Councilman Alex Mendez on Thursday afternoon vehemently denied ever making a racially-tinged remark that is included in a federal court complaint filed by three ousted Paterson Board of Adjustment members.
Mendez allegedly expressed his dislike for former commissioner Montaha Deeb by making a crude remark that was cited in a lawsuit filed against the city on July 7th, 2017. He allegedly told former commissioner Aheya Khan he dislikes Deeb because “she was sleeping with a black guy,” a reference to a supposed “romantic relationship” between Deeb and councilman Kenneth Morris, who is African-American, that was first mentioned in a lawsuit in 2012.
“I never made that remark. I know who I am. I respect my colleague and I respect people in general,” said Mendez. “I never get into anybody’s personal life.” He was at the chaotic reorganization meeting of the Paterson Board of Adjustment in July of 2015 for the swearing-in ceremony of his appointee Ramon Guzman.
Khan in a separate interview on Thursday stood by his account of the story. “He could deny it. I had a pretty good witness sitting next to me,” he said. He would not identify the individual that was sitting next to him.
Mendez said he was with Guzman’s family and can present ten witnesses that would confirm he made no such remark. He received some backlash when a screenshot of the allegation mentioned in the lawsuit was posted on a social networking website by community activist Ernest Rucker.
Rucker has publicly accused Mendez of racism. He has also claimed Mendez has called him a racist. Rucker is African-American.
A candidate for mayor, Mendez questioned Khan’s motivation. “There’s got to be some political motivation behind it,” said Mendez. He is vigorously battling former school board member Pedro Rodriguez for the hearts and minds of the city’s large Dominican community. Both men hail from the Dominican community.
Mendez will have to knock Rodriguez out of the still forming race to unify his community’s support before courting other ethnic groups. Rodriguez has no plans to let up and is seeking to knock Mendez out of the running. If both men remain in the non-partisan race, the Dominican vote will be split between them.
Khan and Rodriguez worked together in former councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman’s campaign during last year’s 2nd Ward election. Khan denied there was any political motivation. When asked if he had any animosity towards Mendez, Khan said he has always had a good relationship with the at-large councilman.
Morris said if the alleged statement is true it is distasteful. “I think it’s distasteful for anyone to make a comment that reference race in any way, particularly in a negative way,” said Morris. “It shows a lack of sensitivity to the diverse population of the city of Paterson.”
Mendez would be considered a black man in many parts of the world, said Morris. Some of Mendez’s opponents attacked him for the alleged remark.
“If it’s true, we can’t tolerate it,” said councilman Andre Sayegh, a potential candidate for the 2018 mayoral race. “Paterson is the last place people should be making racist remarks. We’re proud of our multi-culturalism.”
The city council has been sensitive about the conduct of its members when it comes to divisive remarks. For example, then-council president William McKoy organized a no confidence vote against former councilman Julio Tavarez after the latter allegedly made divisive remarks on a Spanish language radio program.
Tavarez has filed a defamation lawsuit against his former colleagues over the no confidence vote.
Mendez said the remark contained in the lawsuit is intended to “defame” his character. ”I’m very upset about this. He’s going to have to prove this in court,” said Mendez.