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Paterson mayor Sayegh prevails in keeping sewer utility

Mayor Andre Sayegh prevailed in keeping the controversial sewer reform measures after a City Council vote on Tuesday night.

Sayegh successfully convinced the City Council to undo the veto override which effectively keeps his sewer reforms, that led to massive increases in sewer fees for homeowners and businesses, in place.

The mayor made his pitch to the council during its regular meeting.

“I come in peace. I’m not here to fight against any council person, I’m here to fight with you for the residents we represent,” said Sayegh. “I will concede that it wasn’t a perfect process when we rolled it out.”

Sayegh gave a brief presentation to the City Council to urge members to reconsider the repeal. His presentation outlined the consequences of the sewer repeal such as a one-time $2 million loss in state aid and possible credit downgrade from Moody’s Investors Service. He said his administration has tapped Moonshot Missions to conduct an analysis and produce a report by April 19. The council can make amendments to the sewer utility ordinance using the report’s recommendations and findings, he said.

“[I’m] asking humbly for a reconsideration,” said Sayegh.

Sayegh’s presentation moved council members Luis Velez and Lilisa Mimms to support the mayor. Prior to the vote, Sayegh had been running a behind the scenes lobbying campaign to coax City Council members to support the reconsideration.

Others were not moved.

“I don’t see anything different presented today,” said councilwoman Maritza Davila.

Council members wanted Sayegh to conduct an audit of the sewer bills in November 2019 as residents began to complain about bills that were increased by 100 percent or more.

“I’m very disappointed at how this is playing out,” said councilman Shahin Khalique. He said Sayegh and his then-chief of staff Kathleen Long “misled” the council with their sewer presentations two years ago. He suggested the mayor’s presentation is likely to be just another misleading presentation.

Council members described the mayor’s presentation as part of a “scare tactic” strategy.

“We’re going to lose $20 million? Come on, what happened to the relationship with the state?” said Khalique. He was referring to Sayegh’s promise during the mayoral campaign that his “relationships” with state and federal officials would allow him to address many of Paterson’s long-standing problems.

Council president Flavio Rivera said the mayor should have hired the company to conduct the study before the council repealed the sewer reforms.

“There’s a lot of things that you need approval in the future. If you play us with this and our residents continue to be affected, then don’t count on my support for anything,” said Rivera.

Some council members felt the mayor came in front of them in bad faith.

The council took two votes.

The first was to reconsider the veto override. In a 5-4 vote the council approved the reconsideration measure.

“Today’s presentation was not enough for me to reconsider the vote,” said Davila. It was enough for Velez and Mimms.

“I was not the person to initiate this. It did not come from me,” said Mimms speaking of the repeal. She was one of the two sponsors for repealing the sewer reforms. Rivera was the other. He later changed his position after a visit to Trenton with the mayor.

Mimms had voted to repeal by stating she is taking a stand for residents. She flipped her position on Tuesday night.

“That was unexpected,” said councilman Michael Jackson after Mimms voted to support revisiting the repeal.

“I’m not a flip-flipper, ladies and gentlemen. We need to work together,” said Velez before flipping his position on the repeal.

Council members Al Abdelaziz, Ruby Cotton, Mimms, Velez, and Rivera voted in favor while Davila, Jackson, Khalique, and Alex Mendez voted against.

Then came the vote to override the veto. The council voted 4-4-1. Six votes were needed to override the mayor’s veto on reconsideration.

Cotton, Abdelaziz, Velez, and Rivera voted not to override the veto.

“I stay firm with my position. This is a vote in support of our homeowners that have been suffering since this utility was created. Unfortunately, what we received today was just a promise,” said Mendez.

Mendez, Jackson, Davila, and Khalique voted to override.

Velez initially abstained, but then changed his vote to support the mayor.

Mimms abstained from the vote.

Sayegh said he will provide the council with the report that is expected to be finished in late April.

The council action keeps the sewer reforms in place.

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