Arab American elected mayor of Paterson, New Jersey
Paterson New Jersey elected its first Arab mayor Tuesday. The city has a visible Arab American community which is only a small segment of the city’s population and is predominantly Hispanic and African American. But newly elected Arab American mayor Andre Sayegh succeeded in winning a plurality of voters support (41 percent) to win a six-candidate contest
By Ray Hanania
Arab American politician and New Jersey council president Andre Sayegh was elected mayor of Paterson on Tuesday May 8, 2018, defeating five other rivals in the hotly contested election race.
It was Sayegh’s third attempt to win the city’s chief executive office. A college history teacher who was first elected to public office in 2008 to represent Paterson’s 6th Ward, Sayegh ran third in the 2010 mayoral election and second in the 2012 election.
Sayegh was elected the president of the City Council in 2013 and built his reputation sponsoring progressive legislation to promote cost savings (energy aggregation ordinance) and revenue generation (environmental commission to increase the city’s recycling rate). Sayegh sponsored popular programs including introducing an insurance procurement reform ordinance that was expected to save Paterson $2.1 million.
During his campaign, Sayegh vowed to “address and alleviate constituent concerns about issues such as crime, illegal parking, and property maintenance” by ensuring city employees are held accountable.
Other programs included engaging young people through creation of a Youth Guidance Council currently focused on recreational activities, implementing an improved communications program to inform constituents via social media, including daily article reviews, and leveraged funds from the Urban Enterprise Zone to establish clean communities initiatives in two of the Sixth Ward’s most vibrant business districts.
Sayegh defeated five rivals winning a plurality of the votes cast. Sayegh was projected to have won 41 percent of the vote, defeating Alex Mendez (21 percent), Pedro Rodriguez (17 percent), William McKoy (12 percent), Michael Jackson (5 percent), and Alex Cruz (4 percent).
Although Paterson and the surrounding region has a large Arab American community, Sayegh won by building coalitions with the city’s large Hispanic and African American communities who together make up a majority of the city’s population. Paterson is New Jersey’s 3rd largest city with about 147,000 citizens. The population is predominantly Hispanic (60.3 percent), Black (26.2 percent), and White (8.61 percent). Nearly 62 percent of the city’s residents speak a non-English language, and 82 percent are U.S. citizens.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) offered its congratulations to Mayor-Elect Andre Sayegh who is of Lebanese-Syrian descent.
“Sayegh, whose campaign slogan was ‘One Paterson’, is being praised for his ability to reach out to community leaders and bridge the ethnic divides and cultural disputes that have long plagued the city. Arabs have been residing in Paterson since the late 1800’s making it one of the oldest Arab American communities in the country,” a statement from ADC read.
“ADC applauds Sayegh’s win as marking a shift in the city’s political make-up. ADC hopes that successes like Sayegh’s win will soon be reflected in other cities, towns, and municipalities where large Arab communities are present but underrepresented in local politics. ADC wishes Sayegh continued success and hopes to see more Arab-American political leaders seize on Sayegh’s example to unify their communities for greater progress and prosperity.”
Sayegh graduated from Columbia University in new York city with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration in 2000. While there he received a Columbia University Fellowship Award (scholarship), and worked as Deputy Manager of Workshop in Children’s Internet Protection project. His courses included Administrative Leadership, Campaign Management, and Ethical Issues in Public Policy.
Sayegh’s bio touted his love for Paterson and his ability to connect to the city’s predominantly minority community.
Paterson is the only home Andre Sayegh has ever known. He was born and raised in the city and is currently raising his two daughters here. Since being elected to the Paterson City Council in 2008, Andre has been focused on establishing a more business-friendly and family-friendly sixth ward. His accomplishments include:
- One of the nine nightclubs he closed down was transformed into a pre-school in an underserved neighborhood.
- The South Paterson business district has experienced an influx of new investors.
- Built a new playground in the Lakeview section through private-public partnerships
- Advocated for his constituents when they were unfairly paying for flood insurance that they did not need.
- Introduced the Abandoned Properties ordinance that reduced the number of eye-sores in the city.
- Introduced the Commercial Curfew ordinance that has significantly reduced crime in Paterson’s “hot spots.”
- Championed the Environmental Commission Initiatives to increase our city’s recycling rate, generating revenue for the city budget.
Prior to his election to the City Council, Andre served on the Paterson Board of Education. Under his leadership, school uniforms were implemented, new school construction was approved and district curriculum was revised. We are witnessing the long-term successes from these initiatives now.
Andre graduated with the highest honors from Seton Hall University with a Bachelor’s degree in History. Andre earned a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Administration from Columbia University and served as President of the Student Government. Andre has been an adjunct professor at Passaic County Community College for 17 years and is currently the Director of Job Readiness and Customized Training. He has successfully obtained employment opportunities for Patersonians across a wide range of fields. Andre served as a Chief of Staff for Senator John A. Girgenti and has served as a Field Representative for Congressman Bill Pascrell.
Sayegh listed his Platform Priorities during the election as:
Stabilize Property Taxes: In order to stabilize property taxes, we must expand our ratable base, which requires improving Paterson’s image to attract more investors. The model can be found in two areas within the sixth ward – South Paterson and People’s Park.
Improve Public Safety:When you make an area safer, you make an area stronger. Reinstitute the city’s street crimes unit to clear our corners. Increased police presence in areas that have been consistently plagued by high crime.
Drive Economic Development: Bringing in new businesses help fund improved public safety while stabilizing property taxes. Leverage the momentum of the new Great Falls National Park to turn our area into a top-notch tourist destination. Partner with Governor Murphy’s administration to invest in our transportation infrastructure to take full advantage of our geography, to re-invest in our institutions of higher education, and expand small business incubators to incentivize new businesses to start here.