The City Council appointed Al Abdelaziz, vice chairman of the Paterson Democrats, to fill the 6th Ward seat vacated by mayor Andre Sayegh on Tuesday night, breaking away with recent custom not to appoint anyone seeking the seat long-term through election.
Abdelaziz was unanimously appointed by the council. He went up against two other men – former school board member Juan “Mitch” Santiago and municipal inspector Jesus Castro. Neither Santiago nor Castro were nominated by any council members for the post.
“I’m truly humbled,” said Abdelaziz, 30, who is the youngest member to sit on the council in Paterson’s history, after the vote. “I will not let down the 6th Ward residents or the residents of Paterson.”
Abdelaziz was allowed to take the seat immediately after the vote. The appointment allows him to hold the seat until November. Before the vote, more than half-dozen people, 6th Ward residents, spoke in favor of appointing Abdelaziz to the post.
“I don’t feel it should be vacant,” said Jeanette Marin, a 6th Ward resident, in expressing her support for Abdelaziz.
Castro and Santiago did not have any supporters speak for them at the meeting. Both men spoke against filling the vacancy with someone, who will seek the seat in November.
“If you fill the seat with one of us candidates, it’s a disadvantage to all of the other candidates,” said Santiago. He suggested the council appoint someone, who won’t run in November or leave the seat vacant.
Except, all three men, who expressed interest, will be candidates in the November special election.
Castro argued 6th Ward voters should pick their council person. He accused the council of carrying out the wish of the Passaic County Democratic Party by appointing Abdelaziz. He said council members were voting based on party and friendship rather than the interest of the 6th Ward.
“We don’t feel it’s right. It’s not fair,” said Castro. “It’s not your decision.” He criticized the council for trying to make the decision behind closed doors prompting council members to deliberate and appoint in an open session.
Council members Ruby Cotton and Michael Jackson pushed back against allegations they were carrying out the wish of the party.
“I know, myself, I’m definitely not a party hack,” said Jackson.
Some invented their own facts to support deviating from recent custom.
Jackson claimed former councilman Anthony Davis was appointed and that he later ran in a special election.
Davis on Wednesday morning said that is false. He said too many people, including him, wanted the 1st Ward seat, forcing the council to keep it vacant. Former councilman Jeffery Jones had moved out of the 1st Ward creating the vacancy.
Davis ran in the special election and won, he said.
Shahin Khalique, 2nd Ward councilman, also pushed a falsehood. He claimed there was no condition set when the city council appointed former city clerk Jane Williams-Warren to the mayor’s seat late last year.
Did the council appoint Williams-Warren with the condition she couldn’t run for mayor in the upcoming election? “That was one of the conditions,” said former councilman Kenneth Morris, who was the architect behind Williams-Warren’s appointment. “The council traditionally has taken the position that anyone, who was going to get appointed to an unfilled seat, it would be someone, who would not be running in the next election for the seat.”
Morris said the tradition was established to ensure the appointed person does not get an unfair advantage over other candidates and he does not get to use the council as a bully pulpit to get out their agenda and campaign message.
James Staton was appointed to the the 1st Ward seat following Davis’ conviction. He was appointed with the promise that he would not seek the seat in the special election. Before that, the city council refused to fill the 2nd Ward seat after it was vacated by Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman due to an unfavorable court ruling.
Council president Maritza Davila argued the incumbent status may not boost a candidacy but have the opposite effect.
“This can also be a double-edged sword,” said Davila. She said the interim council member could end up voting for unpopular measures and face a backlash from voters.
Abdelaziz also had the backing of mayor Andre Sayegh.
“I’m proud of you,” said Sayegh of his former student. He said Abdelaziz is the first Palestinian-American to hold a City Council seat.
Abdelaziz unsuccessfully ran for the 6th Ward seat in 2016. He was hand-picked by former Jose “Joey” Torres to take out then-councilman Sayegh, who was a constant critic of the mayor. Sayegh managed to expand his base of support in the ward to maintain hold on the seat. Both men have since patched up their relationship.
Abdelaziz backed Sayegh in the mayoral race. He played a key role getting the Arab vote out for Sayegh.
“I’ve known Al for a long time, all this guy talks about is the 6th Ward,” said councilman Flavio Rivera.
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Correction (7/11/2018): A previous version of this report erroneously stated Davis was appointed to the 1st Ward seat. He was not. He won in a special election.