Yesterday I made a post on my personal Facebook page “calling out” the mayor of the city of Paterson. The post was in response to a phone call with the mayor seconds after hanging up. It was directed toward him and written in frustration and anger. Paterson is deeply personal for me, and while this passion fuels my fight, it also sometimes boils over. Last night was no exception, and for that I apologize to those I offended; family, friends and constituents. Although I stand by what I said, as an elected official it was inappropriate and out of character.
I know that Paterson and Passaic County both deserve a fighter who can rise above the little things in the best interest of its residents. Despite our history the mayor and I have managed to have a professional relationship and rest assured my personal feelings will never get in the way of doing what’s right and in the best interest of the place I’ve called home my entire life. I know better than to be triggered by the childish antics of a superficial leader with a penchant for publicity over meaningful results, whose narrative has been in direct conflict with the realities on the ground. I allowed Mayor Sayegh’s personal taunts on the phone to get the best of me, and for that I sincerely apologize.
There is no need to focus on personal feuds or quibble about the factual inaccuracies stated by Mayor Sayegh on national television. Unfortunately, those of us in the community are clear of the reality — Patersonians until this week had no real access to testing apart from a county run site in Wayne and a half-cocked for-profit site endorsed by the mayor. To pretend on national television that we had the pandemic under control on April 15 enough to be called a “model city” is disingenuous and simply far from the reality on the ground especially when the most recent numbers from the NJ Department of Health has Paterson having 6,843 cases.
But Mayor Sayegh’s half-truths are not what sparked my frustration.
At the root of all of this is not personal or petty differences, but a fundamental disagreement about how Paterson has tackled significant challenges over the last two (2) years, most pressingly the Covid-19 crisis today. This disease is personal to me. I have already lost close friends and beloved family to this virus. I know what it can do to families and communities firsthand, and I know we should be doing more. In addition to more available testing, contact tracing and the community’s adherence to social distancing, we need City leaders who understand that the public health crisis today and economic crisis emerging have ravaged Paterson businesses and destabilized tens of thousands of Paterson residents. Now is no time for public pronouncements of victory when the war is far from won.
Every lost life causes me to lose sleep thinking of ways to improve our local circumstances so we do not lose any more family members or friends. I will continue to support Paterson’s local government and the residents any way I can. I will also continue to speak my mind and say what needs to be said (albeit in a more appropriate manner next time). I will not sit by idly and watch someone play politics with the lives of people in my community. There is no excuse for my outburst, and I know the public deserves better from me. I hope the public accepts my sincere apology, because this dust-up is but a small distraction to what is arguably the most difficult time our area has faced in its 250-year history, and it will take all of us working together to prepare, rebuild and push Paterson and Passaic County forward.
Written by Passaic County freeholder Theodore “TJ” Best.