Paterson NJ court battle begins in Alex Mendez election trial

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PATERSON – The opposing sides in the lawsuit against Councilman Alex Mendez mayoral candidacy engaged in an exhausting voter-by-voter battle Thursday, arguing over whether hundreds of signatures on Mendez’s nomination petitions were valid.

Near the end of a nearly six-hour day at the Passaic County Courthouse, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Thomas Brogan and the two sides considered four voter petitions nominating Mendez for mayor. The judge decided to uphold all four.

“There must be a burden of proof that is met, and I find it is not,” Brogan said, denying the attempt to invalidate one of the petitions.

But the first four motions are just the start of what the judge described as a “tedious and painfully painful” process. In their effort to have Mendez disqualified from the election, supporters of Mayor Andre Sayegh are contesting more than 350 of the alderman’s nomination petitions. The hearing is due to resume Friday morning.

At stake is Mendez’s ability to run against Sayegh for mayor of New Jersey’s third-most populous city. The court battle was fought on the same day as Governor Phil Murphy announced on Twitter his endorsement of Sayegh – an expected decision given the close relationship between the two men. At Sayegh’s inauguration in 2018, Murphy called him “Andre the Giant”.

Sayegh’s allies initially challenged 158 of Mendez’s motions, but their attorney, Rajiv Parikh, has dramatically increased that number with challenges filed in recent days.

“Every time he speaks he adds extra numbers,” joked attorney Edward Florio, who is representing City Clerk Sonia Gordon in the case.

Parikh is trying to overturn Gordon’s ruling that Mendez submitted enough valid petitions to be on the ballot in Paterson’s May 10 mayoral election.

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Parikh argued at Thursday’s hearing that any nomination petition showing a different address for a voter than the one in the voter registration records should be disqualified. He also argued that any petitions whose signatures did not match those on the voter registration forms should also be rejected.

Election day is less than five weeks away. Besides Mendez, Sayegh faces three other challengers: former councilman Aslan Goow and current council members Michael Jackson and Luis Velez.

In many ways, Mendez is shaping up to be Sayegh’s strongest challenger. He finished second to mayor in the 2018 election. Sayegh’s own polls showed Mendez to be the biggest threat to the mayor, especially among the city’s Hispanic community, which makes up more than 60% of the city’s population. Paterson.

Sayegh’s allies have also challenged Goow’s candidacy, filing a lawsuit seeking to take him out of the race based on allegations that he does not live in Paterson. Goow denied the charge. Brogan is due to make a decision in the Goow case on Monday.

The two lawsuits forced election officials to miss the state’s March 26 deadline for mailing about 11,000 mail-in ballots to Paterson. The city clerk also halted the production of sample ballots normally sent to people participating in the in-person vote.

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