Three Hispanic Candidates Vie For Paterson, NJ Mayor

Campaign posters in Paterson, N.J., before Tuesday's mayoral election (Photo by Humberto Arellano via El Diario).

Campaign posters in Paterson, New Jersey, before Tuesday’s mayoral election. (Photo by Humberto Arellano via El Diario)

Only a few hours before Tuesday’s mayoral election, Paterson, New Jersey residents are closely following the race in which, for the first time, eight candidates – three of them Hispanic – vie for the biggest municipal job.

Campaign posters can be found at every corner of this city 20 minutes west of Manhattan, as candidates have increased their search for the Latino vote, which represents 56 percent of the population.

Puerto Rican José “Joey” Torres, who was the mayor from 2002 to 2010, seeks to regain the seat after losing it to Jeffery Jones in the past election. Torres and the current City Council President Andre Sayegh are the main favorites to unseat Jones in the May 13 election.

The other Latino candidates are both Dominican: María Teresa Feliciano is a newcomer in politics, and Councilman Rigo Rodríguez was recently charged with electoral fraud.

Peruvian María del Pilar Rivas, who has lived in Paterson for 36 years, criticized the division among Latino politicians and the fact that there are three Hispanic candidates. “This only divides our vote and hinders our possibilities,” said Rivas, 54.

Extending eight miles, Paterson has some 70,000 registered voters. It is estimated that some 27,000 Latinos will participate in the election, including 5,000 Dominicans, 10,000 Puerto Ricans, and an undetermined number of Peruvians. Although Paterson is considered to have the biggest Peruvian settlement in the U.S., this South American community has not yet achieved political representation.

“Even though Latinos are the numerical majority, they are not the electoral majority,” said sociologist Alejandro Benjamín, of Dominican origin. As for Paterson’s recovery after a long economic slog, the resident of more than 40 years said that the New York vicinity is an advantage, “because you can redevelop following such models as Newark and Jersey City, which obviously is going to take time.”

A walk through Main Street, Market Street or 21st Avenue reflects the Latin diversity in the city, considered the second most densely populated in the U.S. after New York. In many businesses, people refused to name their favored candidate. “We don’t want retaliation,” said the owner of a store on whose window are posters of three mayoral candidates on display.

Still undecided about his vote, Hugo Villalón, 60, pointed to crime as one of the biggest problems for the next mayor. “Going out after 7 p.m. is like exposing myself to getting killed,” said the Peruvian man who has lived here for 19 years. Last year 22 killings were recorded in Paterson, and six people have been murdered between January and March of this year.

Abel Ángeles, 30, a Dominican who moved to Paterson 13 years ago and who manages a supermarket, mentioned the lack of youth programs, the inefficient garbage collection and the poor quality of life as other pressing problems for the next mayor.

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