ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — For the first time in nine years, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura is being challenged in the Democratic primary.

John Arnold, who served as Newark’s deputy police director from 2014 to 2016, announced on Tuesday that he is challenging the 10-term incumbent for the Democratic nomination on June 8. A general election win would make Arnold the first African American sheriff in Essex County’s 339-year history.

Fontoura was challenged in the primaries in 2009 and 2012, but ran unopposed in 2015 and 2018, according to the Essex County Clerk’s Office website. Arnold previously ran unsuccessfully against Fontoura in the 2012 Democratic primary. 

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Arnold said in a written statement that he believes he can defeat Fontoura this time around because people want change.

"Armando Fontoura had 30 years to show all Essex County communities that he can serve their needs instead of using the Sheriff's Office to serve the needs of political bosses," Arnold said. "The people notice...they are tired...and they want change now. Thirty years in any office is simply too long. 30 years in office without serving the people's needs is shameful.” 

Fontoura declined to comment in response to Arnold’s statement,

When Arnold served as Newark’s Deputy Police Director, he initiated a Special Enforcement/Intelligence Unit which investigated major crimes within Newark, spearheaded the police department’s Office of Clergy and Community Affairs, which was responsible for building “foundational” relationships between the community and the department; and headed the Legal Affairs/Advocate Unit and the Situational Awareness and Special Activities Unit. 

Prior to that, he served in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office from 1987 to 2010, rising through the ranks from county detective to captain of detectives, commanding a number of high profile divisions including Homicide, Gang and Narcotics (VIPER) Unit, Child Abuse Unit and the Adult Trials Unit respectively. 

On Jan. 25, Fontoura announced that he would seek re-election for an 11th term. The incumbent, a 24-year veteran of the Newark Police Department, assumed office in 1990 and is currently the longest-serving sheriff in Essex County history, and is the dean of the New Jersey sheriff's delegation. He heads the largest and most active sheriff's department in New Jersey.

When TAPinto Newark spoke with the incumbent the day he announced his bid for re-election, Fontoura said one of his objectives for office was to maintain a consistent response time for local authorities to stymie potential violence.

“We want to make sure our officers are able to respond,” Fontoura said. “We are going to continue to deescalate and make sure that people understand we are here to serve the public with dignity and respect. That’s been my mission for a long time and [it] is going to continue to be my mission for the future.”

Prior to his election as sheriff, Fontoura rose through the ranks of the Newark Police Department, starting in 1967. During his 24 years in Newark, he earned the rank of captain and served as chief assistant to the police director. As chief assistant, he helped formulate policy, issued daily directives and was responsible for the Office of Public Information.

Both candidates will also run against Barry Jackson in the Democratic primary.