Baraka set to announce re-election and council slate, but one council member opts out

Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins and Mayor Ras Baraka. Credits: File Photo

First-term Mayor Ras Baraka has scheduled an announcement on the steps of Newark City Hall on June 22 to announce his bid for a second term as well as his slate of council candidates.

But at least one member of the current City Council will not be standing by his side.

Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins wrote in a letter to Baraka that it was much too premature for her to focus on the May 2018 election.

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"I am of the personal opinion and firm belief it is too early to get distracted by election plans," Chaneyfield Jenkins wrote. "The present outcry from our beloved citizens of Newark is for this governing body to continue the work of improving on municipal services, fight against increasing property taxes, continue to address matters of public safety and eradicate crime in our neighborhoods...Collectively we can continue to address social and economic oppressions that plague Newark." 

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. There has long been speculation that Chaneyfield Jenkins would make her own bid for mayor.

In this context, Baraka has asked each Newark council member to support his re-election bid and be a member of his May 2018 municipal election slate, according to sources. These letters included one sent by Baraka to Chaneyfield Jenkins. A copy of the letter, dated June 5, was obtained by TAPintoNewark. 

"In 2014 we met in the basement of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church [in Newark's South Ward] to discuss including you as a part of our team in the election at that time. We both agreed that it was a good thing to do, and would be helpful to the city," Baraka wrote. "By the grace of God, we had a positive outcome to both of our elections as we stood with you in your run-off election as well.

"We will be announcing very soon our intention to seek re-election, and we believe that having the entire council together sends a serious message that despite our differences our overall goal is the improvement of our City," Baraka added. "You have voted in the affirmative for most of our initiatives, ideas, and progress. Your support has been essential to our momentum and we look forward to continuing the progress. I would like to discuss this letter in person at your convenience."

In her June 14 letter, Chaneyfield Jenkins wrote that Baraka had made his intentions to seek re-election and gain council support for his slate "exceptionally clear." 

"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 added, a nod to her early support of Murphy, now the Democratic gubernatorial nominee following his primary victory earlier this month. "Therefore, I will remain focused on my daily commitment to fight for and improve the quality of life of Central Ward residents and stakeholders."

In her letter, Chaneyfield Jenkins did not respond to the invitation for a personal meeting with Baraka to discuss the contents of the mayor's letter to her.

TAPintoNewark sent an email to all nine Newark council members on June 14 asking if they would be attending Baraka's June 22 announcement.

Councilman-at-Large Carlos Gonzalez's reply was swift and succinct. 

"Yes and yes," Gonzalez wrote.

The other candidates have not responded to the email from TAPIntoNewark, but are widely expected to join Baraka's ticket.

It's unclear if Baraka would rush to find another Central Ward candidate to appear with him on June 22 or whether he will keep the seat open out of deference for Chaneyfield Jenkins.

Mo Butler, who served as chief of staff under former Newark Mayor and current U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), said it made sense for Baraka make the announcement 11 months before the election.

"Mayor Baraka announcing early with the majority of the Council his intention to seek re-election sets a powerful and unified tone leading into next year's election," Butler said. "He's trying to end it before it even begins."

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