PATERSON – In a hard knock news week, Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, now serving his second term as mayor of New Jersey’s third largest city, said he would definitely be interested in the lieutenant governor’s job on a Democratic ticket, in part because he thinks he has the experience and in part because he could determinedly back up Gov. Jon Corzine.
Most of the residents in Torres’s city of close to $150,000 make under $75,000, so when he eyeballs Corzine’s $29.8 billion budget proposal and fixes on a controversial property tax rebate freeze for adults besides seniors making over that amount of money, he doesn’t blink.
“When you look at the numbers, a majority of people are helped by the good things in this budget,” says Torres. “From my perspective – and I’ve been at this for a long time now – this is the first time a governor has come in with a coherent vision to get us out of a financial crisis, while also covering our educational needs.”
The overall blow of the budget proposal wasn’t asjarring as that other jump-out headline this week: the state Attorney General’s Office charging Perth Amboy Mayor Joe Vas – a fellow Puerto Rican and big city mayor – with corruption.
“I was in absolute shock and disbelief that Joe, considering what he’s being charged with, would exercise such bad judgment,” said Torres, reflecting on city dollars Vas allegedly used for personal effects. “This is a seasoned public servant who’s done a lot of good in Perth Amboy.
“It is absolutely a loss for the Latino community – and the Puerto Rican community,” added Torres of the assemblyman the governor and state party chairman want dumped from the legislature.
“I’m always of the opinion we’re chosen to lead first because of our character and not our ethnicity, but it is a blow,” Torres added. “This is a brainy guy, a sharp guy – and then you have this. Who am I to say what he should do now, whether he should resign, only he knows. He would have to sit down and talk to his attorney. I’m very saddened for him and his family.”
As he considers the political terrain in a gubernatorial election year, a year in front of the end of his own term in office, Torres said Corzine should consider a running mate from the African-American and Latino communities – “and, yes, I would absolutely be interested,” he said.
“The key to being effective is your loyalty to your party. You bring your talents to the party believing in your governor and your individual gifts to add value to the ticket,” said the mayor. “What the lieutenant governor is is similar to a cabinet position. Your role is to promote the governor’s policies, and I could do that with pride in this case because I believe in these policies. I feel I could do that and come back to my town with confidence.
“The beauty of public service is there comes a time after many years at this game where you can be influential without being at the helm because you’re a worker bee – you don’t have to be a queen bee, you can be a worker bee backing up this guy because of the fortitude this governor has in very difficult circumstances,” Torres added.
Councilman Jeff Jones, who’s already a declared candidate for the 2010 mayor’s race and ready to take down Torres, said he doesn’t think the mayor would make an optimal LG choice.
“This is America, so nothing’s off the table,” said Jones. “There’s some gumption there, I give him credit for that, but remember – sometimes people are voted up to get them out. Now, once you’re out there, you have to have statewide appeal. You have to demonstrate certain skills. If he can do it, God bless. Good luck. But I just don’t think as mayor of our third largest city that he has a whole lot to tout, even if I wanted him out of here.”
If the governor goes elsewhere with his choice, Torres said he believes Corzine should strongly consider offering the LG job to Senate President Richard Codey (D-West Orange).
“Codey would be an excellent choice because of his popularity and name recognition and longevity, and I think people would have some comfort level that one day – on any given day – he can wake up and do the job,” Torres said. “This is a guy who can jump in the driver’s seat on day one.”
The mayor boasted that local Paterson politics produced 40,000 votes for Barack Obama in last November’s election. Whatever happens, “My goal,” said Torres, “is to duplicate that as close as possible for Jon Corzine.”