The city council on Tuesday evening discussed whether to take a no confidence vote on mayor Jose “Joey” Torres for his alleged use of public works employees at his home and brother’s business.
Council members were divided on the issue which led council president William McKoy to conclude there was a lack of support for considering a no confidence vote on the mayor.
Council members Michael Jackson, Luis Velez, and Ruby Cotton came out against considering a no confidence vote on the mayor.
“I don’t want to be doing this,” said Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman. She said the council is in court with former councilman Julio Tavarez after a no confidence vote was taken against the former councilman for making allegedly divisive remarks in a Spanish language radio broadcast.
Tavarez sued council members and the mayor for defamation. “We’re elected officials and we have high standards of conduct and behavior,” responded McKoy to Cotton’s legal concern. “This is the United States of America. Anybody can file a lawsuit about anything. If it rains, if the sun is too hot.”
McKoy said the council does not fear lawsuits in doing its job.
“A vote of no confidence actually does nothing,” said Jackson, 1st Ward councilman. “If the community wants to remove the mayor there’s a process in place. Go out and get petitions and take action.”
Jackson is referring to the recall process in state law which allows voters to collect petitions to have a recall election to remove the mayor. He also worried a no confidence vote would further divide council members and the mayor. He said if he supports the no confidence vote he may not be able to call on the mayor to secure assistance for constituents in need.
“People already say, I don’t trust in the mayor, I don’t have confidence in him, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have confidence in him,” said Velez, 5th Ward councilman. He said even before the issue with public works employees there were individuals who had expressed unhappiness with the mayor.
Velez, who has been critical of the mayor since coming into office, said when one points a finger at the mayor, four other point back at them. He said he does not support a no confidence vote on Torres.
Council members Alex Mendez and Andre Sayegh supported a no confidence vote on the mayor.
Sayegh said constituents have called for a no confidence vote on the mayor after seeing footage on NBC New York of public works employees doing work on the mayor’s Arlington Avenue home and his brother’s liquor business on East 15th Street.
“Clearly, there’s something wrong. I can’t approve that sort of behavior,” said Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman.
Mendez said the videos aired on NBC was “disturbing” and require the council to take a stand. “Silence of the council is sending a bad image to the community,” he said. “The community needs to know we’re not just going to sit here.”
Sayegh said some of his constituents said the council may be using double standards. An activist pointed out the council took a no confidence vote on former mayor Jeffery Jones when an overtime scandal engulfed the city while flood waters receded in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
“There’s a subtle distinction,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. He said in Jones’ case the council conducted a series of hearings and made a determination before censuring the mayor. In this case, the council has not.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office convened a grand jury when footage of employees working at the mayor’s home aired. Law director Domenick Stampone said the mayor is fully cooperating with that investigation.
The state has been mum on the status of the investigation.
“The videos tell one side of the story,” said Morris. He pointed out the mayor is not even being given an opportunity to defend himself.
Morris said the council should not rush to judgement. He said it would be proper for the council to take an action after a determination has been made in the case. He called the no confidence resolution “premature” and “a reaction to public sentiment.”
Activists called for a no confidence vote on multiple occasions. Several speakers urged the council to consider the vote.
“He has done nothing but divide this city,” said Joyce Corbo speaking about the mayor. “He has to go. He’s done nothing for us. He made the city worse.”
Maritza Davila, who often votes in alignment with the mayor, and Shahin Khalique, who has contributed to the mayor’s campaign, but has opposed the mayor’s tax hikes several times, did not join in on the discussion.
This report was updated with clarified remarks from councilman Luis Velez on Sept. 14, 2016 at 8:44 a.m.