Under heavy criticism from activists and opponents, councilman Alex Mendez on Tuesday night denied mixing his 2018 mayoral campaign with school uniform discount vouchers. Mendez received $5,000 worth of school vouchers from Hawthorne-based Kid City for distribution to needy families.
Mendez is accused of attaching his mayoral campaign business card to the discount vouchers prior to distribution. Mixing his campaign with the vouchers requires Mendez to report the $5,000 as in-kind contribution. Companies are barred from donating more than $2,600 to a campaign.
“There’s no business cards attached,” Mendez said publicly on Tuesday night. This is a reverse from the comment he made to a reporter late Thursday night when approached about the school uniform vouchers.
Mendez in that brief interview was asked why he was putting his campaign stickers on the vouchers. He quickly corrected a reporter to state these were not stickers, but business cards. His opponents have circulated a photograph that shows business cards attached on top of the vouchers.
Mendez denies ever acknowledging his campaign activities were mixed with the vouchers. His denial of his statement prompted the Paterson Times to put in place a rule to capture future interviews with the councilman in the form of notes and audio.
Mendez urged residents to view videos of the voucher distributions posted on social media. Those videos often show the back of the vouchers being handed to parents and students and are not clear enough to determine whether the business cards are attached.
“At School 6, I was with him. There was no business cards attached to those vouchers,” said community activist Victoria Oquendo. “He did speak to few parents and I did see him give his [city issued] business card, but all that made him was accessible. He didn’t give anything about mayor that I witnessed.”
Oquendo said she could only speak about School 6. Mendez also passed out vouchers outside of another school.
Mendez has not provided an explanation of the image that shows him and several supporters with vouchers that have his business cards stapled to them.
“This guy lies once again. Look at the picture. The picture speaks by itself,” said councilman Luis Velez, a critic of Mendez’s.
Pedro Rodriguez, who has announced his bid for mayor, said he heard of the vouchers through the Spanish media. He said he was under the impression Mendez purchased the vouchers and distributed them to needy families.
Rodriguez was surprised to learn the vouchers were given to Mendez for distribution. Mendez also faced criticism over a flyer promising more than $10,000 in down payment and closing cost subsidy from a bank. However, the flyer did not mention the name of the bank leading councilman Luis Velez to assert Mendez was “misleading” the community.
Mendez’s 2018 campaign insignia was on the flyer; however, the flyer did not have the required “paid for by” label. His many problems stem from poor adherence to basic campaign rules, according to political strategists.
Mendez has raised funds and is spending for his mayoral run; however, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) database does not have any campaign depositary filing from his campaign. His team argues he is merely attempting to do good for his community; however, his opponents argue the only good the at-large councilman is doing is trying to sway voters through distribution of freebies.
“There’s a lot of people attacking me every day,” said Mendez. “People from Paterson elected me to fight for the community and bring resources to the community.” Mendez and those close to him have found fault with critical media coverage the councilman has garnered over the past week.
Mendez claims the critical coverage is ostensibly designed to harm his chances in next year’s mayoral race. He has invited critical coverage over the years by failing to file campaign reports on time. For example, following his 2014 at-large victory, Mendez did not file his post-election campaign report until an entire year had elapsed.
The at-large councilman has made similar quickly fixable blunders over the years.