For the first time in almost a decade, councilman Alex Mendez will be without a seat in Paterson politics.
Mendez gave up defending his at-large city council seat to run for mayor. He lost badly to councilman Andre Sayegh on Tuesday night, but two of his running mates – incumbent councilwoman Maritza Davila and school board member Flavio Rivera — won seats.
“We’re going to continue the fight. I don’t need a position to be there for you,” said Mendez to his supporters in a video statement on Wednesday. “If you have any problem, if you have any issue call Alex Mendez, I will be there for you. I will always be there for my community. You will see me block by block.”
Mendez was the highest vote-getter both times he ran for school board. He was again the highest voter-getter in 2014 when he successfully ran for an at-large seat. His term expires on Jun. 30, 2018.
Prior to that Mendez lost to longtime councilman William McKoy in his bid for the 3rd Ward seat. But, he lost by a small number of votes. He could be preparing for a second showdown with McKoy in 24 months.
Mendez did not respond to a call for comment for this report.
On Tuesday night, Mendez, who finished second, found himself behind Sayegh by 4,236 votes. His campaign expended great resources in gathering mail-in ballots; but even in mail-in votes Mendez was second place.
Former school board member Pedro Rodriguez was ahead in mail-in votes by almost 400 ballots. His running mates benefited from the mail-in votes. For example, Rivera, who appeared to be losing when polls closed, gained an edge when the mail-in ballots were counted, winning a seat.
Mendez’s campaign was under siege for much of the race. He faced attacks from his opponents, particularly from Sayegh on his failure to disclose campaign donors. A super PAC, Progressive Values Committee of Bayonne, repeatedly attacked him for his failure to file campaign finance reports on time, bounced checks, and failure to pay sewer, water bills on time.
Mendez invited the attacks by failing to file both pre-election campaign finance reports. He was also unresponsive in tackling controversies head-on that eventually swallowed his campaign.
Mendez, known for snapping selfies with important people, was attacked for appearing in pictures with former lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno. These pictures allowed the super PAC to tie him to former governor Chris Christie’s administration. The super PAC accused Mendez of standing side by side with Christie’s lieutenant while they “hurt” Paterson.
Christie, a Republican, was unpopular in Paterson, which is heavily Democratic. The Passaic County Democratic Party almost appeared to be investing in Mendez following his at-large victory four years ago. For example, his wife was given a job at the Passaic County government and he almost received a job at the Paterson school district – both places are patronage mills for the party.
Sayegh, who lost four years ago, saw the party divesting in his political future. So much so, the party tacitly supported Al Abdelaziz in the 6th Ward race two years ago to take him out. Sayegh managed to beat Abdelaziz. His victory two years ago restored the party’s confidence in him.
Sayegh ran a very different campaign this year. He was overly confident of winning four years ago, but this year couched every statement with “if I win” or “if I ever win” rather than “when I win.”
On the other hand, Mendez and his team had the same hubris that the Sayegh campaign had four years ago. He was certain he would win against all odds. His confidence partly coming from the more than a thousand mail-in votes his campaign would secure in the race.
Mendez’s loss leaves him without a pay check. He was earning $41,200 from his council post. He claimed to have sold his transportation business, but the state of New Jersey has secured two judgments, total $14,361.98, against two of his companies.
Mendez may find himself shut out of government jobs.