Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

Paterson Press — A group of young men quickly scattered from the corner of Rosa Parks Boulevard and 12th Avenue on Tuesday afternoon after three government vehicles came to a halt at the notorious 4th Ward intersection.

“They weren’t hanging out there for good reasons,” said State Senate President Steve Sweeney, who emerged from the first SUV in the convoy.

Sweeney was taking a tour of some of Paterson’s most crime-plagued neighborhoods on his way to a press conference to announce his support for a legislative package of bills he said would help Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres improve public safety and boost economic development.

“This is part of what I need to see,” said Sweeney, standing near the scene of several shootings during the past two years. “I need to see the plan and how it fits in with the legislation.”

Officials said one bill would give Paterson officials greater control over businesses that sell liquor in the city. A second would expedite the city’s acquisition of abandoned properties. A third would allow the city to use surveillance cameras to monitor crime hot-spots and to send warning notices to the owners of vehicles caught driving through trouble areas late at night.

“You can never change a community until people feel safe in it,” said Sweeney, walking away from an abandoned house on Governor Street.

Widely regarded as a leading candidate for governor in 2017, the Gloucester County Democrat said he has made several visits to Paterson in the past year. “I always talk about Camden and how it affects all of South Jersey,” Sweeney said. “Paterson affects all of North Jersey.”

Sweeney said Senate budget committee chairman Paul Sarlo and Senator Nellie Pou, who represents Paterson, are currently crafting details of the legislative package. Sweeney compared the effort to other initiatives that have attempted to bring reforms to Camden and Atlantic City.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, we are all in this together,” Sarlo said of Paterson’s problems.

Sarlo and Sweeney said the bills would give Torres tools he needed to improve the city. But they said the proposed bills were not designed to earmark additional funding for Paterson.

Pou, who works as Paterson’s business administrator, said she has been discussing the legislative package with Sarlo for several months. She said the proposals would benefit other cities, besides Paterson.

At one point during the tour, Torres discussed his plan for the city to acquire abandoned properties and to package them in sales with developers. Torres pointed to one building on Rosa Parks Boulevard and told Sweeney that renovation would be better than demolition. “If I knock it down, I don’t get the job training,” the mayor said.

Officials said that a proposed bill regarding the land acquisition program is scheduled for action by the Senate’s urban affairs committee in early June.

Sweeney shook his head after passing 230 Liquors, the business on Rosa Parks where rising basketball star Armoni Sexton was killed during a drive-by shooting last month. He seemed surprised that a Paterson street gang uses the address of the liquor store for its name. “That’s kind of in your face,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney and Sarlo both praised Torres, commending him for initiatives like the curfew that requires businesses in Paterson crime zones to close by midnight. “He’s gotten a lot done already,” the senate president said of the mayor.

After the press conference, Torres smiled when asked about hosting a leading gubernatorial candidate.

But the mayor seems to be keeping his political options open when it comes to the 2017 race. During the past year, Torres also has worked closely with the man many political pundits see as Sweeney’s main rival in the contest for the Democratic Party nomination, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.

District Offices

Gloucester County

Kingsway Commons
935 Kings Highway, Suite 400
West Deptford, NJ 08086
Phone: (856) 251-9801
Fax: (856) 251-9752

Salem/Cumberland Counties

The Finlaw Building
199 East Broadway, Suite G
Salem, NJ 08079
Phone: (856) 339-0808 or
             (856) 455-1011
Fax: (856) 339-9626