By now many of you have read about my sad encounter after the ESNA mayoral candidate debate, wherein I asked our mayoral candidates to name the current vice-president of the United States, only to find two of them—McKoy and Sayegh—were smarter than a fifth grader. Admittedly, Mendez escaped before having to answer, though after having had heard him speak at the debate I have my doubts. But at least he showed up, unlike Rodriguez, who didn’t give us that courtesy. He cancelled at the last minute to hang out with a rapper— after hardworking Patersonians’ money was spent renting his podium and microphone. Perhaps he should have taken a cue from “Trap Queen” and “put [his] money where his mouth is.”
But what I really want to talk about here is your cousin. And why you shouldn’t vote for him. Or for your aunt’s neighbor or your pastor’s favorite nephew. Because someone looks like you, speaks your language, or has shown up to your block party: that does not make them a viable mayoral candidate. Believe me, I understand the compulsion. If a female Cuban poet was running for office I may be inclined to give her some extra attention, since I’m the daughter of a Cuban man, and a poetess. But those facts wouldn’t be enough to secure my vote, because I know they’re coming from the wrong mentality: Ego. Sure, I speak Spanish, and you know what, that doesn’t make me any more inclined to vote for a Spanish speaking candidate, foremost because their English skills are going to be far more useful when they are engaging with city, state, and federal agencies. But moreover, I don’t need a candidate who is like me. I need a mayor who is far better than I will ever be.
I’ve heard a lot of banter about “Jackson’s one of us” or “Rodriguez is my boy.” How does being your boy, or being from your native country make a man qualified for running a truly complex city? Let me ask you this: If a major disaster hits Paterson, like a hurricane (not unimaginable) and we need federal assistance, not only will our mayor need to potentially directly deal with the very vice-president he couldn’t name; but he will need to verbally conduct his inquiries in a way that yields results. That is: he can’t pluralize words that should never be pluralized in the English language. Basic grammar. At the ESNA debate I was cringing at the poor language skills of three candidates who sounded like they needed tutors, not votes. This is coming from a woman who’s grandfather spoke Spanish as his native language.
Please know: I have absolutely nothing against an accent or pride in one’s heritage. Take Passaic’s mayor, Hector Lora, for example. He’s a tremendous talent with a stellar vocabulary who is likely proud of his Dominican lineage. I heard him give a moving speech at PCCC and was impressed with his eloquent candor and accomplishments. You want to know why he’s such a skilled orator? Because Lora made it his business to not only sound educated, but to be educated. And get this: he’s in fact is a graduate of PCCC who stated he never wanted to find himself seated at a table of Harvard graduates and feel like he couldn’t hold his own. So, he watched speeches online: Kennedy, MLK, Obama, and he took the time to learn the art of public speaking. He didn’t make excuses, or rest on the notion that people “like him” would understand his lexicon. Lora is a man dedicated to real politics and public office, so he did his homework. The majority of our candidates are not nearly capable of rubbing elbows with a table full of Harvard politicians, or a table full of anyone who has a clear grasp of rhetoric, (or a basic high school education, for that matter.) They sound like hacks, laughable at best.
Maybe you find comfort in understanding a particular candidate’s vernacular, there’s a nice feeling when your mayor is relatable. You think he’ll pardon your parking ticket. He’ll get you a job. He knows your struggles. But that’s not how this works. He should be too busy fixing our schools to show up to your barbecue. If you need your comrade in office, then a council seat is a more reasonable position, since he will be strictly dealing with your backyard. But the mayor has to deal with balancing a multi-million-dollar budget on the regular… you want to trust that to someone who can’t balance his checkbook? And I beg you to have the empathy to recognize that you’re not the only population of Paterson. There are people here from Turkey, Japan, Israel, Kenya, France… gay people, straight people, young and old. No one candidate is going to hit every demographic, but one mayor has to represent all people. Not just your family. So here’s what you do: tell a white lie. Tell your boy that, sure, you’ll vote for him. He’s never going to know, voting is wonderfully private. Post the signs, broadcast the hell out of your love for Candidate X or Y and then vote for a candidate who is actually going to be able to represent all of Paterson in a professional way. Lie your tails off if you are too ashamed to go against your allegiance, so that we can actually have a shot at an honest mayor. Again, we want them to be better than our flaws.
As was quoted in the article about the vice-president blunder, I was appalled but not surprised by the stupidity I unearthed at the debate. What I am surprised by is the many Patersonians who will still vote for these individuals. I’m also stupefied by just how much nonsense everyone here seems to put up with, and for far too long. And if you vote unwisely, you’re going to find a few more years of stupidity headed our way. Hopefully, many of you do actually know a thing or two about who is in office, so the name Corey Booker ought to be familiar. He is the brilliant NJ senator who was once mayor of Newark, a city that suffered from many of the ailments that Paterson is drowning in: poverty, joblessness, gang violence, crime, poor school systems, filth, and corruption. The Newark that Booker took on was a mess… a mess he cleaned. When he left, the city was well on its way to urban renewal—a renaissance—with new businesses, better schools, and lower crime. If you haven’t heard Booker speak, I encourage you to do a quick YouTube search. He’s fierce, smart, formidable. As a senator he now demands accountability and his intelligence shines through in every word her speaks on the floor. So how do we get ourselves a Booker?
Well, to begin, Booker graduated from Stanford University. And Oxford. And Yale. Most of the candidates at the ESNA debate failed to even answer the question that directly asked them to speak about their educational history, which after some digging, was for the most part unimpressive. That is, with the exception of Sayegh, who revealed he had actually been Valedictorian at Seton Hall, and had a master’s degree from Columbia. But maybe you don’t need an Ivy League mayor. Just a minor league candidate who hopefully by now has googled “Vice President.” No, I am not suggesting that Columbia is what makes Sayegh the perfect candidate…but it is one qualification that makes him a far more impressive candidate then the rest. And Columbia is most certainly a better reason for swaying your vote than say, Colombia. Or any nationality.
The thing is, a lot of Ivy League students are a long way from Paterson’s general population, so maybe they don’t mean a fig to you. They’re legacy kids, who’s daddies and grandpas went to Harvard, another generation with a silver spoon in their mouth. Only, Andre is from Paterson. And he wasn’t born to a rich a family, though unlike the other candidates—he did manage to find his way, like Obama, to Columbia. How did he do it? Pretty simple: genuine effort and smarts. He showed up, he studied, and he worked harder than most people. I’d like to think that’s what we want for our children, let alone our mayor. The hope that even from humble beginnings one can bounce into a better life…not bounce some checks. (Incidentally, one candidate knows a thing or two about that.) Here’s where things get crazy. Someone will inevitably reply: “Oh please, like you’ve never bounced a check?” Um, yup. I sure have. But I’m not running for mayor, because I am unqualified. And mind you, I did graduate from Columbia. Let me repeat it for those in the back: I need a mayor BETTER than I am! Better at time management—such as not committing to debate only to ditch at the last minute to hang out with Fetty Wap. Better than owing back taxes on my restaurant or driving with a suspended license…again. Better than to speak at a debate and not only be unable to answer questions in complete sentences, but one who knows that “intricle” is not a word. (It’s “integral,” by the way, with the same root as “integrity.”)
Bear with me, let’s go deeper. Let’s talk about that word, integrity. Why is everyone so hung up on Cruz filing his residency in what may have been a few weeks or months of the requirement? What the hell would a few months’ difference make? Catching him on a technicality is the least of my worries, though it does speak to a candidate who is already expecting rules to get blurry…Torres, anyone? What you should be more interested in, actually, is that Cruz provided a lease as proof of residency. As in—his landlord is paying the property taxes on his place, not him. And no, you certainly don’t have to own a place to be a resident. But there is a big difference between owning your home in Paterson and living here as a part-time renter at best. For those who rent you know as well as I do what the benefits are. A tree falls on the roof: your landlord has to deal with it, am I right? When it’s your roof, and you see a tree that looks a little unstable…you’ll take care of it before it crashes. Because it’s your home, your family is inside, so you care all that much more. Cruz did what he had to be able to “technically” run, but why would you settle for technicality? Don’t you hate a TKO? I want a real knockout. I want to know why he was so desperate to get in the ring. My guess: prestige. If he cared, he and his family would have been raking their yards and trick-or-treating here for years. That a judge okayed the whole thing is suspiciously baffling, but not nearly as baffling as his motivations or true commitment to the city that he doesn’t even deem good enough for his own children to play in.
I’d venture that for most candidates it is in fact about prestige, I see it often at PCCC where I am an adjunct professor. I’ll assign my students the task of writing their future selves a letter at the beginning of the semester. Would you believe it? A handful of my students see a Bentley or a Mercedes in their futures! Miraculous! Then as weeks go on many don’t show up, skip assignments. But that Bentley, that’s what they want. We need to be teaching our students that prestige isn’t what makes us successful. Success is found when we work hard and we find our passion and never stop growing, improving. Power isn’t what makes you powerful. Knowledge is. It’s about not printing a BS degree on Vreeland Ave and asking people to call you Dr.—but instead, dedicating years of intense, time-consuming research to obtain a true PHD from a reputable institution, for the sake of the knowledge and not the title. This is what’s wrong with Paterson. No one wants to do the work, and everyone wants a come up. Can we reward a candidate who has actually done the work?
Finally, please, good people—don’t base your vote on a recommendation from Fetty Wap. I have nothing against Mr. Maxwell, in fact he has done a lot for his hometown. But his endorsement is not one I would have skipped a debate for, especially seeing as the majority of his fan base isn’t even of voting age. If I want advice on lyrics, I’d turn to Fetty in a heartbeat. But we may want to factor endorsements from people who actually have worked in politics. Someone like, say Pascrell, also a native Patersonian, who is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike and who knows Paterson’s legal comings and goings. That’s an endorsement that maybe should hold a little more weight. Or if you want to speak in hypotheticals, ask who Obama would likely endorse. I‘d be willing to bet he’d stay true to his Columbia roots.
People keep throwing around the notion of being beholden to special interest groups, positing political connections as a negative. I hear skepticism about how on earth a candidate could get people to pay $1000 a plate for a fundraiser. Um? Don’t you want a candidate who can yield those kinds of numbers? Don’t you want a candidate convincing enough to be able to secure ample funds? Again, we want someone financially wiser than us, not someone who is either unable to fund his campaign, or who is clearly fudging the contribution numbers. At the very least, can you choose one who is decent enough to provide transparent financial information that is required of his campaign by the determined deadline? Having positive relationships with politicians in higher positions doesn’t make you beholden or owned. It makes you good at your job. In fact: that is your job… and if you haven’t done well at commanding respect from your professional peers leading up to the election, clearly you lack the skills needed to be respected at county, state, and federal levels. That is, in fact, the most important element of being in a political office. You need to get “stuff” done. And “stuff” doesn’t get done alone. You need the cooperation and respect of other elected officers and only one candidate seems to have earned it. As much as I love his music, Fetty most likely won’t be the one to petition the State for grant money or propose tax levies. Only a politician can do that.
So, finally, about that debate. I’ll hand one thing to Cruz, he mentioned that he sees people throwing trash on the ground when there’s a garbage can a foot away. I see it too. Maybe you’ve given up, Paterson. Or maybe you think since no one else cares, why should you? But that’s how we got here. You’ve started to settle. For years you’ve settled, and it appears many of you are prepared to do it again. Because you “like” someone. You don’t have to like the mayor, in fact, if you think about it, you’re his boss. You do need to trust him to not humiliate our hometown. Trust in his intellect and his professionalism. You need to believe he has the education, communication skills, and job credentials to mend and maintain a humongous, broken city. Choose wisely. It’s no secret I’m voting for Andre. And let me tell you something, I came into the election undecided, but it became evident very quickly that only one person out of the bunch was, at the very least, not ignorant. I’m tired of people laughing at Paterson. Choose a candidate who can’t answer a simple question and we will continue to be the laughing stock of NJ.
On Tuesday, I saw a car with a candidate’s face wrapped around it, double parked so that the driver could talk to some guy on the street. It’s the people who can’t be bothered to learn how to parallel park, the people who don’t care who they are inconveniencing behind them, that are voting for candidates who can’t be bothered to learn how to conjugate a verb or who the vice president is.
It’s Mike Pence.