A man, who served as an intern in mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration, allegedly collected petitions for the incumbent’s campaign.
Winfield Zhai collected petitions for Sayegh on multiple occasions. Sources observed him collecting petitions during a city toy giveaway last year. He again collected petitions for the mayor during a Black History Month event organized and put on by the mayor, according to multiple witnesses.
Sayegh and his team at City Hall have been cagey about releasing information about the intern. His administration could not produce an internship application or resume for Zhai in response to an open records request.
Zhai also goes by multiple pseudonyms. For example, he uses the name Winfield Jai on the business social networking website LinkedIn. Some in City Hall call him “Winfred.” It’s not clear what is his legal name.
“His name is Winfield Zhai and he is not an intern. He is a volunteer on our campaign. Please leave him alone,” said Sayegh. He said Zhai is a Chinese immigrant who came to the U.S. to receive an education and work in government.
Sayegh initially would not provide a start and end date of Zhai’s internship.
“He was an intern for approximately one year and left to pursue his master’s degree,” said Sayegh. He said Zhai’s internship ended on April 3, 2020.
However, that is at odds with the start and end dates that Zhai has reported on his LinkedIn profile.
Zhai’s profile states he worked for the mayor’s office and the constituent services office from March 2019 through January 2022. He began working for Sayegh’s campaign as a “campaign manager” in February 2022, according to the same profile. Zhai’s self-reported dates suggests he was working as an intern for the city when he was collecting petitions for Sayegh in December 2021.
When contacted for comments, Zhai picked up the phone and hung up when a reporter identified himself. He did not respond to a series of written questions sent to him via text message.
Zhai changed his LinkedIn profile to private after a reporter contacted him about his self-reported dates.
“He ceased being intern on the date I provided to you. His profile is mistaken. He will change it,” said Sayegh when provided a screen capture of Zhai’s self-reported start and end date of the internship.
Sayegh repeatedly told a reporter to leave Zhai alone.
Sayegh, who is running for re-election, has been accused of using public resources to further his campaign by his rivals.
“It’s definitely not proper,” said councilman Michael Jackson.
Councilman Luis Velez said payroll records should shed light into Zhai’s start and end dates in the Sayegh administration.
Velez said he saw Zhai at City Hall in November and December of last year.
“I visit City Hall almost every day. I can say out of five days, I saw him four,” said Velez speaking of November and December 2021. “He was helping with Christmas tree lighting and decorating. I saw it myself. He always sat in the constituent services office.”
Velez said it was not proper for the mayor to use the intern to collect petitions. He said the discrepancy between what Sayegh has said and what Zhai put on his profile shows they are being “dishonest.”
Jackson, Velez, and Sayegh are among five people running for mayor. Others running are councilman Alex Mendez and former councilman Aslon Goow.
“What else is new? He’s breaking all the rule,” said Goow. “He’s still making those robocalls.”
Sayegh was accused earlier in the month of using taxpayer-funded emergency notification system to promote himself. He has denied the allegation and claimed he was keeping the community informed with important information.
“He has been using people that are on the city’s payroll for his stuff,” said Mendez speaking of Sayegh. He has repeatedly accused the mayor of using city resources to further his campaign at public meetings. Sayegh has often countered by attacking Mendez on his election related charges from 2020.