Tuesday’s election sent three New Jersey mayors back into office and sent two packing. Irvington’s mayor-elect fills an empty mayor’s seat and the mayor’s race in Trenton is undecided. But the new mayor of Paterson, who’s replacing a woman who replaced a convicted felon, is facing arguably the biggest challenge. Mayor-elect Andre Sayegh joins Senior Correspondent David Cruz.
Cruz: You are the child of immigrants. Is it Lebanese and Syrian?
Cruz: So the son of immigrants in an immigrant city. That’s got to feel a little special, right?
Sayegh: It certainly does, and Paterson’s the only home I’ve ever known. I was actually raised by my mother, a single immigrant who drove a bus, and she was a driving force in my life. And what she wanted was for my brother and for me to get a quality education. I went to Seton Hall University and graduated at the top of my class and then earned my master’s degree from Columbia University in public policy and administration.
Cruz: So, this is third time’s the charm, right?
Sayegh: You’re a fellow Mets fan, you know what suffering is all about, David.
Cruz: We saw you on Friday and you said, ‘If I don’t win this time that I just can’t run again.’
Cruz: But this has been 12 years of a journey to this position.
Sayegh: Well, like I stated before, I’m a proud Patersonian and I felt deeply that this is Paterson’s time. Paterson’s waiting to happen. Newark is happening, Jersey City has happened, Camden is happening as well, it’s Paterson’s turn. We have all the right ingredients, David. We have geography — we’re in the backyard of New York City. We have the diversity — we have 72 different ethnic groups, and we have the history. We’re the first planned industrial city in the United States, founded by Alexander Hamilton. So all the ingredients are there, we just needed the right chef to stir the pot for Paterson.
Cruz: It seems to me, it feels like it’s a great old house that needs like a gut rehab. That’s the kind of feeling I get.
Sayegh: We are in need of home improvement, and I believe I’m the right repairman for the city.
Cruz: So, where does it begin? You’ve got everything from crime, unemployment, stagnant economic development, what’s the first thing you got to do?
Sayegh: Public safety. We have a very capable police director in Jerry Speziale. We are seeing a reduction in crime, but we obviously have some more work cut out for us. We’re going to be hiring 25 cops this summer. Then, next year there’s the potential of 70 retirements within the police department which conceivably, if they all retire and 59 percent of them are supervisory roles, for every one that retires, we can potentially hire two police officers. Now, how do we deploy them? I want to see more foot patrol. I want these officers to be patrolling the neighborhoods on foot that they are supposed to protect and serve. And then we want to bolster our narcotics unit because we do have a drug epidemic unfortunately in Paterson. And then if my vision comes to fruition of turning the Great Falls National Park into a top notch tourist attraction, you’re going to need a metro division within the police department to patrol that area.
Cruz: That’s very optimistic. We’ll get to some of the things that you need to monetize to get some economic activity in the city as well, but the reality is that despite your huge victory, you won every ward, 95 percent of the precincts in town. Still, two of the three people ran for the at-large seats are against you. You don’t have a council majority, do you?
Sayegh: I don’t.
Cruz: So that’s got to be part of job one also, right?
Sayegh: Correct. It’s all about cultivation. That’s essentially how we won. We made net gains. So, there were people in the past in 2014 that weren’t with us. We were able to create this multicultural coalition. The message of “One Paterson” resonated because I said we’re six wards, but one Paterson, 146,000.
Cruz: How do you get to getting a council that works with you, etc.?
Sayegh: It’s about getting buy-in on the vision. In all my years on the council, I’ve been there for 10 years, I can’t recall the mayor and council at least going on retreat and discussing what our respective visions are, aligning our efforts. We all come in with an agenda, right? But, I feel like the common ground we can find is on common goals: public safety, economic development, quality of life.
Cruz: So like a weekend at Passaic County Community College.
Sayegh: At the Hamilton Club. Did you read my mind?
Cruz: On a more serious note, two of the last three mayors in this city have either left in handcuffs or been censured by the governing body. Voter participation was down this year. We were there last weekend, we have been over the past year, a lot of voters and residents who don’t vote just have had it up to here. How do you change that around? What message do you bring to them to say, ‘listen, in four years you’re not going to see me doing some of the things that my predecessors are doing.’
Sayegh: Patersonians deserve good government. They got to get a return on their investment. They’re paying high taxes, so the mayor has to be a presence. In addition to being a presence, the mayor has to be transparent. So, I’m working on a first rate transition team, turn key that into an administration that reflects the population and that is comprised of high-quality Cabinet officers.
Cruz: So job one is stopping crime, creating economic development, all of these things. I mean, do you feel a little bit like, ‘what have I done here?’
Sayegh: Well there are some projects we’re working on that are essentially going to manifest within the first 100 days. The Great Falls is undergoing a $3 million renovation.
Cruz: We saw a lot of that work going on.
Sayegh: So, we’re cutting a ribbon on an amphitheater. The police officers will be hired by the time I take office, and then also I’d like to bring in a grant writer. Paterson doesn’t have a grant writer. It’s very important. There’s money out there that is just out for other municipalities and Paterson’s not really competitive in that area.
Cruz: And you really have to showcase the diversity because there are so many communities that are thriving in Paterson that you don’t hear about.
Sayegh: Well, I represent the sixth ward. South Paterson is by far the most vibrant business district. Union Avenue has a large Bengali population. I want to get them to get point as well. But, you use the operative word, monetize. We’ve got to monetize our diversity. We’ve got to capitalize on it, and the Falls.