Al Abdelaziz appointed to Paterson’s 6th Ward council seat

The City Council appointed Al Abdelaziz, vice chairman of the Paterson Democrats, to fill the 6th Ward seat vacated by mayor Andre Sayegh on Tuesday night, breaking away with recent custom not to appoint anyone seeking the seat long-term through election.

Abdelaziz was unanimously appointed by the council. He went up against two other men – former school board member Juan “Mitch” Santiago and municipal inspector Jesus Castro. Neither Santiago nor Castro were nominated by any council members for the post.

“I’m truly humbled,” said Abdelaziz, 30, who is the youngest member to sit on the council in Paterson’s history, after the vote. “I will not let down the 6th Ward residents or the residents of Paterson.”

Abdelaziz was allowed to take the seat immediately after the vote. The appointment allows him to hold the seat until November. Before the vote, more than half-dozen people, 6th Ward residents, spoke in favor of appointing Abdelaziz to the post.

“I don’t feel it should be vacant,” said Jeanette Marin, a 6th Ward resident, in expressing her support for Abdelaziz.

Castro and Santiago did not have any supporters speak for them at the meeting. Both men spoke against filling the vacancy with someone, who will seek the seat in November.

“If you fill the seat with one of us candidates, it’s a disadvantage to all of the other candidates,” said Santiago. He suggested the council appoint someone, who won’t run in November or leave the seat vacant.

Except, all three men, who expressed interest, will be candidates in the November special election.

Castro argued 6th Ward voters should pick their council person. He accused the council of carrying out the wish of the Passaic County Democratic Party by appointing Abdelaziz. He said council members were voting based on party and friendship rather than the interest of the 6th Ward.

“We don’t feel it’s right. It’s not fair,” said Castro. “It’s not your decision.”

Council members Ruby Cotton and Michael Jackson pushed back against allegations they were carrying out the wish of the party.

“I know, myself, I’m definitely not a party hack,” said Jackson. He also argued there hasn’t been a solid tradition of barring appointees from running for office. Anthony Davis was appointed to the 1st Ward after former councilman Jeffery Jones moved out of the ward, he said. Davis ran and won in the election that followed.

The more recent examples were that of James Staton in the 1st Ward following Davis’ conviction. He was appointed with the promise that he would not seek the seat in the special election. Similarly, city clerk Jane Williams-Warren promised not to run for the mayor’s seat after she was appointed by the council.

Council president Maritza Davila argued the incumbent status may not boost a candidacy but have the opposite effect.

“This can also be a double-edged sword,” said Davila. She said the interim council member could end up voting for unpopular measures and face a backlash from voters.

Abdelaziz also had the backing of mayor Andre Sayegh.

“I’m proud of you,” said Sayegh of his former student. He said Abdelaziz is the first Palestinian-American to hold a City Council seat.

Abdelaziz unsuccessfully ran for the 6th Ward seat in 2016. He was hand-picked by former Jose “Joey” Torres to take out then-councilman Sayegh, who was a constant critic of the mayor. Sayegh managed to expand his base of support in the ward to maintain hold on the seat. Both men have since patched up their relationship.

Abdelaziz backed Sayegh in the mayoral race. He played a key role getting the Arab vote out for Sayegh.

“I’ve known Al for a long time, all this guy talks about is the 6th Ward,” said councilman Flavio Rivera.

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