The city council appointed retired city clerk Jane Williams-Warren to as serve mayor until July 2018.
Council members voted 5-4 to appoint Williams-Warren late Friday night. Her appointment dealt a severe blow to council president Ruby Cotton, who automatically became mayor at the resignation of disgraced mayor Jose “Joey” Torres. Cotton would have remained acting mayor for the duration of Torres’ unexpired term had the council not made an appointment.
Williams-Warren will take office effective Oct. 10, 2017. The former clerk agreed to take the position, according to Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
“It’s an honor the council would consider me,” said Williams-Warren. She confirmed her acceptance to the Paterson Times, but declined to comment further.
Council members made the decision following a more than hour long closed-door meeting. Morris stunned a room full of Cotton supporters when he read out Williams-Warren’s name while amending the appointing resolution.
“What!” bellowed the audience. More than 175 people packed the council chambers to demonstrate their support for cotton. Some had signs that read, “Keep Mayor Cotton.”
However, the demonstrators’ wishes did not win the day.
Cotton did not realize she was being pitted against Williams-Warren until the closed door-session.
“I just don’t like the fact that two black women were put against each other,” said Cotton. “Her name did not come up until tonight. To do it this way just isn’t right.”
Some council members thought having Cotton as both mayor and council president would produce “inherent conflict” of interest.
“There’s a lot of conflict of interest,” said Alex Mendez, councilman at-large. As mayor Cotton would have to present budgets and plans that she would again have to vote on as councilwoman.
“We need checks and balances,” added Shahin Khalique, councilman at-large, who was jeered by the boisterous audience. Some yelled out to ask Khalique whether he ever met Williams-Warren.
Khalique came into office two years after Williams-Warren had retired. She served as the chief clerk in Paterson for 24 years. She retired from her post in 2014. In total, Williams-Warren served the city for 48 years, according to city records.
Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, said there’s no one in the entire city more qualified to fill the mayor’s seat than the former clerk. “This is a no brainer,” said Jackson.
Council members Jackson, Khalique, William McKoy, Mendez, and Morris voted for Williams-Warren. Maritza Davila, Andre Sayegh, Luis Velez, and Cotton voted against her. A vote in favor of Williams-Warren was a vote against Cotton.
“It’s time for us to govern,” said Morris during his vote. He was blamed for orchestrating the special meeting and the vote that ousted Cotton.
For hours Cotton supporters urged the council to scrap the resolution to appoint an acting mayor.
“Leave it as it is,” argued public works supervisor Juan “Mitch” Santiago. He urged the council to keep Cotton as acting mayor.
“Do this without fighting with each other,” urged attorney Kenyatta Stewart. “Anybody who steps into that seat is going to need help.”
Stewart also wanted Cotton to continue to serve as mayor.
“You don’t deserve to be kicked out of office just because they have doubt,” said Jade Parker, a young girl who attended the meeting with her mother, to Cotton. The council president’s colleagues and other leaders questioned whether she was competent to be mayor.
Seeing the large number of speakers expressing support for Cotton, Sayegh attempted to move to adjourn the meeting which would keep Cotton in power. The crowd began chanting, “Ruby! Ruby! Ruby!”
Davila and McKoy objected to Sayegh’s move.
“Councilman Sayegh has been playing these games for a longtime,” remarked McKoy. “We have a room full of people here, but this is a city of 150,000 people. This is a serious matter. The least we could do is deliberate on the matter before us.”
McKoy was drowned out by hisses of disapproval from the crowd.
Cotton allowed the meeting to continue. Council members voted to go into a closed session. And later emerged with the idea to appoint Williams-Warren as mayor. The meeting began at 7 p.m. and did not conclude until almost midnight.