Mayoral candidate Alex Cruz is qualified to run for office in the city, ruled Passaic County assignment judge Ernest Caposela on Monday morning, putting an end to the residency controversy that erupted the moment the police officers’ union president declared a run for mayor.
“I didn’t expect anything different,” said Cruz after the judge rendered his decision. His attorney Stephen Edelstein argued Cruz moved into the city on Nov. 1 2016 citing a lease agreement for his Pennsylvania Avenue address.
Cruz brought rent receipts for the apartment to prove it. He had 7 receipts for the 14 months he lived above the Dynasty Autobody Shop. Cruz testified that he had searched everywhere for the rest of the receipts, but could not find them.
Yanet Santana’s attorney Gregg Paster called the lease “suspect” and “dubious.” He also pointed out Cruz had no cable bills or utility bills from that address.
“He’s pretty much saying take my word for it. I really do live here,” Paster said of Cruz.
At first the judge was skeptical of the evidence Cruz’s side submitted to the court.
“Why didn’t he move to Paterson?” asked Caposela.
“He did move to Paterson,” replied Edelstein. The judge did not believe his answer.
“The question is why didn’t he move his family to Paterson?” clarified Caposela. Cruz’s daughter and son attend the Passaic Valley High School.
“His wife didn’t want to live in Paterson,” replied Edelstein. He said Cruz spends four nights a week in Paterson.
The judge appeared to side with Yanet Santana until Cruz was put on the witness stand. Cruz explained his wife did not want to disrupt the children’s education by moving them out of the school in Little Falls to Paterson.
“I will not disrupt the kids,” Cruz recalled his wife Luci telling him.
Cruz also explained delays in him changing his driver’s license and voting address. He said he was extremely busy with his police union responsibilities, so much so, that he did not have the time to change his address until Jul. 19, 2017. This put Cruz two months short of meeting the one-year requirement.
Caposela was satisfied with Cruz’s answers.
“I find him incredibly credible,” said the judge ruling in Cruz’s favor.
“I can’t argue with the word of the judge,” said Santana. “I don’t feel the reasons were more convincing than the word of the independent investigator.” She said Cruz did not provide strong enough evidence in court to prove his residency.
An investigator for the Hudson County Superintendent of Elections determined Cruz did not live in the city. An attorney said that investigation was not complete.
Cruz’s attorney in court questioned whether Santana had standing to file to disqualify his client. Santana’s attorney Paster, who called whether she has standing to bring the complaint a “sideshow argument,” convinced the judge she did have standing as a city resident.
“I don’t think you have to be a registered voter to contest whether a candidate is legally qualified to run,” said Caposela.
Santana lives in Paterson, but is not registered to vote. Her attorney added a second person to the case who is a registered voter.
Cruz was visibly relieved at the ruling. When asked whether the coverage of his residency controversy has hurt his campaign, Cruz replied, “With all the negativity surrounding the residency with the press, absolutely.”
Cruz thanked all his supporters for sticking with him. “Now, I welcome all the other people that were teeter-tottering whether Cruz was a viable candidate.”
The ruling allows election officials to print the May election ballots. The mail-in ballots were scheduled for printing last Friday, but were delayed due to the judge’s injunction issued as a result of the court filing.