I was SO excited to talk to a councilman from New Jersey. Why? Well, as you could tell from our Hackensack dramatic reading, council meetings in Jersey can easily go haywire. We discussed whether anyone has punched each other in his council meetings (good news: they haven’t) and why things can get aggressive in the Garden State.
Q: I want to play a clip from Paterson’s former city council president, Aslon Goow, Sr. Here he is during an interview:
Goow: There’s nothing hostile about our council environment. We’ve never hit each other. We might yell sometimes. You might have to.
Is it true that no one has hit each other at your council meetings?
A: I can confirm that no one has been physically assaulted since I’ve been on the city council. There have been instances BEFORE I got on of shoving matches. There have been a lot of shouting matches. But it’s not like a session of the Japanese parliament where you got people kicking each other. And it pales in comparison to the British House of Commons where they’re resorting to not only name calling, but profanity!
Q: Is there any actual harm to the city when councilmen verbally fight in the meetings?
A: No, not at all. It’s just the perception. They’ll say we’re a dysfunctional unit and they’ll dismiss us. When I say, “they,” it could be people outside of Paterson and viewers who are tuning in.
Q: A word about the viewers–the clips I found were on YouTube and they were only the negative stuff. That’s because I couldn’t find videos of your council meetings. I’m sure that if you televised the whole meetings, people might see that you threatened your fellow council members only HALF of the time–
A: Not even half of the time! Paterson has to get into the twenty-first century as far as live streaming. For the sake of transparency, you’re right. If we’re gonna debunk that notion that all we do is fight each other as opposed to fight FOR our constituents, that would be beneficial.
Q: Are all council members different off camera than when they are in the meeting and it’s go-time?
A: There are council people [who] when the camera is off they are Type B personalities. But when it’s 7 o’clock on a Tuesday night, they become Type A.
Q: It’s funny you mention Type A. I have seen similar behavior in other New Jersey council meetings. Everything I know about Jersey comes from Bruce Springsteen songs, so why is the state in perpetual DEFCON 2?
A: Think about it. We’re overcrowded. We’re a small state, but we’re densely populated. So every now and then, you’re gonna have people step on each other’s toes.
Q: So people just annoy each other more in New Jersey because you can’t escape them!
A: Yes! Mike, I hope you see some merit to what I said!
Q: I’m curious, when is the last time you walked away from a council meeting and felt good about what happened?
A: …Mike, you ready for this?
Q: Oh, my god.
A: You sitting down?
Q: I am LYING down. TELL ME.
A: Late February, we adopted a budget that did NOT call for a tax increase. That made me feel better than any other meeting.
Follow Councilman Andre Sayegh on Twitter: @andresayegh