After a big show of force by several dozen of his supporters at the city council chambers, mayor Jose “Joey” Torres survived a no confidence vote on Tuesday night.
Council members appeared sharply divided on taking a vote of no confidence on their indicted mayor and seek his resignation last week, but on Tuesday night there was an obvious shift.
The council voted 6-2-1 to reject the no confidence measure against Torres.
“The mayor should resign at this time for the good of the city,” said Tom Fuscaldo, a longtime resident, prior to the council’s vote. He sought a clearer version of the events that transpired that led to the eventual grand jury indictment against Torres and three public works supervisors.
“Today is going to be a historic day for you council members to prove you are with the taxpayers or against the taxpayers. To prove your honesty. You are either with the people of Paterson or with the crook of Paterson,” said Haytham Younes, a former city council candidate.
Some council members had reservations about the measure for fear of judging the mayor guilty before he goes before a judge.
“It doesn’t speak to the mayor’s guilt or innocence. It speaks to your concerns about leadership under these conditions,” city activist Ernest Rucker told council members. “Right now, our city is hurting. Our city is under a very dark cloud. This is shaking the fiber of our city.”
Rucker was booed by two dozen Torres supporters with political signs, clad in white t-shirts that had “I believe in Torres” emblazoned on them. Torres’ supporters came armed with make-do white signs with black marker print that read, “I’m Paterson. I’m Torres” and “Let mayor Torres do his job and you do yours.”
One supporter of the mayor shouted at Rucker. “How many times you been in jail!” yelled Alfredo Palma.
“About as many as you,” rejoindered Rucker. Torres’ supporters were rowdy and some reeked of alcohol. Police officers at one point had to escort half of his supporters out of the council chamber for unruly behavior.
“Torres! Torres!” chanted the group as they left the chamber only to be allowed back in.
Torres supporters argued the mayor has been able to accomplish much after returning to office in 2014. City resident Jesus Castro argued Torres has been able to repair roadways riddled with potholes and bring economic development to the city.
Castro said council members were engaged in political maneuvering. “I know there are some folks eyeing the position of the mayor. Please focus on what the city needs. Let the man finish his job. I ask the city council to overlook the politics,” he said.
“A no confidence vote is a political tool with no force or effect,” remarked city resident Hector Nieves. “It gives our city another black eye.” The vote of no confidence is symbolic. The council does not have the authority to remove the mayor.
“Why do we have to divide ourselves?” asked Danilo Inoa. He thought the vote of no confidence would create a rift between the nine-member city council and the mayor making it difficult to govern New Jersey’s third largest city.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. It sends the wrong message to the people that are doing business here,” said city resident Linton Gaines, a real estate agent. “He hasn’t even gone to trial yet.”
“Today, it’s him, but tomorrow, someone could come in and officially accuse one of you of wrongdoing and you’d want us to stand behind you until you are found innocent or guilty,” said lieutenant Sharon Easton speaking to council members from the podium. “The worst thing anyone can do is to humiliate a man in public in front of his wife and children.”
Clad in her police uniform, Easton said Torres has done much to recruit minorities to the rank of police and fire. She received applause from the audience.
“Lieutenant, I only have one suggestion. Next time you come, don’t wear your uniform. If you are going to stand at that podium you have to stand as a citizen. Not in uniform with a gun on your hip,” said council president William McKoy.
Torres’ supporters pointed to the various initiatives he has undertaken over the past three years rather than the charges that were brought against him. His motley crew of supporters led by Omar Rodriguez, the man who played a key role in his campaign three years ago, appeared to have a crafted message focusing on his initiatives in office while ignoring the six-count indictment unsealed earlier in the month charging him and three public works supervisors — Joseph Mania, 51, of Randolph; Imad Mowaswes, 52, of Clifton; Timothy Hanlon, 30, of Woodland Park — with corruption.
Torres has been charged with theft, official misconduct, and other charges for ordering public works employees to handle renovation work at an East 15th Street warehouse leased by his daughter and nephew.
Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, said she had doubts about the charges against Torres. “I don’t believe in this because it does nothing, but continue to bring more negative to the City of Paterson,” she said speaking of the no confidence measure.
“Political strife has stopped our community from moving forward,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman. He still felt suspending the three supervisors while the mayor continues to collect his $119,000 per year salary was unfair.
“It doesn’t do anything. Some people will feel good about it,” remarked Shahin Khalique, 2nd Ward councilman.
“We have to let the judicial system find the mayor guilty or innocent,” said Alex Mendez, councilman at-large. He said the last time the council took a no confidence vote it found itself involved in a lawsuit.
Former councilman Julio Tavarez was rebuked through a no confidence measure for allegedly making divisive comments in a Spanish language radio program. He filed a defamation lawsuit against his former colleagues and the city.
Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman, criticized Mendez without mentioning him by name. He said Mendez goes to constituents and criticizes Torres, but struck a different tone during the no confidence vote. He called Mendez a “hypocrite;” Mendez did not reply to Velez.
“This is a black cloud not just over the mayor, but over us, the council members,” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman. She was first to note the lawsuit filed by Tavarez.
“While overtime was being abused we watched summer camps get shut down a week early in this city. If overtime was not abused those summer camps would have run according to schedule,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman.
Torres shutdown summer programs and cancelled young peoples’ “Day in the Sun” event citing city’s financial problems.
“I have faith in Paterson; I don’t have confidence in the mayor,” said Sayegh, an ardent critic of the mayor.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, found fault with the language of the no confidence measure. He said some of the statements were “definitive” like the allegation employees billed city overtime working on Torres’ private projects.
“The premise of the resolution is the mayor has an inability to focus on governing the city because of the distractions this indictment pose. The resolution in its core does not actually say that,” said Morris.
Davila, Jackson, Khalique, Mendez, Velez, and Morris voted against the measure while Sayegh and McKoy voted in favor. Cotton abstained.
McKoy said the measure was put before the council to express its opinion on the issue. He said a “simple process” was made “complex” by the council. He said if the language needed to be changed there were opportunities for it.
“I think part of friendship requires accountability and responsibility,” said McKoy subtly jabbing at council members who voted against the measure out of friendship with Torres.
The measure that started as a no confidence vote against the mayor turned into a vote of confidence in his favor.