black Panther movement which counted several leaders still in their late teens among their ranks.

 

William “Bill” McKoy

 

Trained as an accountant, and with a long career in the private sector, McKoy spoke of his “unique skill set” of understanding the city’s budget as an asset that sets him apart from the other candidates.

McKoy said that if he’s elected he would work with the Paterson Police Department to get police officers out from behind desks and “get them on the streets.” He’d also enhance the recruiting process to encourage Paterson youth to consider policing as a career.

“We have to make Paterson a city of learning,” McKoy said when asked about education for Paterson students and suggested the idea of advancing the “each one teach one” philosophy when it comes to building community. Suggesting that the skills he learned and the tools he used early in his career are far less applicable in today’s job market he encouraged the students in the room to be “lifetime learners.”

 

Alex Mendez

 

The third of four current city council members seeking the mayor’s office, Mendez pointed to his time on the Paterson Board of Education as an indication of his commitment to local youth.

Saying that he led efforts to institute the current uniform policy so that students could “focus on education, not fashion,” Mendez told the crowd that he would  work to create and enhance partnerships with the Board of Education so that youth have more safe places to go outside of school hours.

Asked about making Paterson safer Mendez proposed instituting a new policy for police officers on patrol where they’d be in their cars for 45 minutes each hour while the other 15 minutes would be spent “walking blocks” and getting to better know the community.

 

Pedro Rodriguez

 

Rodriguez also pointed to his private sector experience in “managing budgets and personnel similar to the size of Paterson’s” as the special attribute he’d bring to the mayor’s office.

Saying that he’d make the “biggest investment in recreation” in Paterson’s history, Rodriguez also used several of his speaking opportunities to discuss his plan to get the city’s young people off the streets and into meaningful careers.

“We will never be better unless we end the cycle of incarceration,” he said before offering that the cost of sending an individual to jail for a year is approximately $65,000 while many local job training programs are just $11,000 for the same amount of time. Instead of imprisoning young people for non-violent crimes, Rodriguez said he would seek to have them enrolled into a training program where they can learn the skills necessary to be productive members of the workforce.

 

Alex Cruz

 

Cruz wasted no time laying claim to his position as the “biggest youth advocate” in the race and pointing to his role as President of the union representing Paterson police officers, as well as his reelection every two years without opposition, as a mark of the level of integrity and respect he brings to the campaign.

Citing his own experiences over more than twenty years as a police officer to relate to the audience when it comes to public safety, Cruz said that he’d propose the reinstitution of the Bicycle Squad and offered that working in public safety it has always been at the core of his service to get to know the community.

Speaking of education the candidate shared his disappointment that while the schools spend over $560 million a year students still go without enough books and the teachers still lack the resources they need in the classroom.

On the issue of the March for Life movement Cruz told the students that “your vote is your power, your power is our future.”

 

 

As the event wrapped up several students took time to speak to TAPinto Paterson about their thoughts of the event, with all offering positive reviews of the candidates. Using words like “informative” and “interesting” several attendees suggested that while individual points were different, the candidates seemed to “think alike” when it came to moving Paterson forward, with one attendee saying there was “a lot of agreement.”

Among the issues where they was clear agreement was on the need to rehabilitate historic Hinchliffe Stadium which McKoy referred to as a “critical part of Paterson’s future,” and Mendez, Rodriguez, and Cruz all said should be targeted for naming rights from a large company, or as the home to a semi-professional team. Jackson, for his part, recalled competing, and winning, the state high school football championship on that field, and shared his hope that he’d someday get to see his son, currently a junior in high school, also play there.

The final consensus among the candidates for the night was the view that while most of the attendees were below the voting age, participating in the Forum was well worth the time. “I am always happy to engage the youth,” Jackson said with McKoy saying that he found the young people to be “insightful and thoughtful.”

Election Day is Tuesday, May 8. 

 

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