The Paterson Housing Authority is opposed to the possible appointment of Kevin Michael Henry – who was barred from assuming a post on the school board last year for criminal convictions from 1991 – to its board, according to a letter the authority’s attorney dispatched to city officials.
Ben-David Seligman, city attorney, said the authority is citing an old state statute to assert Henry is disqualified from serving on the board due to his convictions.
Henry, now a deacon at a local church, was convicted of forgery and theft 26 years ago. He has served three separate sentences for credit card fraud. Three times he was incarcerated for what he describes as “street mentality.” He served 18 months on the three credit card fraud infractions, he said in an interview in 2015. He was nominated by councilman Alex Mendez last month to fill the seat being vacated by Joel Ramirez.
Seligman said one statute cited by the authority was repealed years ago. “That was the law for Faulkner Act communities until 2003,” said Seligman. This law stated anyone convicted of having committed a crime of “moral turpitude” is forever barred from public office and employment.
A message left at the authority’s office seeking the input of its attorney went unanswered on Friday.
There’s a second law cited by the attorney for the agency. That law says Henry is disqualified if he was “convicted of an offense involving or touching such office, position or employment.” Council members on Thursday were trying to figure out whether Henry was employed in public service when he was charged with crimes.
“It doesn’t apply to me,” said Henry on Friday. He was not employed in government when he was charged with the offenses, he said. He worked for the City of Paterson a decade prior to his convictions from 1978-80, according to a resume he provided. He expressed frustration at the way his decades old convictions continue to haunt him even after serving time.
“For the rest of my life I’ll be walking around with a big ‘C’ on my chest saying convict,” said Henry making a reference to “The Scarlet Letter.” He came out of prison, earned an associate’s degree from the Bergen Community College, and runs a re-entry program helping inmates coming out of prison.
Mendez is standing by his nominee. “Mr. Henry made his mistakes 26 years ago. Everybody deserves a second chance” he said. The nomination is viewed as a political move by Mendez to bolster support in the African-American community as he runs for mayor in 2018.
Henry served as Mendez’s representative in a forum hosted at the Masonic Lodge in 2014. The organizers required every candidate to have an African-American person speak for their campaign and discuss issues impacting the black community.
When told Mendez may be appointing him for political advantage, Henry said, “Every appointment is for some kind of advantage.” He described Mendez as a friend.
Henry met Mendez a year before the latter got elected to the school board. Henry himself won a school board seat in 2015 with 2,687 votes; however, he was barred from taking office due to his record. His disqualification led to an infamous exchange with state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans.
Henry towered over Evans and hurled racial epithets at him. Council president William McKoy reminded Mendez of the exchange between the superintendent and Henry in January 2016. He asked if Mendez took that episode into account prior to nominating Henry.
Mendez said Henry was unfairly treated at that meeting which led to the interaction. Councilman Kenneth Morris suggested Henry may be a disruptive force on the board.
Henry said he will not be a disruptive influence, but will be a “strong voice” on the board for senior citizens.
The council will vote on his appointment on Tuesday night. Henry said he will be in attendance at the meeting.