“In your estimation, why hasn’t former mayor Torres appointed a Dominican-American to a department head position?” rehashed Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, during last week’s candidate forum after Maria Teresa Feliciano introduced the issue of scant Dominican representation during Jose “Joey” Torres’ two terms.
Feliciano, a Dominican-American, at the time responded, Torres views the increasing growth of the Dominican community as a threat to his power and dominance. She subsequently, during a separate interview, said, “The community he is trying to rule and to conquer, which is the Dominican community, one that he has insulted, disrespected and totally ignored during his two term; and now I think he’s coming back to them and asking them for their support is adding insults to injury.”
Feliciano said Dominican were treated poorly under Torres’ reign. She cited several Dominican bodegas that were busted for selling crack pipes as examples of Torres’ dislike of Dominicans. The former mayor said he had to shut these places down because they facilitated crack addiction in the community. Torres said he was a bodega owner, and that did not represent any ill-feeling between him and the largest Hispanic group in the city.
Torres mentioned that he appointed Elsa Mantilla, a Dominican, to deputy mayor position. “You asked about Dominican representation in his administration and he’d talked about appointing deputy mayors, and we all know deputy mayors don’t really have decision making powers and they’re non-salaried as well,” added Sayegh during the forum to discredit the former mayor’s response.
The former mayor cited Pedro Liranzo, director in charge of inspecting taxis, as a Dominican he appointed. “If you look at today,” said Torres, “the director of taxi and limousine services in the city is a person I appointed.”
Lately, leaders from the Dominican community have divided themselves up among the candidates. Pedro Rodriguez, one of the members of the Paterson Dominican Council, is backing Torres; Miguel Diaz, another member of that council, is backing Sayegh.
Both Rodriguez and Diaz were part of the community’s early effort to support one candidate, but that came to naught when Rigo Rodriguez, councilman at-large, delegitimized the council after it failed to grant him unified support.
Rodriguez, the councilman, was overlooked mainly over voter fraud allegations brought against him by the Attorney General’s Office. The council rejected Diaz from mayoral run because every time he runs he ends up losing, explained a member of the council.
Since that early division in summer of 2013, the community has been fragmenting. Despite the claims of his opponents, Torres has a great deal of backing from the city’s Dominican community.
During a Sayegh endorsement ceremony last Monday, the former mayor deployed almost 100 Dominicans bearing his signs to shout down Democratic Party leaders, among them John Currie, state chairman of the party, and Bill Pascrell, congressman representing New Jersey’s 9th District.
During the riotous event, Julio Tavarez, a Dominican and 5th Ward councilman, remarked the former mayor was using the community to his political advantage. “It is a shame that Torres is using my community,” shouted Tavarez, as a contingent from the community booed. “These people are not representative of our community: Dominicans people are smart, intelligent, and hardworking.”
Pedro Rodriguez gave an answer that is all too common when an administration attempts to leave out certain groups: he would prefer qualified people filling the positions. “What would you prefer a Dominican who cannot do the job or he hire whatever it is and actually benefit me in lowering my taxes?” asked Rodriguez. “If he can find a Dominican who’s qualified and will do a great job — I welcome that.”
Rodriguez, the councilman, said it’s not just the Dominicans who are split, so is every other community. “Everybody’s split, the Afro-Americans, they’re split by three. The Spanish, we’re split by three. The Muslims, they’re split by two.”
Despite the divisions, Feliciano said, “The bulk of the Dominican community is split between Rigo and me.”
With eight mayoral candidates courting the Dominican community, and its leaders pledging their allegiances to different candidates, fragmentation is the only course.
Torres did not return a call seeking his comments for this story.