Newark Mayor’s Race Experiences Major Shakeup

By David Cruz

In the same room of a downtown hotel, Anibal Ramos and Darrin Sharif both ended their mayoral campaigns today, reshuffling the city’s political landscape and setting the stage for a tumultuous two-man showdown in May. Ramos — who will seek reelection to his North Ward Council seat — threw his support behind Shavar Jeffries, drawing a sharp contrast between Jeffries and the acknowledged frontrunner, Councilman Ras Baraka.

“Newark needs a leader who solves problems, not someone who throws bricks,” Ramos said. “Newark needs a unifier, not a divider. Newark needs a chief executive officer, not a protestor-in-chief.”

It had been rumored for months that Ramos was being urged to drop out by the political establishment, including Essex County executive Joe DiVincenzo. The rationale was that Ramos, despite a base in the powerful North Ward, would not be able to beat Baraka had they gotten into a runoff, as most were predicting. Today, DiVincenzo played down his role in the decision.

“You know what has to happen is we have to bring this city together,” he said. “We have to [unify] the city. Whether it’s black, Hispanic, white, whatever, we all have to come as one. This city has made great strides forward. We gotta continue to move it forward.”

For his part, Baraka, the candidate with the highest political profile up to now, was laying low today. His campaign said he had other appointments but issued a statement: “The people of Newark are in the fight of our lives. The political machine of Democrats who backed Chris Christie for governor is trying to buy control of our city. They cannot take us over. We cannot be bought.”

The new Jeffries/Ramos coalition is banking on Baraka’s sometimes truculent persona to paint him as the angry man who will scare away investment and new residents in a city that has just seen its population grow for the first time in a generation.

“I’m not going comment on his emotional state,” said Jeffries. “I’ll simply say that we need results, and unfortunately Councilman Baraka has not produced results. I mean there’s just certain facts, so regardless of his emotional state, he has just not produced. I mean I’d love to see what record he has.”

Meanwhile, three hours later, Councilman Sharif ended his race with less fanfare, before a smaller crowd, a reflection perhaps of his also-ran status but also an acknowledgment that he lacked the resources to compete. He said he’ll run for reelection to the council, but did not endorse anyone for mayor.

“Well as you can imagine, Dave, given the gravity of the decision, we’ve got to recalibrate and there are many discussions we have to have with our internal teams and our advisors,” said Sharif.

Had Ramos dropped out of this race two months ago when the rumors started, the tone of this announcement might have been more triumphant, but — at least for right now — Ramos looks more like the guy who saw the writing on the wall than the guy who called the shots.