Newark, NJ—Days after thousands of people poured into the streets of Newark's Ironbound section for the annual Portugal Day celebration, the people of the East Ward will hopefully pour into the voting booth to choose between two Portuguese-Americans with contrasting backgrounds and personal styles.
Incumbent Augusto Amador received the most votes, with 1,524 tallies and 42.97 percent in the May municipal elections, according to unofficial results from the Essex County Clerk's Office. Challenger Anthony Campos took the second-highest vote total, garnering 1,255 votes, which was 35.38 percent of the total.
Amador is a member of Newark Mayor Baraka's slate, armed with support from the North Ward's Democratic organization, led by North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos.
But, in many ways, the East Ward, mostly comprised of the Ironbound neighborhood, is its own insular entity, sealed off from the rest of the city by the iron of train tracks as well as by its own unique political culture.
The different dynamics in some ways politically make the neighborhood a world apart, not bound to the standard of what is business as usual in the rest of Newark.
Amador, 69, an administrator at PSEG before he was elected as the East Ward councilman since 1998, believes that his longtime record sets him apart from Campos. This includes making sure that the Ironbound, which is often viewed as the most relatively stable neighborhood in Newark, doesn’t lose its close-knit nature.
“I was able to amend a lot of those [redevelopment] proposals, because I don’t want to see the community lose its character,” said Amador in reference to the zoning ordinance adopted by the city council in October, which created the MX-3 zone in the East Ward. Amador was the sole council member to vote against the measure.
These changes including the reduction of maximum building height from 18 feet to 12 feet upon their final construction.
“I have no problem with the building around Penn Station - I have a problem with building outside one quarter of a mile outside of Penn Station,” he said. “If the Ironbound is now becoming the success story in terms of development, there is no reason why we should break away from the past and implement ideas that will take away from the character of the community completely.”
“Change isn’t coming. Change is here,” said Campos, 50, whose titles included chief of police, police director, and public safety director during his 30-year-long law enforcement career before he retired in 2016. “You have one end of the spectrum that says we are in a time capsule and nothing can or should change, ever. Anything that comes in will be labeled gentrification, and they will vilify the word. On the other end, there is unbridled, unrestricted development without any thought or concern for the community or its people.”
“What is wrong with balanced development?” the candidate questioned. “And tell me why when during the development process, people are not made aware of what’s going on before it goes before the planning board or the council for a vote. That’s an insult to the people who are most impacted by it. Our people must be a part of it. The people in this neighborhood stayed here when everybody bailed from the rest of the city. They should not be moved out.”
The East Ward’s ongoing redevelopment will be impeded by any perception that public safety has diminished. The highlight of Campos’ career has been his involvement in law enforcement. Amador questioned if Campos’ claims of excellent policing practice are accurate.
“When my opponent was police chief, he totally lacked sensitivity to the problems of the community,” said Amador, claiming that Campos failed to act aggressively when police officers were transferred from the Ironbound’s 3rd Precinct to other parts of Newark. “I don’t think he’s going to be able to do for the East Ward what he hasn’t been able to do as the police chief.”
Campos said Amador’s views on police work come strictly from the safe sidelines.
“Although politics should not be involved in the police department, you have to still be an active participant in public safety, as opposed to what we have currently have, which at best is a passive spectator,” said Campos, noting that Amador voted for the 2010 layoffs that took a significant toll on the numbers of police officers patrolling Newark’s streets.
“I’ve developed relationships over the years, including with our federal and county law enforcement partners so that people are willing to work with me,” Campos said. “Therefore, I’ll be ready from Day One to address concerns about quality of life and public safety, which are the main concerns down here.”
Both Amador and Campos addressed their relationship with Baraka, who is coming off a landslide victory over challenger Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins last month.
“I don't have any problem about saying that I changed my mind. There is an admission on my part that the mayor did a good job,” said Amador, who backed Shavar Jeffries over Baraka in the 2014 Newark mayoral election. “The mayor has run the city from a very pragmatic standpoint, and I will continue to support him as he continues to make decisions that affect the lives of the people that I represent in a positive way.”
“I don’t want to owe any person, any special interest, or any politician, but the mayor and I have a very good relationship – after all, he made me his chief of police,” Campos said. “But I made a decision to run as an independent, because I only want to be beholden to the people of the East Ward. I don’t have an agenda to be councilman other than to be a voice for a very underrepresented community.”
The main job of both Amador and Campos on Tuesday is to move the people of the East Ward to the polls in their favor.
Whatever their agreements or disagreements in policy, the two candidates are a contrast in personality. Amador usually has a serious demeanor. Although he is an amateur poet, he is a man of few words, and fewer smiles. Campos, on the other hand, is more ebullient and loquacious, shaking hands happily, sometimes with former police comrades by his side.
“The impression that people have of politicians is that even in a cynical way we have to smile and be jovial all the time, But I’m involved in politics to make life better for the people that I serve, and that's the reason that I take this job seriously,” Amador said. “I’m not hypocritical. I am what I am.”
“There is huge difference between me and my opponent regarding character,” Amador added. “The voters of the East Ward are a lot smarter than what potential politicians think. And when the time comes, they will know how to respond.”
The Campos response?
“Character is what happens when no one is watching, and saying things about my character is disingenuous in and of itself,” Campos said. “It matters that my personality is different. In this business, and in life, it’s collaborate or die. It’s important when you try to help your constituents to have relationships based on respect, which is something you can’t do if you openly admit that you are not a people person. I have the ability to make those relationships that matter based upon my life’s work. I’m ready to go.”