Newark Mayoral Race Attracts Political Dynasties

By David Cruz

Newark’s municipal election is still about two months away and it’s already attracting attention across the state, but it’s not officially a Newark election until members of the political dynasties start to choose sides — and that is starting to happen now.

“Today I join with this extended family and enthusiastically, wholeheartedly endorse this young man who’s going to be the next mayor for the city of Newark. Ras Baraka for the city of Newark,” former Newark Mayor Sharpe James told a crowd in the city last night.

James’ announcement this week is further confirmation that the mothers and fathers of the modern-day Newark body politic are now engaged. Today it was Sen. Ron Rice, whose son followed him into politics, endorsing Baraka, son of the late poet and playwright Amiri Baraka.

“It becomes very important for us to remember the families that stayed here because we’re the ones that know how to get there before we went to sleep and allowed outsiders to come and take control of our destiny as a people and as a city,” said Rice.

But Shavar Jeffries — who boasts about being a fifth generation Newarker himself — has attracted his share of dynastic names as well, including North Ward leader Steve Adubato Sr. whose political offspring include Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and Councilman Anibal Ramos, who bowed out of the mayor’s race last month to clear the way for Jeffries. Jeffries also counts Congressman Donald Payne and former Assemblyman William Payne — from that other prominent Newark family — as supporters.

“Well, it’s true that historically we’ve sort of had these family dynasties that have dominated politics in the city of Newark for a long period time,” he noted. “We’re going to have to democratize and broaden how we do politics. We can’t simply look to leadership from a small number of families. We have to look for leadership from the people.”

Both sides say they represent Newark’s working class and disenfranchised. But Jeffries says the city needs to cast a wider net, including bringing in people from outside Newark, to help solve its myriad of problems. Baraka’s rhetoric has been criticized as a bit parochial.

“We have an opportunity to begin to govern our own lives, that we have an opportunity to change the paradigm from top down to bottom up,” he said in a speech today. “That we begin to control what’s happening in our community and that long table that everybody gets to sit at, we get to sit at, too. As a matter of fact, we get the majority of seats because we are the majority here.”

Jeffries said Newarkers and non-Newarkers should be offended by that mindset.

“He means ‘we,’ by whom? Black people? Well, if that’s what he said, that’s exactly the kind of rhetoric that we don’t need,” Jeffries said. “That’s exactly the kind of divisive politics that, frankly, Councilman Baraka has championed for 20 years.”

In the end, says James, voters will care less about surnames and more about issues.

“The fight in our city about charter schools versus public schools. The issue of taxation without representation. Will the state come in and take over our city? The whole questions about violence and the senseless killing in our city,” he said. “Those issues will shape our city, as opposed to family affiliation.”

With prominent families lined up on either side of this race, this election finds a city very much looking to its future while still trying to reconcile its past.