On the morning after a whirlwind election, Paterson’s political leaders wiped the dust from their sleep-deprived eyes and put aside their differences long enough to cut the ribbon on a newly refurbished park in the Riverside neighborhood.
“We declare victory against violence. We declare victory against undisciplined activity,” Mayor Andre Sayegh told the crowd. “And hopefully, we’ll have a victory for the children of this neighborhood.”
Originally known as Anthony Lucas Park, the patch of open space at Fifth Avenue and East 24th Street has been crumbling for decades. The city spent $200,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds for a new playground, fence, benches and landscaping.
The city also came up with a new name: Bear Track Park, although it doesn’t appear that the name will stick. A banner strung along the back fence welcomed people to “The New Anthony Lucas Park (Bear Track Park).”
“Who came up with the name Bear Track Park?” U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. said during his remarks. Later, the Democrat fondly recalled Tony Lucas, a fellow Riverside resident who was active in local recreation programs. Lucas died about 20 years ago, Pascrell said.
“Tony Lucas meant so much to this neighborhood,” Pascrell said. “He was a good man and a friend.”
Retha Arnold, the owner of Scillieri-Arnold Funeral Home across the street, said the park was overrun by drug users, and she’s been urging the city to clean it up.
“I have watched the buffoonery that has taken place in this park,” Arnold said. She then turned to Bill McKoy, the 3rd Ward council candidate who remains locked in a close race with challenger Alex Mendez.
“I look forward to seeing you in this community more,” Arnold said.
Pascrell suggested that restoring the park is a step toward restoring confidence in government.
“People want to feel like they have not been forgotten and that they belong,” he said of the federal funding spent on restoring the park. “This is what happened in the election four years ago. I think we’ve improved a lot along those lines.”
Pascrell was referring to Democratic losses among working-class voters that helped propel President Donald Trump to victory in 2016. The Democrats spent four years trying to recapture those voters, and Wednesday morning’s ribbon-cutting had Pascrell delivering the bacon to his own neighborhood.
Pascrell’s reelection to a 13th term seemed all but assured after Tuesday’s vote. With just over 50% of all ballots counted, Pascrell led his Republican rival, Billy Prempeh, also of Paterson, by 123,101 to 56,155 in the battle for New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District, which includes parts of Passaic, Bergen and Hudson counties.
“I never take any election for granted,” Pascrell said after the ceremony. “But we got some pretty good numbers from three counties last night. It’s not over, but I feel I got the election I expected.”
With the presidential race still uncertain, Pascrell said it was the Republican-controlled state Senate in Pennsylvania that decided mail-in ballots there wouldn’t be counted until after Election Day. Trump on Wednesday went to court to block the counting of some ballots, which would leave in place his provisional lead.
“The counting of every vote is critical,” Pascrell said. “To suggest that the count should be stopped — that guy [Trump] doesn’t know what the Constitution says. He has no idea what election law says.”
Still, Pascrell was only cautiously optimistic that Biden would prevail. “I’d say the odds are 6-to-5,” he said.