Andre Sayegh, city council president, took hundreds of dollars in campaign contributions from companies that had pending business before the city council.
During more than one occasion, Sayegh, who is running for mayor, voted on resolutions after accepting contributions from developers.
In September, Sayegh accepted a contribution of $1,250 from Michael Leighton, lawyer for the Great Falls Urban Renewal Preservation Limited Partnership, company that operates the Essex and Phoenix Mills housing complexes in the city.
During the following months Leighton repeatedly visited council meetings to secure a development and tax abatement agreement from the council.
In November, Sayegh voted in favor of granting the aforementioned firm a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) 20-year tax abatement and a $4.5 million redevelopment deal – both pieces were inside the same resolution.
In November, Sayegh received a $300 contribution from Yassin Aburomi, owner of the 1010 South Paterson Plaza, a company that has a development project under construction at the intersection of Main and Pacific Streets.
In that month Sayegh voted to vacate that portion of land to allow for the development to take place. Subsequently, Sayegh and the entire council voted to accelerate the effects of the vacating resolution.
The council president said Aburomi is a good friend who has been contributing to his campaign for a long time. Indeed, Aburomi’s company made a previous contribution of $750 to Sayegh’s campaign.
The councilman also collected a $300 contribution from Joseph Alpert, owner of the Paterson Commons housing complex, prior to the council’s vote on a resolution associated with Alpert’s company.
Sayegh, who represents the 6th Ward, said he did not see anything wrong with having accepted contributions from companies prior to voting on resolutions connected to them. “There wasn’t any question of legality,” said Sayegh.
Voting on a redevelopment agreement after accepting a reportable campaign contribution is not exactly kosher in some municipalities and certainly not as a whole on the state level. Towns like Clifton and Passaic have passed ordinances barring such practice; however, the city has no such ordinance despite the state’s insistence.
“Every town has its own pay-to-play ordinance,” said Domenick Stampone, the city’s head lawyer, last Tuesday. “Paterson doesn’t have one.”
The city does have a strong pay-to-play ordinance for contracts, but none for developers.
In last year’s memorandum of understanding – strings that come attached with the city’s state aid – state officials dictated the city adopt a model pay-to-play ordinance that is in effect in other towns, but the city did not bother. Similarly, the state reiterated the same demand in its condition-list last week.
Sayegh said he avoids voting on contracts when the firm associated with it makes a reportable contribution to his campaign. The councilman cited a recent example from the previous regular meeting of the council when he recused himself while the council voted on a contract with Gaeta Recycling, a city based recycling firm.
During the past year, the recycling company contributed $4,150 to the councilman’s campaign, making it one of Sayegh’s biggest donors.
“I didn’t do anything wrong as far as the law is concerned,” said Sayegh.
Aburomi, the plaza’s owner, and Leighton, lawyer for the mill housing complexes, did not respond to calls seeking their comments for this story.
Correction: The original article suggested the city did not have any pay-to-play ordinance, it in fact has one of the strongest pay-to-play ordinances for contracts, but none for developers.