PATERSON, NJ —Andre Sayegh was sworn in as the mayor of Paterson, New Jersey on Sunday afternoon, July 1, becoming the first Arab American to hold the city’s highest office.
Sayegh’s longtime political mentor, Rep. Bill Pascrell, administered the oath of office. Following his oath, Sayegh delivered a 12-minute inaugural address painting an optimistic vision for the city he’ll lead for the next four years.
“Paterson, we were waiting to happen. Now, we’re working to make it happen,” said Sayegh, 44. He recognized he has to make the city safer to attract businesses.
Sayegh is entering office at a tough time in the city’s history. Over the past 18 years, two previous mayors – Martin Barnes and Jose “Joey” Torres – left City Hall in handcuffs. Torres was sent to prison late last year.
While serving on the council, Sayegh was a constant critic of the disgraced mayor. Sayegh represented the Sixth Ward for 10 years. He will be wrestling with big problems over the next four years.
Sayegh is the son of Arab immigrants, a Syrian mother and a Lebanese father
The city has racked more than $141 million in debt, largely due to Torres’ profligate spending. Its borrowing capacity has been reduced to $80 million. Sayegh’s administration started Jul. 1, first day of the fiscal year, with a $1.3 million budget deficit.
Sayegh campaigned on making neighborhoods safer by addressing quality of life problems like loud music. He has vowed to hire more police officers and set up substations throughout the Silk City. He has been lobbying the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy for more funding.
Sayegh, who voted against tax increases over the years, has to attract development to the city to avoid passing on annual tax increases to homeowners. He has submitted six projects that will be funded by $130 million in state tax credits.
Sayegh also may have to deal with a hostile City Council.
Sayegh is the son of Arab immigrants, a Syrian mother and a Lebanese father. He was raised by his mother. He is married to Farhanna Balgahoom. Both have two young daughters and a boy is on the way in August.
Sayegh’s speech took an emotional turn when he recognized his ill mother in the audience. Ten years ago, his mother was diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease.
“We almost lost her last year,” Sayegh said of his mother.
The mother, in a wheelchair, lived to see her son, who twice lost running for mayor, take office.