by Joe Malinconico
PATERSON − Calling for civility and decorum, Shahin Khalique was elected president of the Paterson City Council on Friday, snatching the prize from Councilwoman Lilisa Mimms.
In almost comical fashion, opposing council members supporting Khalique and Mimms quickly blurted out their names in a race to be recognized before the city clerk could finish asking for nominations.
The vote on Khalique’s nomination took place first and he prevailed, 6-3, getting pivotal support from two council members who lost in the May mayoral election – Alex Mendez and Luis Velez – as well as from the newest member of the governing body, Md Forid Uddin.
Mimms and council members Ruby Cotton and Michael Jackson voted against Khalique’s presidency.
The council then elected Mendez as its vice president in a 5-3 vote, with Mimms, Cotton and Jackson opposed.
“This is a new day and we can make history together if we unite and work for the same purpose,” said Khalique. “It’s OK to disagree respectfully,” he added, saying he wanted to eliminate the “rudeness” that has marred council meetings in recent years.
Mendez sounded a similar theme. “It is my commitment to bring respect to this council,” he said.
Mendez was indicted on still-pending voting fraud charges stemming from Paterson’s 2020 council ward elections. In that same probe, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges that are still pending against two of Khalique’s campaign workers, including his brother.
After Khalique and Mendez were picked for the council leadership positions, Mayor Andre Sayegh noted that Khalique became Paterson’s first Bangladeshi council president. The mayor congratulated both men and said directly to Mendez, “let’s align our vision.”
Sayegh’s words to Mendez stood in stark contrast to what he has said about his arch-rival over the past two years, during which he repeatedly called the councilman a criminal and lawbreaker.
When asked whether his comments to Mendez represented an olive branch, the mayor said, “of course.” “He’s on the council, until he’s not on the council.”
“We’re willing to work with anyone on the council who is willing to work with us,” interjected Sayegh’s chief of staff, Christian Callegari.
Sayegh’s comments during his inauguration earlier in the afternoon echoed past speeches as he highlighted Paterson’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the $800 million in new construction he said happened during his first term as mayor and the millions of dollars Paterson has spent on park improvements during his administration.
Sayegh touched on one new development during his speech – an increase in the number of Passaic County Sheriff’s Officers patrolling Paterson streets as a result of the impending shutdown of the county jail.
At the council reorganization, Sayegh also said Paterson will get an extra $10 million in state transitional aid this year. That money, the mayor said, will go toward buying new police patrol vehicles, street surveillance cameras and infrastructure improvements like repaving park roads.