PATERSON – The old campaign poster from 1980 hangs on an office wall at City Hall amid paraphernalia from political lives past and present and when Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres looks at thischerished relic, his eyes fasten on the slogan beneath the Tony Orlando face with the full head of hair photo.
"It's not the age of the man that counts but the service that he may render."
For Torres – 22then and 51 now-the same words apply asheheads into his quest for a third mayoral term next year, intent onrenovating Hinchcliffe Stadium (a dilapidatedball parktestimonial to the'Negro Ball League'), and overseeing completion of 1,000 new units of housing, three new schools, and the city's light rail system.
But in this case, says Paterson's first Puerto Rican mayor, his experience gives him an enormous advantage in rendering service as he watches the young turks jockey on the council in preparation of facing him, and in hopes of dethroning him.
"Obviously the times are a factor on this race, but look at what I've done despite the times," he said.
If other incumbents treadwith jittery steps at the edge of 2010, given the economic downturn, Torres, who learned his business acumen early in his father's bodega, said he's the only one among thebunch here who has the business and political savoir-faire to navigate Paterson into its next era.
"Given the economic climate, Idon't see where my challengers have the skills to run the State of New Jersey's third largest city," said the mayor, who makes $102,000 annually for the fulltime job.
"I work very hard at the job that I do, but I make this job look easy because of my experience.
"Rigo Rodriguez (an at-large councilman, who hasnot committed to running) has done a pretty good job as councilman,"Torres added,"but four years as councilman doesn't give you the experience. Jeff Jones (the council president) was a councilman in one ward, then he quit and moved and moved back. Andre Sayegh (the Ward 6 councilman)? This job entails more than apleasant smile and handshake."
The two-term mayorknows his critics – mostly younger and energized by the common gripe, leveled even by his allies,that the mayor during his tenure needed to have better addressed youth services and recreation – say he should have become a developer.
"Guess what?"Torres said. "Developing. That's what mayors do, and yet not all mayors get it."
The brand new 320,000-square-footCenter City mallat Main and Ward streets built on his watch now stands at 70% capacity, and includes low cost stores AJWright, The Children's Place, Shoe Factory and Pay Half.
But Jonespersists in arguing thatTorres's focus as mayor includes very little human dimension. "He's out there developing, but this is a mayor who sat on a Blue Ribbon Panel Report on crime completed in 2006 and failed to implement any of the recommendations," said the council president. "It's unconscionable."
Torres said Jones is wrong.
"I frankly just don't know what he's talking about," said the mayor. "I put this panel together in 2006 and I have since implemented at least 90% of its recommendations. The other ten percent? For all I know – I'd have to check – that may exactly the ten percent the council fought me on."
Last year, Paterson reported 17 murders according to the FBI, compared to Newark, where there is nearlydouble the population, which recorded 67.Jersey City, New Jersey's second most populous city at 241,588 between Paterson (145,542) and Newark (279,778)recorded 25 murders, according to the FBI. Camden (pop. 76,182) reported 54 murders in 2008. Irvington reported 24.
Torres saidhe's fighting and giving his roughly 500-member police department the equipment to battle down urban crime.
"We have a brand new police dispatch center,we built a new parking lot for police officers, we hire homegrown Patersoniansat the police department through the city's police assistance program," the mayor said.
Jones and Sayegh both say Torres's vengefulmethods have cost the city $4 million in lawsuits and weakened employee morale. Part oftheir respective campaigns hinges on the ages-old political idea that it's simply time for a change in Paterson – a burst of progressive new energy in the mayor's office.
But Torres, a father with three daughters who promises this will be his last campaign for mayor,says the willful young men who want to beat him haven't been tested the way he was tested.
"I ran for council for ten years before I won," said the mayor,looking at the framed picture on the wall of himself almost 30 years ago.
"I ran every four years. In that election, 1980, I lost by17 votes. I won nine out of eleven districts – this was in the 1st Ward -but I still lost because two high rise buildings were killing me. I tried again – I won on the machines. But then they dragged me through court and by the time we made a special election, I had no money left. I lost. Again. You learn these things. You go through them. I finally opted in 1990 to run for an at-large seat, andI won."
And he built on his citywide strata over the course of the coming 12 years, before winning the 2002 mayor's race.
When Sayegh won in 2008 with the help of the Dominican American community and community activist Elsa Mantilla, Torres quickly made her his deputy mayor in anticipation of the coming challenge.
The mayorwas the young man once, the youngest of eight kids with his family name behind him and his older sister managing his campaign,running against the machine.Now he's running it, the machine -confident ofthe wisdom that comes with hard edges.