Newark, NJ—On Tuesday night, all uncertainty about the composition of the Newark City Council will end when the results of three runoff elections come in from the East, Central and West wards.
TAPInto Newark is focusing this article on the West and Central ward races, with another story on the East Ward.
In the West Ward, Councilman Joseph McCallum, Jr. received the most votes in May with 1,283 tallies and 30.81 percent, according to unofficial results from the Essex County Clerk's Office. Challenger Mecca Keyes came surprisingly close to McCallum, considering the power of the incumbency. Keyes garnered 1,172 votes, which was 28.15 percent of the total.
McCallum is a member of the council slate of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who won a landslide victory over his challenger, Central Ward Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, winning by a 22,094 to 6,510-vote margin, or 77 to 23 percent. Meanwhile, Keyes was a member of the failed Chaneyfield Jenkins' ticket.
The West Ward comprises five Newark neighborhoods - Vailsburg, Roseville, Fairmount Heights, Ivy Hill, and West Side. Keyes believes that residents need a more visual member of Council.
“In this ward, and in our neighborhoods, there are a lot of homeowners which help stabilize it. People here feel like they need a nurse’s touch - when we call you, people come,” said Keyes, 42, a network designer at Verizon and a resident volunteer at the non-profit Unified Vailsburg Services Organization (UVSO).
“Making sure that trash is picked up on the street and potholes are fixed – this is the low-hanging fruit you have to address and the connection to a community that needs to see you, touch you, and be able to reach out to you,” Keyes said.
“We need to see [McCallum], and he needs to follow up,” she added.
While Keyes notes that new projects are happening throughout the ward, such as a new police precinct recently built, she expressed concerns about two phenomena that are often intertwined – crime and redevelopment.
“It’s circular. If you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to buy a home. There’s heightened security after a shooting, but the police presence should be more consistent,” Keyes said.
“And as change comes, whether you call it gentrification or redevelopment, where are the people here going to go when their rent goes up from $1,200 to $2,000 a month? Yes, I signed the petition in support of the [recently passed city] inclusionary zoning ordinance,” she said. “But what happens next should be inclusionary, not illusionary.”
McCallum was ultimately elected on Baraka’s slate in 2014 after a runoff.
A Newark native and an Air Force veteran, McCallum worked for 15 years with the Veterans Administration, including working with mentally ill and substance abusing veterans and their families, according the City of Newark’s official website.
He gained political experience working as the senior aide to former West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice. McCallum was unavailable for an interview by the deadline for this article.
The council seat is open following Chaneyfield Jenkins' decision to run for mayor. LaMonica McIver, a member of Baraka’s slate, received 1,811 votes and 40.9 percent of the total. Shawn McCray, an independent candidate, got 748 votes, which was 16.89 percent of the total.
McCray serves as the Central High School boys’ basketball coach and has run the Zoo Crew Summer Basketball League since 1996. He also runs a clothing store. McCray noted how a life that has largely revolved around basketball has helped to prepare him to serve the community as an elected official.
“You take young guys who don't have any discipline and get them to understand teamwork, discipline and respect,” said McCray, 51, at a public forum held last week at Rutgers Law School. “It’s about knowing how to work with each other.”
The Central Ward has in many ways become the focal point for redevelopment in Newark. McCray, a Newark native, notes that his neighbors now often refer to their home ward in terms of “uptown” and “downtown.” The growing socioeconomic disparity between the two is discernible to residents in more than one way, according to McCray.
“People don’t feel that they are being policed the same way as downtown,” McCray said. “It’s got to be the same everywhere in the ward as much as possible.”
With some pushing for retail giant Amazon to come to the Central Ward to build a massive, game-changing headquarters, McCray wonders if the arrival of major corporate campuses is the answer to his ward’s desire for more economic opportunity.
“I’m not a big fan of tax abatements. If I’m a homeowner, and taxes keep going up, your rent is probably going to go up. If people are living paycheck to paycheck, you can’t keep raising the rents because you won’t have any of the longtime residents living in the community,” said McCray, pointing to one of the most common tools the city government has used to try to lure development to Newark.
“They say that they’ll hire Newarkers, but at what levels, and at what wage rates?,” he asked. “When you give people tax abatements to try to bring companies in here, the residents are paying for it and taking the brunt of it. We’re losing in the long run.”
One of the main reasons that McCray is running is to try to help the Central Ward regain something that he believes has been lost.
“We’re losing our sense of community. I grew up in it, but now we’re not growing up together. We’ve lost that, and it’s killing us. We need to bring the community back,” McCray said. “This isn’t really a legislation issue. It’s about going into the community, letting people know who you are, and giving them hope.
That’s what I want to do. That’s my job.”
His opponent, McIver, serves as a personnel director for the Montclair Public Schools system, according to her campaign website. She is the founder of Newark G.A.L.S., a non-profit organization meant to encourage the empowerment of young women from Newark, and is also a founding trustee of the non-profit Believe In Newark Foundation. McIver did not respond to requests for an interview.