Seeking a third term to represent the city’s 6th Ward on the municipal council, incumbent Andre Sayegh cited his record of opposing tax increases, closing down troublesome nightclubs, and taking steps to promote the growth of the Main Street and 21st Avenue commercial corridors.
“If you look at South Paterson, it’s the most vibrant business sector in the city, if not the state. And 21st Avenue is not far behind,” said Sayegh on Saturday afternoon as he opened his campaign headquarter on 21st Avenue.
Sayegh in the past year managed to create a special improvement district on 21st Avenue to provide better security, cleaner streets, and more promotion of the bustling commercial corridor. He has also proposed another special improvement district for South Paterson.
Kobir Ahmed said under Sayegh the South Paterson business area has witnessed constant growth. “Everything is growing and it’s much safer than before,” he said.
“I’m definitely pro-business,” Sayegh told a crowd of about 70 people packed inside the small storefront after telling them he has closed down nine troublesome nightclubs. He said some may attempt to make the case he is anti-business, but he supports businesses that do not negatively impact quality of life in neighborhoods.
Sayegh said he mobilized the whole neighborhood to shut down the Charlie’s Angels nightclub on Robert Street. He said a man was killed inside the troublesome establishment which diminished quality of life for area residents.
“We weren’t going to take it,” said Sayegh. Going after bad nightclub has won him much goodwill from 6th Ward residents.
“He was an integral part of getting that shut down,” said Jason Murley speaking of the infamous Lava Lounge. Sayegh recollects receiving calls at 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. about loud noise, fights, and lewd acts at the Montclair Avenue nightclub.
“He’s always a phone call or an email away,” said Murley, who lived near the Lava Lounge.
“It just wasn’t about shutting these places down. It was about outcome. And ultimately, with the help of the school board, we put a preschool there,” said Sayegh. “My philosophy in public service is if you make an area safer, you make that area stronger.”
Sayegh also touted the hot spot business curfew ordinance which reduced non-fatal shootings in the 15 designated areas by 79-percent, according to police data.
Jake Ozbek lives near School 9 not far from the place once occupied by Charlie’s Angels.
“He’s got experience,” said Ozbek.
Sayegh has even more experience voting down property tax increases. He has been generally critical of mayor Jose “Joey” Torres and his tax increases, so much so, that the mayor has accused the councilman of being involved in a plot to discredit him as video footage of public works employees working at the mayor’s home aired on national television.
“He fought against all of Joey Torres’ tax increases,” added Omar Haq, another 6th Ward resident, who has been supporting Sayegh since he first ran for the school board.
Torres is backing Sayegh’s opponent educator Al Abdelaziz.
“My opponent one time was my pupil, now he’s the mayor’s puppet,” said Sayegh referring to Abdelaziz. “Unfortunately he’s made a bad decision.”
“I’m no one’s puppet. I’m my own man,” said Abdelaziz. “I work with anyone who is going to make the 6th Ward better.”
Abdelaziz worked on the incumbent’s mayoral campaign in 2014. He was later appointed to the planning board by Torres.
“Andre must have forgotten I supported him for mayor not Joey,” said Abdelaziz as he spent the afternoon going door to door in the 6th Ward. “Now that I don’t support his ideas I’m a puppet?”
Abdelaziz, who comes from a well-established South Paterson family, presents a formidable challenge for Sayegh. He has outpaced the incumbent in raising funds, according to campaign finance reports.
The embattled mayor’s endorsement may harm Abdelaziz, according to political strategists. Abdelaziz said he does not think his candidacy will be adversely impacted by Torres’ battered and besmeared reputation.
Sayegh and Abdelaziz have known each other for a decade. That decade old friendship though has eroded over differing politics leaving some of their mutual friends in awkward positions.
Anthony Fazzinga, a childhood friend of Sayegh’s, received criticism for appearing in a photo which featured many of Sayegh’s political detractors, earlier in the year.
“We went to grammar school together. He’s like a brother,” said Anthony Fazzinga of Sayegh. He said Abdelaziz is a good friend, but he is supporting Sayegh.
Fazzinga, who worked at the city’s health department, was retaliated against for his open support of Sayegh during the 2014 mayoral election.
Torres eliminated Fazzinga’s position after winning a third term, according to sources. Fazzinga later landed a better job at the Passaic County government.
Sayegh ended his 10-minute speech by vowing to protect taxpayers’ interests. “If there’s one thing I’m here to do is to protect the taxpayers,” he said. “There’s been a select few employees at DPW [Department of Public Works] who are making big money at our expense. That has to stop.”
The incumbent has sent a letter to the state urging the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to investigate the excessive overtime a small number of public works employees have been earning.
“I’m running on a real record of results,” said Sayegh.