Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Busy Races in Passaic for Mayor and Council

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Busy Races in Passaic for Mayor and Council

Article excerpt

PASSAIC -- City residents have plenty of choices to make in Tuesday's election, with four challengers looking to unseat Mayor Alex D. Blanco and a crowded field of candidates vying for four seats on the City Council.

Blanco, a podiatrist who came to power in 2008 promising reform after Mayor Sammy Rivera and three city councilmen went to prison on corruption charges, faces a stern test as he seeks his second full term.

He tops a ticket with four City Council incumbents -- Jose "Joe" Garcia, Terrence L. Love, Daniel J. Schwartz and Thania Melo -- that should draw votes from all over the city. But persistent problems of high crime and joblessness have put the wind behind the sails of four rival slates.

Four years ago, Blanco defeated a single rival, Vince Capuana, to win the mayor's race by 602 votes. This year, he faces four challengers, who will split the opposition vote. Whether any of those challengers -- Jose Sandoval, Pablo J. Plaza, Jeffrey Dye and Diomedes Minaya -- will have enough power citywide to win on Tuesday remains to be seen.

Voter registration is up by 4,000 over four years ago, and with so many candidates in the race, it appears likely that turnout will be higher than the 35 percent of voters who went to the polls in 2009.

Blanco's strength is concentrated among Latinos and Orthodox Jews who dominate the city's 3rd Ward, where one-third of the city's 28,128 registered voters live. Blanco and City Council President Gary S. Schaer, an Orthodox Jew, remain the closest of political allies going into Tuesday's election, which bodes well for the mayor.

But Blanco, who was elected in 2009 promising transparency in government, has come under fire in recent days for failing to file 14 consecutive campaign finance reports dating back to the last mayoral election, a violation of state law. The documents, filed belatedly last month, also show that Blanco received a $5,000 reimbursement for "campaign materials" from his war chest. That reimbursement should have first been recorded as a loan, but wasn't - - another violation of state law, documents show.

Blanco's spokesman, Keith Furlong, called the campaign's failure to file accurate reports in a timely fashion an "oversight." But his chief opponent in the race, Jose Sandoval, said the law has been broken.

"Fourteen reports that go all the way back to the last time he was running for mayor," Sandoval said. "And the mayor calls it an oversight?"

Blanco touts better parks and recreation, plus a renewed interest in the city from developers, as the major accomplishments of the last four years. He cites the newly redesigned Pulaski Park and the city's recent agreement with developer Pennrose LLC to convert the old Uniroyal factory on Passaic Avenue into an apartment and retail complex. The burned-out Pantasote factory a few blocks away was recently demolished and has drawn interest from developers looking to build either an entertainment center or more retail, Blanco said. …

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