Donna Nelson-Ivy, director of the city’s health department, attacked Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, during a candidate forum held by the Hillcrest Neighborhood Association on Wednesday evening.
Touting his public safety credentials Sayegh mentioned the Lava Lounge, saying, “We fought really hard with the Lava Lounge. We went back and forth because they were protected, by whomever we’ll find out one day I’m sure; but ultimately when we went in, they were not just smoking tobacco, they were doing all types of drugs in this Lava Lounge, and it was compromising the quality of life for the people in that area.”
A member of the audience yelled, “Liar!” Sayegh, the city council president, continued.
“Glad to say, the Lava Lounge no longer exists. Why? Because I worked with different departments and parties, primarily the police department.”
The hookah spot was a neighborhood nuisance on Montclair Avenue disturbing peace in the quite residential neighborhood in the 6th Ward.
Nelson-Ivy waited for her turn to speak as she was seated three candidates down from Sayegh, placing her in the center of the table with all eight candidates in attendance.
“One of the things I have to correct is the Lava Lounge,” began Nelson-Ivy. “Council president takes the credit for closing the Lava Lounge; council president was nowhere near going to court, doing the raids, being part of the planning, I was.”
Nelson-Ivy said inspectors from her department were involved as well as other city departments. “I just want you to know there was a team, a task force, police department, the health inspectors, the building inspectors, the fire department,” said Nelson-Ivy.
Describing the shuttered hookah place as “dangerous hookah,” Nelson-Ivy said she was concerned for the well-being of the teenagers who were coming into the establishment.
Delivering the final word on who was behind the shutdown of the notorious hookah joint, Nelson-Ivy said, “No, that was the work of the taskforce, the different departments that hit that thing. And then went to court and stayed on it. We went to the prosecutor’s, we did all of that.”
“With the Lava Lounge, director Ivy, I received phone calls at two o’clock in the morning, three o’clock in the morning,” said Sayegh, “No one else received those phone calls, I received the phone calls. If you want to talk about me getting the glory, I got the grief.”
The council president returned fire by alluding to the improper overtime check the health director received following hurricane Irene. “I’m willing to take that phone call any hour, any time, any day. That’s what we need in a leader, who’s willing to take that phone call, and not putting for overtime as a result of taking that phone call.”
In his remark over the hookah spot being “protected” by someone, Sayegh was alluding to the manner in which the lounge’s owner managed to secure permits for the establishment by bypassing the city’s board of adjustment.
Jose “Joey” Torres, who was mayor at the time of the permits’ issuance, said he did not know the owner of the lounge. “I don’t know who they are. I don’t know who he was making a reference to protecting them,” said Torres. “Planning board and board of adjustment are autonomous boards. It’s against the law for the executive branch of government to actually even interact with them.”