With five weeks to go before the vote to determine who will lead the City Council for the next year, council members seeking the helm of the governing body have been maneuvering to collect the needed votes to capture the presidency.
Council members Ruby Cotton, Michael Jackson, Maritza Davila, and William McKoy are in the running. McKoy, who has filled the post for the past two years, faces an uphill struggle to hold onto the council president’s seat for a third straight year.
“This is a constant. Folks feel they have what it takes to lead the council,” said McKoy. He said there are two schools of thought: having a rotational presidency or a single councilperson leading for a long period of time.
McKoy, the longest serving member of the council, appears to be in the second school of thought. He has served as the president for five, nonconsecutive, years. “I don’t know if you can find another council president as knowledgeable and experienced as I am in that position,” he said.
Cotton and Jackson said it’s time for new leadership on the council.
“I wanted to be council president last year, as you know; I stepped aside for councilman McKoy,” said Cotton. “I wanted us to have unity there.” She said it will never be the right time for new leadership for some.
“We’ve been in a declining position for many years, I think there’s no time better than right now for new leadership. People are calling for new leadership,” said Jackson. He said he has been better at scrutinizing plans and proposals presented by the administration. He was the sole council member to oppose the administration’s plan to place recreation trailers at Buckley Park.
Jackson said he has been promised support by some on the council; however, he noted some are going back and forth with their support. “There’s been a lot of politicking going on,” he said.
Davila has been the most aggressive in attempting to lock in votes, according to sources. Others have said she has told them she has the needed votes to secure the presidency.
“I have no comments,” said Davila on Wednesday morning. She presently serves as the vice president of the city council. She is up for re-election next year and likely views holding the presidency as a possible advantage, said political observers.
Davila struggled to run a workshop meeting this month when the council president was absent receiving groans from several regulars who attend council meetings.
Jackson has been on the council for a year and half.
Cotton said she ran meetings when Julio Tavarez was absent in 2014-15. She noted Tavarez, who was president at the time, was frequently absent from meetings. She was the vice president at the time.
McKoy said being council president is more than just running meetings. He said the president has to speak for the entire body, build consensus, set agendas, and represent the council when meeting with state officials.
There’s also holding hearings and providing oversight to the administration. He said the president also has to have leadership skills. Leadership skills help to secure votes.
“I don’t think I’m going to have the votes,” Jackson candidly said.
“I’m working on them,” said Cotton when asked if she had the needed votes.
“Surprisingly, it’s still early. Until the day of the vote, nobody has the votes,” said McKoy. “Anybody that tells you they have the vote don’t know what they’re talking about. People will change their minds three times from now and July 1st.”
2nd Ward vote
There’s also the possible complication with councilman Shahin Khalique’s vote. He is involved in a drawn-out legal battle with former councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman in the Passaic County Superior Court over the outcome of last year’s election.
Khalique faces the real prospect of losing his seat next month. If Khalique is removed from office, the council may end up with a tie vote. Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, who is allowed to break ties in other situations in the city’s form of government, will not be able to cast the tie breaking vote, said officials. The vote for the city council president is very different from other situations, said officials.
Council members will have to vote until the tie is broken or the matter is worked out among the members, said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. He said this has happened in the past.
“No comments,” replied Khalique when reached for his input for this report. He is widely viewed as a vote for Davila.
Davila also controversially endorsed him with the infamous flyer that asserted Khalique had secured 1,000 votes a week before the actual election. He did have 1,000 mail-in votes and some after the votes were tallied. She has yet to answer how she knew he had 1,000 votes a week prior to the election.
The 2nd Ward election saw widespread voter fraud via mail-in ballots.
With the mayor under indictment, whomever becomes the city council president, faces the prospect of becoming interim mayor if Torres is found guilty of corruption.
Jackson, citing his business experience, said he qualifies to fill in as interim mayor better than any of the other individuals seeking the presidency.
“If I was Mike Jackson, I wouldn’t want to talk about my business experience; my business is not open and running,” remarked McKoy.
When asked if she will be able to serve as mayor for an interim period, Cotton said, “I’m up for it.”
She said she is a full-time councilwoman who can fill in.
“Ruby Cotton being a full-time council person. I’m not sure if that’s an accomplishment, or a skill, or an ability — all that means is you’re retired from your full-time job,” said McKoy.
Both McKoy and Jackson are considering whether to run for mayor next year. Being the council president leading up to a mayoral race is viewed as an advantage.
Velez, Sayegh, and Morris
Not all council members have decided on their selection for the council president.
Luis Velez said he is undecided; however, he gave McKoy a high score.
Andre Sayegh said he is backing Cotton for the presidency.
“It’s time to move on. McKoy has been council president five times,” said Sayegh. “There are other capable council members who can serve in the seat.”
McKoy said Cotton should take caution in receiving Sayegh’s support. “He orchestrated all of those failed presidencies. None of them benefited from that,” said McKoy mentioning Tavarez and disgraced councilman Anthony Davis. He accused Sayegh of causing mischief from the background.
Sayegh said he supported Tavarez, but had nothing to do with Davis’ ascension to the presidency.
“He can take cheap shots at Davis and Tavarez, but they managed meetings much better than him,” said Sayegh. McKoy has been criticized behind the scene for allowing meetings to regularly run into midnight.
McKoy blames midnight meetings on long agendas and colleagues taking their time with speeches. Velez said he takes some of the blame for his speeches. Alex Mendez, who did not return a call for comment, was also blamed by some of his colleagues for repeating speeches and tangential inquiries.
Morris said he is leaning towards McKoy. “I’m a believer folks need to be given the opportunity to learn and grow. There’s a time for that. Given some of the things we’ll have to deal with moving forward this may not be the right time,” he said.
Morris has served three years as president of the council in the past at the request of his colleagues, he said. The council president sets the agenda and manages meetings of the council. The president also receives $1,000 more in pay.
The vote for the council presidency takes place during the council’s reorganization meeting on July 1st.