The May 13th election for Mayor in the city of Paterson, New Jersey proved to be a barn burner. The democratic machine barn was burned to the ground. Jose “Joey” Torres won handedly despite the fact that the Hispanic vote was badly divided and the powers that be threw lots of money and influence but could not put out the fire.
This historical city, ironically once home to the poet Alan Ginsberg (He was born in Newark, grew up in Paterson and died in the Big Apple), finds itself in a political, economic and cultural malaise best described by cultural anarchy. Paterson is entangled in a regional quagmire of economic interests that tug at it from afar and its domestic population is made up of nearly three fourths renters. This means that most of the stakeholders who would otherwise build a local middle class and educate a leadership bench do not live in the city.
This is yet another New Jersey city where Hispanics dominate numerically–and will continue to. The closest the city’s now majority population has to a “native son” is Jose Torres, a former two term mayor who walked into the mayoralty on the heels of political missteps and corruption by the then machine boss…
Mr. Torres floundered as a Mayor for two terms until enough forces gathered around him to bring about his demise. Two important things happened in this 2014 election though, the now floundering democrat machine lost because it did not back Mr. Torres. The second is that Mr. Torres, and those around him, have had several years to ponder what happened and what they would do if given a second chance.
The Hispanic community is now the largest so called minority community in New Jersey. Now that, despite its own inner divisions, greed, ethnic bigotry from within, and lack of political maturity, the Hispanic community is once again in the driver’s seat–it remains to be seen if having a Hispanic at the helm does any good in an urban context devoid of many important resources (like an adequate tax base) and filled with a growing diversity that could continue to pull it apart.
This is an important case to watch because the democratic machine lost in Newark. Newark’s majority also opting for their own version of a native son, where the African American community is still a majority for now. To be sure, there to, Hispanics are gaining ground. What they do with that ground and how they form allies and gain the confidence of their brother and sister minority groups, now that it is becoming a majority, remains to be seen.