NEWARK, NJ — Newark Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins began her campaign to become the first female mayor of New Jersey's largest city, attacking the record and character of Mayor Ras Baraka.
Chaneyfield Jenkins also framed her run within the struggle of women in Newark and across America to assert themselves as part the growing movement against sexual assault and harassment.
"I've never seen myself as just a Central Ward councilwoman. Every vote I cast impacts every ward of the city," said Chaneyfield Jenkins, 58. "I'll putting it all out there on the table. It's about the city, and we can do better. You have to be willing to challenge the system, especially when you know it's broken."
Baraka had previously announced his re-election on the steps of City Hall in June, surrounded by the eight other council members as well as a contingent of political supporters, including Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and Gov. Phil Murphy.
“Elections are a democratic process in which anyone can participate," Baraka campaign spokeswoman Samantha Gordon said. "The mayor’s focus remains set on moving Newark forward.”
While the road to victory is a long, steep climb, Chaneyfield Jenkins is no political neophyte.
She first served on the city council from 1995 to 2006, aligned with then-mayor Sharpe James. After being ousted in the clean sweep of now-U.S. Sen. Cory Booker's municipal slate in 2006, she regained her council seat in 2014, running on Baraka's successful ticket.
While Baraka and Chaneyfield Jenkins worked together in 2014 to ensure her victory over then-Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif in a runoff election, relations between the two prominent Newark politicos have definitively soured.
Issues such as crime, education and redevelopment are critical talking points in any Newark municipal election. The battle between Baraka and Chaneyfield Jenkins will be no different: the mayoral race rivals have publicly taken different stances about these concerns.
The dynamic of the 2018 Newark mayoral race, however, will also be shaped by two unforeseen factors.
A series of legal controversies have swarmed around Newark City Hall in recent months. These concerns include a whistleblower lawsuit filed by Willie Parker, the former corporation counsel, against Mayor Baraka, his brother and chief of staff, Amiri Baraka, Jr., and other city officials, tied to concerns stemming from a proposed deal to build a new Department of Public Works garage. Two close associates of the mayor have also recently plead guilty to federal tax evasion charges.
Allegations of sexual assault and harassment have also recently been made against against Obalaji Baraka, the mayor's older brother, by a former city employee.
Chaneyfield Jenkins said that she decided to run for mayor in part to stop what she alleges is an ongoing pattern of sexual assault and harassment that is the Baraka administration's "dirty little secret."
"Enough is enough," Chaneyfield Jenkins said. "This has got to stop. I will have zero tolerance for this type of behavior when I'm mayor. I've had it. I'm ready. I'm every woman. Let's go."