PATERSON, NJ - As Paterson’s poet laureate Talena Lachelle Queen has a way with words, an understanding of how verse, whether delivered in spoken word or on paper, can move people to action.
On Monday, following a nearly 60 minute address by Mayor Andre Sayegh, Queen told TAPinto Paterson that she is “so proud to be a Patersonian right now.”
“Clearly,” she said, much works is yet to be done to bring trust to the relationship between law enforcement and the public but Sayegh, in an address that was delivered with no written copy in front of him “did well to address these issues.” Queen was also pleased, she said, with the invitation of the city’s titular leader to residents to consider local law enforcement as a career path “to propel the kind of change that we all know that we need.”
“Safety, combined with the many projects outlined,” Queen concluded, “will help us to co-write the new narrative that our mayor invited us to create.”
Still in the early part of his four-year term in office the speech, or State of the City Address, could prove to be a consequential one for Sayegh, but it’s real impact likely won’t be felt immediately. While received with near universal praise within the Nu Majestic Theatre where it was delivered in front of nearly 200 people, largely avowed supporters and members of his city hall team, its will ultimately be determined by whether or not residents from across Paterson’s six wards stay supportive of the initiatives and policies he pushed forward.
Even the location of the event, which Sayegh used to run through a litany of successes, both from a policy perspective and as signs of collaborative efforts, had meaning behind it he said.
“I’m not here to give a speech,” Sayegh said after taking the stage. “I’m here to tell a story.”
“It’s time for us to write a new narrative. It’s time for us to tell our side of the story,” he added offering lament that Paterson is too often characterized negatively.
Perhaps speaking to those to that don't believe enough has been accomplished enough in the past 14 months Sayegh said “I am the mayor, I am not a magician.”
“Paterson will not be rebuilt in one year,” he added asking for “patience” from residents while promising “persistence” on his part to continue the city’s much anticipated turnaround.
Sayegh referred to the city’s newly minted motto and logo, “Great Falls, Great Food, Great Future,” and continued tout his belief that the area around the Great Falls National Park, visited by more than 300,000 tourists in 2019, will prove to be where the city’s rebirth in born.
Rebranding, however, is not enough, Sayegh said.
Bringing the city into the State Health Benefits Plan, creating an equitable system for charging sewer rates, and improving the delivery of constituent services are just a few of the places Sayegh said the city has made progress.
In the coming months, Sayegh added, in addition to the two new street sweepers christened last week, the city will seek to fill 50 vacant positions within the Department of Public works, an effort to continue to make the city cleaner.
None of these efforts, he said, precede the importance of public safety, an area that perhaps received the most attention in the speech.
“I won’t stand for senseless violence,” Sayegh said touting what he has called “enhanced enforcement” that has taken 181 illegal guns off the streets since July, 2018.
By continuing the recently inaugurated quality of life patrols that have issued over 2000 summonses, opening a coordinated communications center, seeking funding for cameras in strategic locations, and conducting an audit of the Paterson Police Department will lead to a safer city, Sayegh said.
Mention of the audit, what he termed an opportunity to “identify ways to deliver techniques and technology for the 21st century,” drew some consternation from members of the Paterson City Council who have offered a belief that the effort is more of an attack on Police Chief Troy Oswald with whom Sayegh has feuded in past months.
Choosing her words carefully Council President Maritza Davila, praising the message of collaboration, honed in on the public safety issue and said that she wished he “spent more time recognizing the great work of the police department.”
Acknowledging the newly created, and grant funded, Innovation Team, Sayegh also pointed to the need to collect and analyze data to tackle some of the most pressing issues impacting the city, including homelessness and opioid addicition. Speaker to the latter Sayegh revealed for the first time that his Adminstration has applied for two grants, for a total of $750,000 to create and launch an Opioid Rapid Response Team.
Taking on the problem, he said pointing to Broadway and Cianci Park as particualry troubling, can't be a "temporary fix" he said.
Also key to Paterson’s redevelopment, Sayegh reiterated, is gaining the trust of investors willing to come to the city and take on redevelopment projects, such as those being pushed along thanks to the $130 million on tax credits the State of New Jersey made available.
The selected projects, he said, ranging from the reconstruction of Hinchliffe Stadium and the Ward Street garage, the construction of senior affordable housing, the opening of a youth performing arts center, and the additional of a top class visitor’s center at the Great Falls is tapped to bring over $200 million of investment across five projects in the coming years.
Business are also starting to call Paterson home again, Sayegh celebrated mentioning the relocation of both Yoland Corporation and Biogenesis which have brought more than 100 jobs to the city this year.
Caught for immediate comment before Sayegh had even left the state was Justin Rucker. The recently appointed commissioner to the Paterson Housing Authority Rucker said that he is “happy to see the city moving in a positive direction.”
For Regana Bracey the speech was “a good start.”
“It’s going to take work from all of us,” to bring Paterson back, the well recognized and longtime Paterson resident said. Her hope, she added, is that as resources are divided up across the city they distributed in a “balanced” way.
Asked what she means by balanced Bracey suggested that “one neighborhood might need more,” to resolve the most local issues.
Referring back to a phrase he often used on the campaign trail, sometimes to the dismay of others, Sayegh renewed his pledge to be the Paterson’s “cheerleader in chief.”
That shouldn’t be construed to mean he is on the sidelines though, he assured those listening.
“I’m in the game and I play to win.”
Seemingly not impressed with the evening’s event was activist Ernest Rucker who immediately took to Facebook Live to say that to him it sounded like “every speech he’s ever made.”
“There was nothing said tonight that makes me understand the state of the city,” Rucker added. “There is no plan.”
For her part Councilwoman at Large Lilisa Mimms thought the speech was “thought provoking” with Sayegh’s overarching message being “let me tell you where I am, keep believing in me.”
The final comments of the night came from longtime business owner and community leader Casey Melvin who said that “the mayor has a great vision for parts of the city,” adding that he’d like to see that vision realized soon.
Sharing that economic development is his greatest interest Melvin said that it was good to hear Sayegh talk about projects such the armory and Hinchliffe Stadium.
“I look forward to seeing how the projects will positively impact the resident,” Melvin concluded.
In wrapping up the speech Sayegh, who’s self acknowledged strong work ethic often sees him up late at night and to waking up early in the morning, said that “I am far from perfect,” but that he will continue to “humbly serve” all of Paterson.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect length of speech.
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