The state Democratic Party chairman John Currie gave his tacit support to challenger Al Abdelaziz’s campaign to unseat incumbent Andre Sayegh in the 6th Ward election by attending a hookah party Abdelaziz’s campaign hosted at a Clifton hookah lounge on Tuesday night.
Currie, who is also the chairman of the Passaic County Democratic Party, made positive remarks about Abdelaziz at the La Ziza Restaurant on Crooks Avenue. The chairman also puffed on hookah at the event, according to few of the about 70 people who attended.
Currie did not respond to a call for comment through his spokesman on Thursday or Friday.
Those who attended said the chairman did not overtly endorse Abdelaziz in the 6th Ward council election. However, they noted, Currie did not attend any of Sayegh’s fundraiser or campaign gatherings.
Some also noted that Abdelaziz and Currie have developed a close relationship. Abdelaziz did not respond to comment on Currie’s tacit support of his campaign on Friday afternoon.
“I’m a loyal Democrat. I’d like to invite him to one of my event,” responded Sayegh on Wednesday when asked about the chairman’s attendance at his opponent’s event.
The chairman openly supported Sayegh in the 2014 mayoral election. He and other party leaders endorsed Sayegh on the steps of city hall during that election. However, the endorsements backfired, as voters felt the party was attempting to meddle in a nonpartisan election.
Sayegh lost that election and also lost Abdelaziz as a supporter.
The party’s tacit support may be a mixed blessing for Abdelaziz in a city where voters are overly protective of their nonpartisan elections. Although Abdelaziz did not receive an open endorsement from the chairman he has picked up several key endorsements over the past months.
Abdelaziz has been endorsed by mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, freeholder director Theodore “TJ” Best, councilwoman Maritza Davila, imam Mohammed Qatanani, community leader Carlos Garcia, pastors David Rios and Peter Rivera, and La Alianza Civica Ministerial, a group of Passaic County ministers, according to his campaign.
“All of these individuals believe, as I do, that public service is about serving the people – not ourselves,” said Abdelaziz in a statement on Thursday afternoon. “I am excited to continue working with these leaders, who are willing to roll up their sleeves for the 6th Ward. As Councilman I will continue to forge new partnerships to get things done for my constituents.”
The embattled mayor’s endorsement earned criticism from Sayegh. Torres is under investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office for allegedly using public works employees to do work on his home. The incumbent has blasted Abdelaziz for not distancing himself from the mayor.
Sayegh has also secured important endorsements. He has been endorsed by his predecessor and popular former councilman Tom Rooney. He also received endorsements from longtime school board members Jonathan Hodges and Errol Kerr.
The United Leaders of Passaic County also endorsed Sayegh.
“I agree with most of the things he does. He puts his heart and soul into it,” said Rooney, who also served as the Silk City’s mayor in the 1970s. “He’s worked very hard.”
Rooney endorsed Sayegh eight years ago to succeed him in office.
“On balance, he’s been doing the job over there. He’s been a voice of progressive change on the city council,” said Hodges.
Sayegh and Abdelaziz have been engaged in a ferocious battle for the 6th Ward seat. So far Abdelaziz has spent $61,915 for the council seat, according to his 11-day pre-election report.
The same report showed he had just $834 remaining in his campaign account. Abdelaziz has had two additional fundraisers since then to raise more money for his campaign.
Sayegh, who has been outpaced in fundraising, has spent $32,717, according to his 11-day pre-election report.
Big spending does not always guarantee a victory; for example, in 2010 incumbent mayor Jose “Joey” Torres spent $1 million, but lost to challenger Jeffery Jones who spent just $71,000, according to campaign finance reports.
Sayegh continues to have $20,052 on hand with election three days away. He said he plans to run a large get-out-the-vote effort to ensure voters show up to the polls on Tuesday.
This report was last updated on May 10th, 2016 at 6:30 a.m.