Mayor Andre Sayegh raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year for his controversial One Paterson group without disclosing donors. His main rival in last year’s mayoral race on Wednesday called for transparency.
Alex Mendez, who finished second place in last year’s race, called on Sayegh to make a “total and complete disclosure of all donors and all expenses” for One Paterson and the Andre Sayegh Civic Association.
“I challenge him to release all the donors. Who is giving you money? Are those people getting contracts through the city? Are those people doing business with the city? We need to know and we have the right to know as taxpayers,” said Mendez on Wednesday morning. “We want transparency in City Hall. As the mayor it’s his responsibility to be transparent with what he’s doing and he is not.”
Mendez made his call for disclosures on Tuesday, a day after the Paterson Times published a story that stated Sayegh raised $242,000 for One Paterson, a 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit organization.
“This is the same Alex Mendez who has numerous challenges with filing election reports. He lacks credibility and needs to focus his attention on addressing his deficiencies,” said Sayegh.
Mendez often did not file his campaign finance reports on time while competing for municipal offices.
Sayegh would not say whether his nonprofit Andre Sayegh Civic Association will disclose its donors. He referred questions about One Paterson to William Pascrell, III, son of congressman Bill Pascrell.
Pascrell has said he has no objections to disclosing donors.
“We’re not saying we’re not going to release information,” said Pascrell, who is president of One Paterson. “We’re not at all trying to hide what we’re doing.”
Pascrell provided a sample of the charitable causes the group funded over the past year. It included $30,000 donation to renovate fields in Paterson. The group also had to spend money to host the mayor’s inaugural ball at the Brownstone, create a website for the public, and pay for services like bookkeeping.
Some politicians reached out to the organization for funds, but were rebuffed. “We’re not a political organization,” said Pascrell, a lobbyist and political strategist.
Pascrell said the organization’s board will meet before its big fundraiser at the Art Factory on Jul. 31 and decide whether to disclose donors.
“We’re definitely going to have a board meeting and have a discussion on it. We’re not saying no. But we’re not going to allow external forces to force our time schedule,” said Pascrell.
Mendez is not alone in calling for disclosure. Members of the City Council had been calling for One Paterson to disclose its donors.
On Tuesday night, some wondered whether some of the firms and people seeking a piece of the $130 million in state tax credits that require Sayegh’s support had donated to the mayor’s campaign or his organization.
An activist even invoked a five-year old controversy that derailed Sayegh’s second bid for mayor.
During his failed bid for mayor five years ago, the Paterson Times broke stories that showed the then-councilman of the 6th Ward accepted political contributions from developers and then voted on measures that benefited them.
For example, in one case, Sayegh received a $1,250 contribution from an attorney, who sought a 20-year tax abatement for the Essex and Phoenix Mills. Two months later, Sayegh voted in favor of the tax abatement.
Sayegh defended his actions at the time as legal, but came under heavy criticism from both his rivals and voters that ultimately sank his campaign.
“He criticized me,” said Mendez speaking of failure to disclose donors. Sayegh repeatedly attacked Mendez for failing to file campaign finance reports listing his donors throughout the campaign. “The community needs to see who are the people donating to his organization.”
Mendez is looking for a re-match with Sayegh in 2022.