It was a no-holds-barred slugfest at the 1st Ward special election forum in city hall on Thursday afternoon.
Candidates, allowed to ask each other questions, targeted each other on various controversies. “Why have you quit on our children?” asked Michael Jackson, owner of Jacksonville Restaurant, to Manny Martinez, business owner and educator.
Jackson thought Martinez’s attempted move from school board to council was breaking his pledge to city students. “I’ve served a full three-year term,” responded Martinez. “I did not leave early.”
Jackson asked Bernard Jones, who works at the Paterson Community Health Center, why he opened his business in Dumont and not Paterson. There are four similar businesses already in existence in Paterson, responded Jones.
Jones also said he had no plans to run for office at the time. When it came time for Jones to ask the questions, he asked Veronica Ovalles what mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration has been asked to cut.
Police overtime, responded Ovalles. Jones targeted Martinez asking has he looked at other things besides more funding to improve education in the city.
“We’re underfunded,” said Martinez. The district is underfunded by $174 million, said Martinez. He said that amount of money can hire a great number of teachers.
Jones also took aim at Jackson asking him if the Paterson Restoration Corporation loan he took out impacted other businesses’ from taking out low-interest loans from the quasi-governmental organization.
“Absolutely not,” responded Jackson. Jackson defaulted on a $140,000 loan from the corporation. The corporation’s ability to loan money to local businesses weakens when borrowers default, according to the corporation’s officials who were in charge when it issued Jackson’s loan.
“Do you plan to back it back?” asked Ovalles to Jackson.
“Never have I taken or stolen anything,” said Jackson in response.
Jackson claimed the corporation asked him to take out a loan and that it “crippled” his business after he obtained the loan. He also claimed some sort of an out-of-towner conspiracy against his Paterson business – the corporation’s then chairman lives outside of the Silk City.
Ovalles also aimed at Jackson asking: “Are you doing this for a business advantage?” Jackson responded in the negative. She also targeted Martinez asking if he was fired from a job as teacher.
“I was not fired,” said Martinez. He said he merely transitioned from one role to another. He said he outgrew his post as a teacher in 2010-11.
Martinez trapped both Jackson and Ovalles in a tax question. He asked the five pieces that make up a property owners’ tax bill: municipal, county, library, open space, and school tax.
Jackson and Ovalles thought he was asking about the five biggest items on the budget. Martinez later shared the answers with all the candidates as if to shake his head at the two candidates who answered incorrectly.
Martinez asked Jones what he’s been doing to curb violence in the 1st Ward which had a good deal of shooting this year. “I had tons of involvement,” said Jones of community action to prevent street violence. He suggested a partnership with the sheriff’s office to curb violence.
Martinez named the Street Keepers, the Ceasefire community group – groups he’s been involved with to bolster his anti-street-violence credentials.
Jackson attacked Jones on his integrity over some sort of a negotiation the two men had in which Jackson allegedly agreed to reimburse $10,000 Jones spent on the election for the latter to drop out of the race.
Jones said he never agreed to take $10,000 to drop out of the race. He said asked those who were asking him to drop out who would pay for his incurred expenses if he did indeed drop out. Jackson agreed to cover that cost, said Jones.
Martinez was attacked again by Jackson on the district’s bussing woes. Martinez said the individual responsible at the district was terminated after the bussing debacle.
The televised forum ran for about two hours with back and forth attacks from the candidates. In a sly move, Jones asked Jackson, if the latter will handle city finances like his business. “I’m a very frugal person,” responded Jackson answering in the positive.
Jones came under attack from Ovalles when she asked if he has been using his health center vehicle to campaign. Jones defended himself stating he works 10 hours a day and is provided with the vehicle. He said the vehicle was plain and did not bear any campaign posters or signs.
“That question is outright crazy,” said Jones.
Though the candidates savaged each other. The most hits were aimed at Martinez. The school board member had to field questions about his ties to the mayor and the controversial recreation tax.
Martinez said he has close ties with Torres because the two families — the Torres and Martinez families — came to the city together and had many interactions. He touted his ability to work with others as a plus.
“I’m my own man,” said Martinez defending himself. Many have said Martinez may align himself to rubber stamp Torres’ proposals in the council.
When asked about the recreation tax, Martinez said, “Initially I was in favor.” He expressed great support for recreation and thought the city should allocate more money towards it.
The four candidates are running to fill the unexpired term of disgraced councilman Anthony Davis who represented the 1st Ward before being sentenced to a two-year prison sentence for taking bribes.
The election is scheduled for November 3rd, 2015. The winner will obtain the remainder of Davis’ time in office which expires on June 30th, 2016.
Ovalles said she’s looking to prove to residents she deserves a full four-year term by serving on the council for roughly nine months.
All four of the candidates are running to obtain what is called the incumbent advantage in the ward elections next May.