An angry exchange at a school board forum in 2004 between city board of education candidates Andre Sayegh and Augusto Penaranda that resulted in charges and counter charges being filed by both men ended with both dropping their cases after mediation, according to both men.
“There was an agreement that we would not sue each other,” said Penaranda in an interview on Thursday April, 21st, 2016.
“He falsely accused me of pushing him. It never happened. It was dismissed. It was much ado about nothing,” said Sayegh, of Penaranda’s case, in an interview on Thursday April 28th, 2016.
The cases were dropped in early 2005, according to records.
Both Sayegh and Penaranda sat before a mediator in Clifton municipal court and agreed to drop the assault charges each had filed against the other, said Penaranda.
Penaranda said the exchange was about the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. He felt offended that Sayegh was using the attacks to make a political point at the forum, he said.
At the forum hosted at the library on April 12th, 2004 by the Arab-American Civic Organization, Sayegh defended Muslim youth being harassed by other students because of the attacks, according to Penaranda’s narrative recollection of the event.
After the forum ended, the exchange allegedly turned physical. “He just shoves me as hard as he can. I didn’t hit the ground. And then he hit me again. And I shoved him back. Then, everybody started pulling us apart,” related Penaranda of the event, which happened 12 years ago, at the South Paterson library.
A report in the Herald News provides a mix account of the event. 3 witnesses said Sayegh did not shove or assault Penaranda while 1 witness said he saw Sayegh shoving Penaranda.
“We were friends before this happened. I think he’s a nice guy, but has a misunderstanding of politics. I took the higher road and I said I’d agree to it,” said Penaranda about the mediation agreement which resulted in both men dropping the charges against each other.
Penaranda said many politicians with interest in Paterson politics urged him to continue and take Sayegh to trial. He said his attorney told him both men would advance politically in life and cases such as these would only damage and stunt political advancement.
Penaranda continues to hold that he had a case against Sayegh, but he considered his friendship with the now 6th Ward councilman in deciding to drop the assault charges.
Al Abdelaziz, who is challenging Sayegh for the 6th Ward council seat, declined to comment.
The 12-year-old case emerges as the 6th Ward council election takes a negative turn with elections only 11 days away.
Earlier in the week, Sayegh declined to comment on a report that Abdelaziz was arrested in South Paterson in 2004.
“I wasn’t going to be the reason someone couldn’t do what they wanted to do,” said Penaranda.