Could former Paterson Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres use a costumed birthday party to cover up his ambitions of trying to run for mayor, a position he is prohibited from holding? Mazawey law firm, representing Charles Florio, a leading developer who is not a particular friend of Torres, wants the New Jersey attorney general to investigate.
Richard S. Mazawey, Esq. released a letter dated November 11 asking the state attorney general to investigate suspected fundraising activity that could be used to propel a Torres mayoral race in 2022. Mazawey claims in his letter that a masquerade birthday party, held at Brownstone, may have been used as a fundraiser under the cover of a 63e birthday party.
One of the exhibits submitted included an invitation from “Friends of Mayor Torres” which included a “donation: $ 75” for the event, which was held on October 28. A second item included what appeared to be a bumper sticker boldly stating “Forward Paterson Torres Mayor 2022” with the added line “Paid by Forward Paterson 2022”.
However, a court order bars Torres from holding public office.
City Councilor Alex Mendez announced his candidacy, running against incumbent Mayor Andre Sayegh,
back in September. Mendez, who is Hispanic, poses a threat to Sayegh but brings a lot of his own baggage. Mendez, who was indicted in March this year along with City Councilor Michael Jackson on electoral fraud charges, among other charges, had a bitter feud with former city councilor William McKoy, who Mendez defeated after a controversial race. with recounts and in-your-face showdowns afterwards, as seen in a shouting match at a Jamaican Day festival this summer.
McKoy aligned with Sayegh in keeping Mendez out of the mayor’s seat three years ago when his own mayoral bid failed.
The introduction of Joey Torres entering the race throws another variable that turns heads. While he’s legally prohibited from assuming office, lawyers will need to consider whether or not he can run a campaign, which seems bizarre and doomed at first glance, but could serve an ulterior purpose. Either way, Florio wants to make sure Torres stays out.
Mazawey’s letter said of the former mayor’s birthday party, “… on information and belief, in reality, Mr. Torres laid the groundwork for a return to elective public office, a pursuit that is prohibited from him by law, for life, forever, in perpetuity, in accordance with the order of forfeiture and permanent prohibition of future public employment between the Attorney General of New Jersey and Mr. Torres as an absolute condition of his criminal case on September 25, 2017. “
Mazawey urged the attorney general’s office to open an investigation, pointing to the mayor’s past legal issues. “As your office is aware, on September 27, 2017, an order of confiscation and permanent exclusion from any future public office prohibiting Mr. Torres permanently and definitively from holding a post or post of honor, of trust or profit in the State of one of its administrative or political subdivisions, has been listed and filed by the Honorable Sheila A. Venable, PJ Cr. In the same court order, Mr Torres certified that he understood that if he applied for a future job in the public sector, it would constitute a violation of that order and that he would be subject to additional fees as a result. under NJSA § 2C: 29-9a (Fourth degree – contempt of court).
Criticizing the former mayor, Mazawey told the attorney general’s office: “After casting disgrace and dishonor on everyone in the great town of Paterson, his family, friends, city workers and election supporters, Mr. Torres is back in style.
The attorney said, “Mr. Torres is no stranger to law-breaking activities” and cited a fine of $ 14,350 imposed by NJ ELEC in 2012 for “failing to include information about donors of his electoral campaign in 2010 ”. Further, the letter mentions “In 2017, he was recently sentenced to five (5) years in state prison for using DPW employees who were on time in town to work on his properties, with l ‘taxpayer money’. Mazawey also listed a 26-page report prepared by Paterson City Council in January 2014 that “examined payments made to Mr. Torres for salary payment irregularities.” Among these, a 2008 memo written to Paterson’s treasurer asking for a paycheck for ten days of vacation in 2007, after which he was “forced to return $ 2,238.00 he received in 2008 for $ 3. $ 169 which he claimed was a “payroll error”. “
Mazawey concluded the list of incidents in his letter by referring to Torres having received a “claimed lump sum payment for sick leave and vacation” of $ 73,996.00 during his last week in the mayor’s office in 2010. City Council demanded that the money be returned to him, “but Mr. Torres allegedly refused to reimburse the funds in the absence of the New Jersey Attorney General’s office or the Passaic County District Attorney’s office determining unlawful conduct and / or a breach of ethics.
Paterson is a city that is often frustrating at best and overwhelming at worst for most mayors, with a city council often at odds with the competing ambitions of other council members for the mayor’s seat. Regardless of the notion of public good, the mayor is frequently undermined and disempowered precisely because of an often ungovernable council, and as a result, the much sought-after seat is one that has been emasculated and disempowered due to the dysfunction of the council. The quarrels of the council and the personal and political bitterness of individuals towards each other, and the incumbent mayor, render their own ambitions largely doomed functionally, except for the fact that ‘they are a goal in themselves.
But what if a man can’t actually be a mayor and keeps running?
“If Mr. Torres wrongly solicits donations for his own personal benefit, when he is aware that his permanent ban prohibits him from being an elected official, he would be committing illegal acts in violation of the Court’s order of 27 September 2021 and he should not be allowed to take money under this illicit solicitation or pretext, ”Mazawey said.
Torres enjoys tremendous support, and the animosity that exists between him and Sayegh is no secret. Sayegh, Florio and others were involved in the downfall of Torres, and with the former mayor having spent time in jail and legally barred from office by court order, it seemed more or less to the difference. But Torres isn’t the type to let convention get in his way.
Find him at a Brownstone reception and Torres will always be greeted as a beloved friend by many, an honored leader of the community. Paterson seems to demonstrate a special willingness to look beyond certain things, as long as the future seems to be a more attractive prospect.
Courts will need to determine what can and cannot happen, but as for Torres, he has been quoted as telling his party that since he is allowed to vote he sees no reason not to run. Meanwhile, in September, the state attorney general’s office said it was “so clear” that Torres was disqualified that they would not comment on his possibility of running again. But Florio nonetheless begged the GA to investigate Torres’ activity again with regard to the race.
In a hypothetical scenario, Torres running a race that he cannot actually win, against Sayegh and Mendez, would primarily be detrimental to Sayegh. Sayegh, a member of the Passaic Democratic Committee, is himself a sort of stateless actor within the complex ethnic and cultural coalitions that define Paterson’s modern political constituencies. Roman Catholic, Syrian and Lebanese, he lacks the natural base of support from the large Hispanic and Muslim voting blocs in Paterson. Torres is an institution in its own right and can be expected to produce a large following. Mendez, who is Hispanic, would benefit from Torres’ support in Sayegh.
Would the Patersonians make the effort to vote for a man who cannot be sworn in? Someone who still orders an important call in the city but has a court order preventing them from holding government office or a trust? Perhaps, if only to deny Sayegh another term and not directly support Mendez. But that is, in fact, what it would be. If the anniversary donation of $ 75 was, in reality, some kind of stealth campaign contribution, it shows that there are a lot of players willing to put their money where they say it, knowing that a donation of 75 $ or $ 7,500 still wouldn’t put Torres in the captain’s seat. This says more about their views on Sayegh than the pragmatic reality of a hypothetical Torres restoration.
If there was a run with all three players, and if Torres reduced Sayegh’s own base to the point where he would become second behind the former mayor, Torres would still be disqualified. That would leave Mendez as a contender for the throne, if not in the legal sense, but in the public relations sense. Have mercy on the poor election workers and election workers in this situation. If that happened, which would indeed be reckless, this constitutional crisis would likely trigger a flurry of trials and a special election, seriously damaging the town’s political integrity and Sayegh’s political career. All of this is understood unless the state steps in to quell Torres’ campaign before it takes off. Losing ground to the man Sayegh helped bring down – one with a track record that keeps him from winning the award he’s looking to win – wouldn’t be viewed favorably by the incumbent at all, that is to say the least.
Mendez could then make his case again for the inevitable pugilistic competition that would follow on the rubble of the Paterson election scene. None of the actors involved are outsiders or fear a prolonged and bitter political war. The question remains, what would be left for the victor to inherit in the end as he collapses into the bruised and even more weakened mayor’s seat?
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