Paterson has reached a major crossroads. The city is at a critical stage where a decision must be made to return to transparent and accountable government or continue to let the go-along-to-get-along sink us deeper into the swamp of half-truths and factual lies that have flooded out the Silk City and spoiled the grassroots.The enthusiasm of Paterson residents, who were only recently excited that they might be empowered to save their own city, is turning to despair as the same cycle of cronyism that divides up opportunity among themselves and forces those in the community to fight for the scraps once again takes hold.
The recent revelation that councilman Michael Jackson was financed through Ellis Equities, an affiliate of Alma Realty, not something that can be taken lightly. Jackson has been a vocal advocate of doubling down on their failed Center City projects for many years. While I do not see a problem with advocating for projects, as I often do, it is an altogether different story when an elected official routinely questions alternative proposals that would compete with those favored by individuals with financial ties to him.
The idea that both Jackson and Ellis Equities were unaware of the massive conflicts of interest that exist in this situation is simply unbelievable. Nonetheless, given my own interactions with Alma and their less than above board tactics, the facts suggest that they are most likely the party who must account for themselves, which of course will require the complete cooperation of the councilman.
Of course, some of this information is only coming to light thanks to mayor Andre Sayegh’s attempts to discredit Jackson at a time when Sayegh himself is favoring developers who are now emerging from the fog at the witching hour with a hunger for tax credits. Even if these projects are of benefit to the city it is undeniable that the Sayegh administration wasted months of valuable time that could have been spent convincing the public of whatever merit these projects have.
Choosing the less credible route of sneaking in the deal at the last-minute forces Paterson to take risks on projects while developers take advantage of tax credits and shows questionable leadership. The decision to demand a new lease for Hinchliffe Stadium with request for proposals and before the public has seen a plan is underhanded at best. Regardless, the public interest in knowing and controlling the fate of Paterson’s culture and landmarks is not something that can be rushed because of a manufactured crisis.
The last few months represent an abhorrent lack of transparency that explains Paterson’s prolonged economic depression all too perfectly. I am calling for the Paterson City Council to request an extension on the deadlines for the use of the tax credits that the State of New Jersey has waited so patiently for us to grant to worthy projects. The State, which has its own issues of credibility in this mess (both real and imagined), should applaud such a request and recognize it as an attempt to “get it right” rather than simply, “get it done and maybe answer questions later.”
In the meantime, the City Council must investigate these new developers, their investors and all potential connections to the Paterson political elite. I for one cannot sit back and allow Paterson to roll the dice on more winks, nods and subtle assurances that things are being done in the public interest.
Written by David R. Cubby, attorney and Paterson resident.
Updated 3:25 p.m.