PATERSON – Among those lining up in the Sixth Ward to succeed Councilman Thomas C. Rooney, Jr., 33-year old Andre Sayegh has the coveted endorsement of the departing ward icon.
President of the Paterson School Board and a native Patersonian who has lived in the ward his whole life, Sayegh is one in a field of prospective candidates that includes Javier Fernandez, Eddie Gonzalez, Cunnur Kalaksiz, Jose Moore and Illia Villanueva (who’s run for council and lost four times), according to the Paterson City Clerk’s office. Eliacar Montoya has also filed, sources say.
"I’m already certified," said Sayegh. "I have over 1,000 signatures, when 93 were required."
A Lebanese Catholic who graduated summa cum laude from Seton Hall University before receiving a Master’s degree in public policy and administration from Columbia University, Sayegh teaches history at William Paterson University and psychology at Passaic County Community College. He has served as chief of staff to state Sen. John Girgenti (D-Passaic) from 2004-22007, and as a field worker for U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8).
Broken into three sections, Paterson’s Sixth Ward contains the Lakview section, which is a mixture of Latinos, Italians, Jamaicans and Arabs; People’s Park, which is mostly Latino; and South Paterson, which has the country’s second largest concentration of Arab-Americans after Dearborn, MI.
Proud to have Rooney’s endorsement, Sayegh said of the retiring councilman, "He’s a paragon of civic virtue. People ask me if I’m going to be the next Tom Rooney, and I tell them that’s impossible. When I get on the council, I’m going to propose we legally change his first name to ‘councilman.’"
Rooney has great faith in the young man he backs to succeed him. "I’ve known Andre for years, through his involvement in the community as president of the Sixth Ward Neighborhood Association and other activities," said Rooney. "He’s very intelligent, and wrapped up in Paterson in a way very few people are. I don’t know if he’s as conservative as I am – but then, no one is."
Sayegh’s educational background particularly impresses the 80-year old councilman.
"The thing about this job that’s important to remember is that people can be highly emotional," said Rooney. " You must be careful not to make a commitment to anyone before you hear the other side of the story. You have to reserve judgement until you get all of the facts."
Sayegh said he wants to continue Rooney’s legacy of holding the line against tax abatements and working to get rateables for the city. He wants to find ways to improve Paterson’s thriving business district and encourage residents to shop locally at the farmer’s market.
"I’m appealing to people in all areas," said the candidate. "We may speak many languages, but we have to speak in one voice."
Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres said he will likely remain neutral in the Ward Six race, which happens to be his home ward.
"Andre’s very admirable," said the mayor. "He has a good resume. But it’s street smarts that get you the win in local races. It comes down to knocking on doors and letting people feel you."
Sayegh points out that he was the top vote getter in School Board races last year, and claims he has already worn out six pairs of shoes as he gathers signatures for his council run. "Our goal is to amass 2008 signatures," said the candidate.
None of Sayegh’s prospective opponents returned phone calls. The deadline for petitions is March 20.
"If Andre sinks his teeth into this, he can do a very good job," said Rooney. "He will work until he drops."