Baraka displays show of unity at re-election announcement

Mayor Ras Baraka flanked by members of the Newark City Council, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., and other supporters. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo
Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy attended Mayor Ras Baraka's re-election campaign. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo
John Currie, the chairman of the Democratic State Committee, and Council President Mildred Crump. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo
Essex County Chairman LeRoy Jones speaks during Mayor Baraka's re-election announcement. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo

When Newark Mayor Ras Baraka stepped to the podium on Thursday to announce the start of his 2018 re-election campaign, the numbers present represented a pyramid of power.

More than 500 people stood in front of City Hall to show support for Baraka, the former South Ward councilman, who won his seat at the top of New Jersey's largest city in 2014.

Dozens of state and Essex County politicians also came to back Baraka, including New Jersey State Democratic Chairman John Currie, state Senator and former Governor Richard Codey, Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones, Jr., and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. 

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The eight City Council members who signed up to run on the same slate as the mayor were also in attendance. 

Also present was Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy, fresh off his primary victory earlier in the month.

But one star in the Newark political constellation was not to be seen: Central Ward Councilman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins. 

"I would like to think that she would be here," Jones said, dressed in his usual pinstripe suit and matching pocket square. "But one person doesn't stop the show." 

For the 47-year old Baraka, the absence of Chaneyfield Jenkins and other political heavyweights, like former Newark Mayor Sharpe James and former councilman Calvin West, did not dampen the show of unity.

"What you see here is that we're united," said Baraka to applause. "In order to get things done, we need the council with us, we need the country executive with us, and we need the next governor of the state of New Jersey with us. This is not a time for division, separation or petty differences. We have a lot of work to do. I'm asking you humbly to re-elect us all in May of 2018." 

In his stump speech, Baraka proclaimed he was moving Newark forward, pointing to accomplishments in the city's redevelopment, including the introduction of an inclusionary zoning ordinance, as well as a commitment to hiring more police and improving public safety. 

The mayor also noted that both the city's finances and schools would soon be returned to city control, the culmination of a more than 20-year educational policy struggle with the state government.

Some opponents of the mayor expressed bitterness that Baraka, once considered a rebel and an outsider, is now receiving the establishment support that he once spurned.

"When Ras Baraka ran for mayor three years ago, he told us he was one of us," Edward Johnson, a South Ward resident and former chief to South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James. "Today, it's clear from all the power brokers from outside Newark who were standing by his side that he's now one of them."

Baraka looks to have a clear path toward re-election. Another potential rival, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr., announced earlier in the week that he was running for a fourth-term on the council and would join the mayor's slate.

While there has long been speculation that Chaneyfield Jenkins would make her own bid for mayor, the show of establishment force will likely end such conjecture.

Chaneyfield Jenkins, who was an at-large Council member from 1995 to 2006, was elected to the Central Ward council seat as part of Baraka's victorious slate in 2014, defeating then-incumbent Councilman Darrin Sharif in a runoff. 

But as Baraka's term has progressed, the previous political alliance between the mayor and Chaneyfield Jenkins has unraveled. 

Nevertheless, Baraka asked Chaneyfield Jenkins in a June 5 letter, a copy of which was obtained by TAPintoNewark, to join his slate.

Chaneyfield Jenkins responded that it was too early to "get distracted by election plans," when there was still work to do in Newark.

"At this time, my political energies are being expended on the campaign to elect Phil Murphy as Governor. We cannot afford another four years of Republican rule in Trenton," Chaneyfield Jenkins wrote in a June 14 letter. "Therefore, I will remain focused on my daily commitment to fight for and improve the quality of life of Central Ward residents and stakeholders."

Baraka has not selected a candidate to run on his team in the Central Ward, yet.

"The ball is in [Gayle's] court. It's her democratic right to do what she wants to do," Baraka said. "The most important thing to do is to unify the city so that we can make things happen. If she wants to be a part of that, she's more than welcome."

Chaneyfield Jenkins was not immediately available for comment. 

Chaneyfield Jenkins, along with James and West, were among Murphy's early supporters when he campaigned heavily in Newark in the fall of 2016.

Murphy offered a counterpoint to Chaneyfield Jenkins' contention that early entry into a political race is unwise and unnecessary. 

"I'm the last guy who would ever criticize someone early to get going. I think it's a brilliant idea to get out there this early. We did that in our campaign," said Murphy, referring to his May 2016 entry into the gubernatorial campaign. "I think it's a brilliant move by Mayor Baraka and the whole team to get out as early as they're getting out."

During the early days of the Murphy campaign, Baraka supported Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who aborted his run for governor in September.

"The mayor and I bonded, even when we weren't on the same side of the table, many, many moons ago over policy," Murphy said of Baraka. "Our relationship flourished and flowered in the enormous effort by the mayor and his team in his helping us win our primary two weeks ago. And as Newark goes, so goes the state of New Jersey." 

Murphy coolly appraised his highly visible and early support for Baraka. 

"[Gayle] has been a huge help to me, and I'm hoping that you'll have a united Newark going into this election," Murphy told TAPintoNewark. "I wouldn't say it's [Baraka] over Gayle. I hope they're all going to be on the same side of the table. I'm a big fan of both of theirs." 

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