Critical Election To Decide Newark Mayor, Council
By Angela Stewart
Mayoral hopefuls Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries, along with 48 council candidates, are vying to become the next leaders of New Jersey’s largest city when voters head to thepolls for the May 13th Municipal Election.
Baraka, running under the slogan, “Believe in Newark,” has seven council candidates on his slate and Jeffries is running under the banner “All in for Newark” with a full slate of eight candidates in a race where all seats on the Municipal governing body are up for grabs.
There was no gentlemanly hand shake between the two men during a candidate’s forum held at New Community Manor Senior at 545 Orange St. Even the necessity of having to pass a microphone back and forth seemed to create a strain for Baraka and Jeffries, who obviously realize what is at stake as they seek to lead Newark in the post-Booker era.
“All mayoral elections are important, but this is a critical time in the city’s development,” said Richard Rohrman, CEO of New Community. “The questions that I have heard at the NCC candidate forums are right on the mark. The city downtown continues to benefit from development activity. There is a new emphasis on downtown residential development that if successful, will forever change the City. The new Mayor must actively work to link the downtown development to the neighborhoods, (in terms of) jobs, affordable housing and business development outside the downtown area. The City will never be healthy unless the whole city is healthy.”
Also appearing at the Manor Senior forum, held in late March, were the eight candidates running for Newark’s West Ward council seat. Central Ward council candidates appeared in two similar forums at New Community Commons and New Community Associates, two senior buildings located in the city’s Central Ward. A panel of New Community seniors asked thoughtful questions of the candidates at all three sites, with the subjects ranging from crime and public safety, to jobs, senior services, youth recreation, coalition-building, healthcare and individual accountability.
“The immediate goal of these forums is to promote voter awareness and education so the residents learn more about the candidates and their positions,” explained Richard Cammarieri, NCC Director of Special Projects, who served as the program moderator and official time-keeper at the forums.
With six senior buildings located in the city of Newark, the votes of NCC’s approximately 2,000 registered resident voters in both senior and family units living in the Central and West wards are being courted by all of the candidates. That includes the large field of 18 candidates running to fill four At-Large council seats, two of them now occupied by incumbents Mildred C. Crump and Carlos Gonzalez. A third seat was vacated when Luis A. Quintana was voted by the council to serve as acting mayor completing the term of Cory Booker when Booker was elected to the U.S. Senate in November. Quintana is running to return as an At-Large council member. Booker’s term expires at the end of June.
Each candidate at the NCC forums delivered brief opening and closing statements and in between responded to questions from the NCC resident panels. Baraka, who has served as South Ward councilman since 2010 and as a former deputy mayor, stressed his role as principal in turning around Central High School and his efforts in helping to fashion what he described as the first ever truce between rival city gang members. Although he first unsuccessfully ran for mayor as a 24-year-old and lost that race and several subsequent contests, Baraka said he has a long track record of working in the trenches to help better the community.
“When I become mayor, ‘we’ become mayor,” said Baraka, son of the late community activist and poet, Amiri Baraka, charging that Jeffries’ candidacy is solely about himself, and not about the people.
Jeffries, meanwhile, touted his experience as a civil rights attorney, former state Assistant Attorney General and former president of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board. He told the audience he has a proven track record of “performance and results,” including fighting against crime and for victims of domestic violence, as well as seniors, tenants and homeowners.
“You really don’t want a mayor who’s learning on the job,” Jeffries said, taking a jab at his opponent.
The eight candidates for West Ward council— incumbent Ronald C. Rice is not seeking re-election—then took the stage. The candidates are Rashawn Davis, at 21, the youngest candidate in the race; Patricia Bradford, Anthony Higgins, Robert Kevin Waters (Jeffries slate); Joseph A. McCallum, Jr., (Baraka slate); Maryam Bey, Sheila Montague and Anton Wheeler.
“Our city’s in trouble,” maintained Davis, educated at Georgetown. “We can’t vote for what’s easy, the familiar faces…,” he said.
The Central Ward council candidates are incumbent Darrin Sharif and challengers Czezre Adams, Miguel Arce, Rafael Brito, Shawn McCray, Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins (Baraka slate), Andre Speight (Jeffries slate) and Victor Zamora. Some of the most heated exchanges took place between Sharif and Chaneyfield Jenkins at Associates, with Sharif at times having to vigorously defend his record as the former councilwoman sought to link him to everything from the huge city deficit to the Newark watershed scandal.
“Good attempt to smash me in with Cory Booker. Good attempt, but it didn’t work,” Sharif declared near the end of the forum, in a remark directed squarely at Chaneyfield Jenkins.
“You can’t run and hide and then reappear,” Chaneyfield Jenkins told Sharif at one point, attacking his accessibility to the community.
Meanwhile, the residents who attended the forums appeared satisfied that they were leaving knowing more about each candidate than when they had walked in.
“It’s good because a lot of people (in the building) don’t know a lot of these people (candidates),” commented Myrtle Kearney, a resident of New Community Associates for the past 35 years. “It’s good they come and show their faces.”