Paterson Dominicans Worry Two Candidates for Mayor May Be Too Many

Pedro Rodríguez (l.) and Alex Méndez (r.) are waging a daily battle to become the Dominican candidate for mayor of Paterson. (Photo via Reporte Hispano)

The Dominican community in Paterson – home to the largest group of people from that country in the Garden State – is in suspense.

Although the city’s mayoral election is scheduled for 2018, the race has begun earlier than ever.

Each in his own corner, two sons of the Dominican community – Pedro Rodríguez and Alex Méndez – are preparing to become the candidate to represent it.

The 2010 census counted 84,254 Hispanics living in Paterson. Broad, unconfirmed figures have led Dominicans to believe that 40,000 of them are their compatriots and estimate that 15,000 of them are eligible to vote.

The census also states that 26,360 Hispanic voters are registered in the former Silk City.

The number of Dominican votes in Paterson is debatable because there is no way to verify it precisely. However, this is a community with a large number of voters, so the reasoning is this: If 8,382 votes got Mayor José “Joey” Torres elected in 2014, Dominicans have more than enough votes to win.

The fact that neither Rodríguez nor Méndez seem willing to yield is of great concern for the community.

“If we go in divided, we can’t win,” said Pedro Liranzo, a longtime Dominican-born activist in the city.

Julio Terruel, a Dominican resident of Paterson, agrees.

Even though the election is still a long way off, both candidates have already hit the ground running.

Pedro Rodríguez – who served as commissioner of the Board of Education and as deputy mayor of Paterson – has released a campaign video ad showing drone shots of Paterson’s Great Falls, an emblem of the city, and featuring families with children. His slogan: “The best is yet to come.”

At press time, the promotional video had reached 28,441 views, according to data provided by the Rodríguez campaign.

Recently, the candidate has shared the table and the microphone with the area’s Muslim community to mark the month of Ramadan, and he joined the Peruvian community in an event to honor soccer player Jaime “Chiquillo” Duarte, born in that country.

He also sponsored an event at P.S. 24 in which 64 children played “vitilla,” a type of stickball played in the Dominican Republic in which balls are replaced with water bottle caps. Last week, he decorated 150 vehicles with his campaign ads.

“We have the best campaign team,” said Rodríguez, referring to the fact that he has “a base campaign team that worked the streets and took current Mayor José ‘Joey’ Torres to victory.”

The other candidate, Alex Méndez – currently a full-time councilman – is also leaving his mark on every inch of the territory.

On Sunday, June 25, he celebrated his birthday with a bang. Nearly a hundred people wearing white danced to María Díaz’s merengue. The slogan “Alex Méndez 2018” was heard from the stage a number of times at the event, which took place on a yacht that circled the Hudson River.

The day before, Méndez put on a baseball glove and pitched the first ball at the inaugural game of the Liga Cibaeña, which has existed in the city of Paterson for 35 years. He also attended almost every school graduation ceremony and tries not to miss any community or national event where he can reach out to future supporters.

At the event to crown the queen of the 2017 Peruvian Parade, he was among the most enthusiastic people in attendance. “I am the only Dominican candidate who came to this event,” he said, making the most of his rival’s absence.

Méndez, also a former school board commissioner, said that he is the councilman with the highest number of votes in the city and that his competitor “has never won an election.”

He also said that he will not only represent Dominicans because he also has the support of the African-American and Middle Eastern communities and of Latinos in general.

In light of the situation, a seven-member “commission of notables” tasked with convincing the candidates to agree on which one of the two will run was created in December 2016. It has produced no results so far.

A similar idea was attempted in 2013 by María Teresa Feliciano, a Dominican-born candidate for mayor of Paterson, but was unsuccessful.

One of the candidates told Reporte Hispano that the idea is to “measure the strength, support and money the campaign has in the hope that whoever has the most will benefit from having his rival’s backing.” In exchange, the withdrawing candidate would receive a preferential role in the incoming municipal government.

Lastly, there is the party element. Paterson is Democratic. More than 90 percent of the electorate there has registered to vote in the party of the Clintons, but their candidate in the last mayoral election  – André Sayegh – lost to Joey Torres.

This time around, it is hard to imagine the Democratic establishment standing by with their arms crossed.

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