The proposal to rename a stretch of Park Avenue to Dominican Republic Way has ignited a vicious rivalry between councilmen Alex Mendez and Luis Velez.
Both men claim each introduced the idea for renaming Park Avenue to honor the city’s largest Latino community.
Mendez said he broached the subject with the city council’s ad hoc street naming committee chairman Kenneth Morris at the beginning of the year. He said Morris told him to hold off on proposing a street renaming because a controversy was raging over another renaming at the time.
Velez said he campaigned on the idea. He said he proposed the renaming to Morris within weeks of taking office and then collected the needed signatures to push the process forward.
“I went house by house to get signatures,” said Velez on Wednesday morning.
Mendez said the idea to rename the stretch to Dominican Republic Way belongs to him and Velez is attempting to seize the idea and make it his.
“There’s a whole effort to push me out of this idea,” said Mendez. He said he proposed the idea back in January. “At that moment councilman Velez wasn’t even a certified candidate,” he said.
“I brought it forward before you were a councilman, before you were sitting at that chair,” said Mendez.
Velez said the idea goes further back. He said former councilman Julio Tavarez tried to rename Park Avenue four years ago.
Mendez said Tavarez was attempting to rename Park Avenue to Juan Pablo Duarte Drive not Dominican Republic Way.
Velez slammed Mendez for not going out to collect the needed signatures to push the process forward. He also said Mendez is attempting to secure credit for the renaming to bolster his support in the city’s Dominican community in preparation for a mayoral run.
Mendez is of Dominican heritage while Velez is Puerto Rican. Mendez views himself as the de facto leader of the city’s Dominican community while Velez represents the 5th Ward which has the most Dominicans of any of the six wards, according to political strategists.
Both Velez and Mendez want to be viewed as champion of the Dominican community. There are as many as 45,000 Dominicans living in Paterson. The city has the highest concentration of Dominicans outside of the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic’s consulate general has also established a satellite office in the Silk City, according to the resolution.
“Both my colleagues are right,” said Morris. He said Mendez approached him at the beginning of the year.
Mendez introduced the concept, but Velez did the leg work, said Morris. Velez obtained the needed signatures to move the resolution forward, he said.
Velez said he also wrote up a history of the Dominican community in Paterson.
Morris said both men deserve equal credit for the job. He proposed adding two clauses inside the resolution crediting each of them while the resolution is sponsored by the council as a whole.
The resolution will add an additional name tag to Park Avenue running from Carrol to Straight Streets.
Both Mendez and Velez have been disputing the issue over social media. Mendez said a “nasty” letter emerged after the Dominican flag raising that sought to “destroy” his reputation.
“They are calling me a liar and saying I stole this project,” said Mendez. “There was no need to do that,” said Mendez. He said the letter has been widely viewed on social media.
Velez said he wrote the letter and defended its content as true. Mendez said he may take legal actions for the letter.
Both men argued over the issue at the steps of the City Hall on Wednesday morning after Tuesday’s marathon meeting.
“Why do we have to go so low? Why can’t we do this together?” said Mendez.
Mendez also recognized the triviality of battling over a street naming by stating the important issues are improving quality of life on Park Avenue and reducing crime.
This report was updated on Sept. 15th, 2016 at 8 a.m.