Incumbent Shahin Khalique fended off a challenge from his arch rival former councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman by a razor thin margin of eight votes in the City Council ward elections.
Khalique received 1,729 votes; Akhtaruzzaman received 1,721 ballots in the three-person 2nd Ward race. Frank Filippelli received 440 votes.
“I’m out of words,” Khalique told his supporters in his packed campaign headquarters on Tuesday night after learning he had won. “You guys don’t know how much I appreciate each and every one of you.”
Neither he nor his supporters – including council president Maritza Davila — exercised social distancing. He and many of his supporters lacked masks.
Akhtaruzzaman thanked his supporters for working for the campaign during the coronavirus pandemic. He said he is consulting with his advisors on what to do next.
Akhtaruzzaman suggested he may seek a recount. John Currie, chairman of the Board of Elections, said a candidate has approximately one week to file for a recount.
Four years ago, Khalique and Akhtaruzzaman found themselves fighting a yearlong court battle over the outcome of the election. That election also had a razor thin margin. Khalique ultimately prevailed in the court case.
Both men’s feud has badly divided the city’s Bengali community. Khalique on Tuesday night had a message of unity.
“Let’s work together to move our community forward,” said Khalique. The divisions stoked by both men in their community are unlikely to be mended by words.
Khalique also apologized to his community for the pre-election violence that broke out between both teams.
Khalique also had a message of defiance for the mayor. Mayor Andre Sayegh had backed Akhtaruzzaman in the race.
“I will stand for the people. I’ll stand against this administration who is raising our taxes, sewer bills, and giving millions of dollars to his friends,” said Khalique to his supporters.
The solely vote-by-mail ballot election has been marred by allegations of voter fraud. A collection of 2nd Ward ballots were found in a South Paterson mailbox. Both the U.S. Postal Service and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office are investigating the allegations of voter fraud.
Khalique will be sworn-in for a second term on July 1.
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Updated 1:05 p.m.