Former councilman Aslon Goow ripped into incumbent mayor Andre Sayegh over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the City Hall mayoral debate on Monday.
“You’re constantly boasting about your success when it comes to Covid,” said Goow before reading a series of critical headlines that contemporaneously documented Sayegh’s many missteps in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. “Can you explain why you didn’t open up a testing site after you were strongly advised by your health department?”
Sayegh did not set up a Covid-19 testing site for residents during the early months of the pandemic.
Goow said Sayegh “dropped the ball.”
“Not doing it, when you were advised to, possibly cost the lives of a lot of people in Paterson,” said Goow.
Paterson was the only major city in New Jersey at the time without a local testing site.
“It’s unfortunate you are wrong on everything,” replied Sayegh. “You didn’t do your homework.”
Except, Goow did do his homework.
Sayegh failed to set up a testing site. He then reduced testing at the peak of the second wave of the pandemic in 2021. More recently, Sayegh severely cut a Covid-19 vaccination program that aimed to vaccinate hard to reach residents.
“You are absolutely correct,” added councilman Michael Jackson referring to Goow’s remarks. Indeed, Jackson was among the council members that implored Sayegh to set up testing sites in Paterson for residents.
Sayegh did not have a functional testing site until May of 2020, long after the first wave of the pandemic had passed. His campaign has been crafting an alternative narrative about his pandemic response as he seeks a second term for mayor.
After attacking Goow, Sayegh attacked the Paterson Times for its critical coverage of his numerous missteps in handling the pandemic.
Sayegh falsely claimed the New York Times praised his pandemic response. The Times ran a story about the city’s successful contact tracing program and local firefighters’ struggle in responding to 911 calls to rush infected residents to the hospital.
“You’ve been nothing but a failure and you’ve done nothing but lie to the community,” remarked Goow after Sayegh made his false claim.
Sayegh turned around and attacked Goow stating when the latter was president of the City Council he voted in favor of a large tax increase and more than 100 police officers were laid off under his watch. Goow denied he had anything to do with the police layoffs or the large tax increase under former mayor Jeff Jones.
Sayegh felt he was attacked simultaneously by three of his rivals.
“It’s become painfully obvious to me that three candidates seem to be in cahoots. It’s almost like they rehearsed this morning,” said Sayegh.
Sayegh spent much of the three-hour long debate defending himself against Goow, Jackson, and councilman Alex Mendez.
Sayegh refused to ask any questions to Goow, Jackson, and Mendez. Instead, he asked questions to Velez.
Mendez repeatedly called Sayegh a “corrupted mayor.”
“Who are you to talk about corruption? You are corrupt, it’s been proven,” Sayegh lashed out at Mendez.
Sayegh read out the voter fraud charges Mendez is facing related to the 2020 municipal elections.
Mendez has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors have not proved their case against Mendez. His case is scheduled for a hearing in August. Mendez said he is innocent and the charges against him were orchestrated against him by Sayegh’s allies in Trenton.
“He lies left and right,” said Mendez of Sayegh. “It’s a shame the way he has been representing the city.”
The five candidates spent much of the time attacking each other. They largely sidestepped questions that were asked about Paterson’s many problems.
Former councilman Kenneth Morris, who moderated the debate, kept order by strictly enforcing the rules.
Observers said Goow had the strongest showing in the debate as he directed sharp attacks at the mayor on the pandemic and public safety. He also took down councilman Luis Velez as he tried to raise questions about Goow’s residency.
Goow won his residency case in court and has said he lives in Paterson.
“I could have five houses, Luis. I can stay at each and every single one of them,” said Goow. He pointed out Velez lives in an apartment owned by developer Charles Florio. “You are the only person this developer hasn’t targeted.”
Goow suggested Velez and Sayegh were working together. Velez has denied that allegations.
Velez said Goow has a “Hitler attitude.” His questions only infuriated Goow, who delivered further blows against Velez.
“Luis, I wish you could have done better tonight,” said Goow.
Mendez appeared much more polished than he did four years ago, according to political observers. Between attacks, Mendez attempted to appeal to voters by repeatedly talking about his family and children.