Six Days Before Newarkers Go to the Polls, the Campaign Tightens

By David Cruz

In a crowded downtown cafe this afternoon, Ras Baraka is speaking to a hometown crowd and he appears to be feeling it.

“They want us to focus on triviality and ignorance while they take your schools,” he told supporters. “They want you to focus on ignorance and barbarism while they take our jobs from the city of Newark.”

With less than a week to go before election day, a poll commissioned by Baraka’s opponent, Shavar Jeffries, shows the race tightening. For Baraka, up by two or up by 20, the campaign pace is the same.

“Well, I’m catching my second wind,” he said between events. “You got about four or five days left until election day. We can’t pull no punches; we have to run hard until the finish line.”

As for Jeffries, he’s resting up for an important televised debate tonight, his staff says. No time for media appearances.

It’s in the East Ward as well as the North Ward where Jeffries has his base, but your base is nothing unless you get them out to vote and that’s where the Jeffries team insists this race will be won.

“Obviously the east and the north have predominately — in this race — gone for Shavar Jeffries,” said Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, a Jeffries supporter. “However, Shavar is very strong in the south as well as in the central ward, which is kind of split between Latinos and African-Americans.”

PolitickerNJ reporter Mark Bonamo says watching the ground game will be telling in the days ahead.

“It is true that through independent expenditure money, Mr. Jeffries now can wage a very effective airwaves war and he has been bombarding Ras Baraka over the airwaves,” he noted. “The question is — as has always been the case in Newark — the person with the best ground game is who wins and Mr. Baraka is showing that — even today — he can still wage a very effective ground game.”

The race for mayor here is never polite and in these last few days both sides have been aggressive about accusing the other of political and financial dirty tricks. Yesterday a Jeffries supporter crashing a Baraka press conference produced the kind of political street theater that has made Brick City famous.

One person conspicuously absent from this race is the man who has dominated the Newark image for the last seven years, former Mayor now Sen. Cory Booker, who is not making an endorsement, not that either camp had sought one. Former Councilman Donald Bradley is a Baraka backer. He says Booker’s time in Newark was ultimately just a distraction.

“Cory was always smiling, always laughing, you understand, but he wasn’t serious enough,” he says. “He was always going on trips, leaving here, leaving there.”

Jeffries’ camp says the momentum in the race has shifted to their man and that the vaunted North Ward political organization is peaking at the right time, but with just six days to go, the questions is: is it too little, too late?