Councilman Andre Sayegh successfully defended his seat against upstart Al Abdelaziz delivering yet another blow to mayor Jose “Joey” Torres who was spotted campaigning for Abdelaziz at School 24 and School 25 just hours before polls closed in the Silk City.
“I was up against the mayor and his machine,” said Sayegh on Wednesday morning. He prevailed with 1,612 votes on Tuesday night. Abdelaziz received 1,145 votes, according to unofficial election results.
“We congratulate councilman Sayegh and we look to work with him to fight for the 6th Ward,” said Abdelaziz. At only 28, running in his first election, Abdelaziz ran a ferocious campaign against Sayegh, even earning the tacit backing of the Democratic Party.
“I’m going to continue advocating,” said Abdelaziz.
Sayegh secured a majority of the votes in 8 of the 11 districts in the 6th Ward. However, Abdelaziz won 3 districts that fall in his home turf of South Paterson. Abdelaziz also bested Sayegh in mail-in votes with 250 ballots to Sayegh’s 106.
Abdelaziz did not expect the massive turnout on election day which caused him to lose. His campaign reckoned about 2,000 voters would turnout on election day, but instead almost 2,800 did.
“We didn’t expect the numbers that came out. These are record numbers that came out in the 6th Ward,” said Abdelaziz. Indeed, the heavy turnout also forced the mayor to appear at polling sites to urge voters at the voting places to support his candidate.
The turnout could have been even greater had 20th Avenue been open the entire day. The closure of that road prevented some voters from getting to the polling site at School 24, a key Sayegh district, during the morning and early afternoon hours of Tuesday.
Torres dismissed any suggestion of his administration intentionally closed off 20th Avenue to make it difficult for Sayegh voters. His administration swiftly acted to open up 20th Avenue as soon as Sayegh complained about the road closure.
“I wouldn’t be surprised. It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence,” said Sayegh. His victory is the third blow to the mayor in recent months. In March, after evidence emerged the mayor used public works employees at his home, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation.
In April, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with former city detective Jeffrey Heffernan, allowing him to file a First Amendment lawsuit against the city for alleged retaliation by the mayor and his police chief.
“To me he’s damaged goods. He should focus on his job,” said Sayegh of Torres. He also provided advice to his former student Abdelaziz: “The best advice I can give him is he really needs to distance himself from the mayor.”
Though the mayor could not unseat his arch enemy, those candidates he did not overtly support managed to capture council seats. Shahin Khalique and Luis Velez. His close ally council president William McKoy also retained control of the 3rd Ward council seat.
Torres now has a friendly council without Julio Tavarez. The biggest loser of the night was at-large councilman Alex Mendez, according to political strategists. Mendez supported Wendy Guzman in the 5th Ward and Flavio Rivera in the 3rd Ward.
Both of Mendez’s candidates lost badly removing any hopes of the at-large councilman’s hopes of becoming council president at the July re-organization of the council. Mendez is presently the vice-president of the city council.
Sayegh said his big priorities for the remainder of the year are getting a budget for the approved 21st Avenue Special Improvement District and reviving the South Paterson Special Improvement District.
“Ramadan is right around the corner. South Paterson has a large Muslim population. We really need to go all out for the holiday,” said Sayegh making the case for the business district.
Sayegh said he also plans to expand the hotspot business curfew ordinance.
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This report was last updated on May 11th, 2016 at 1:20 p.m.