‘Back to the Bricks’ series covers how local politics are at the heart of Newark’s political landscape

19 mins read

This week we launched a non-partisan platform exploring the political landscape called, “Back to the Brick.” Starting with, but not excluded to the electoral process, the series explores how a city evolves when civic engagement and political activity is at a critical juncture; especially as the municipality moves forward.

The City of Newark is an important metropolis in New Jersey, and a significant municipality in the tri-state area. The coming elections are notable for several reasons. Yet we emphasize that like all Americans, and the world, we are coming out of the pandemic which  forced us to reshape our social, cultural and political milieu. 

That said, multiple candidates expressed ways to improve the city and the civic activities of its residents. Moreso, there is a resounding push for inclusive representation in terms of both gender and racial-ethnic demographics. Plus, there are more women challengers for the mayoral seat than men this year.

Just over 50 people took out petitions for the positions of mayor, councilmember at large, ward council member and the school board. However, all have yet to be certified and on the final ballot. 

At Ark Republic, we collected as many names and information regarding candidates’ platforms, and will be updating the list as much as possible. Our staff decided that it was important to record as many candidates as we could, as well as list their proposed agendas. 

Although we are still collecting, we have thus far identified key concerns identified by multiple candidates: public safety; homelessness; term limits for elected officials; emphasis on youth services; improved educational options; real affordable housing; improved infrastructure; overhaul in sanitation for streets and public spaces; transparency in governance; transparency in how the budget is used; accountability; and ending the idea of segregation between the wards.

Mayor of Newark

Ras Baraka: Finishing his first full term, Mr. Baraka as the current mayor  is the incumbent for the position. A long-time participant in local politics, he served as a councilmember before winning a special election in 2014 against local lawyer and education advocate, Shevar Jeffries. This all after the previous mayor Cory Booker won a seat in the U.S Senate.

Since, Mr. Baraka takes the position of being a progressive official who has led the city through growing redevelopment, all the while tackling issues such as affordable housing, increased employment of Newarkers, and replacing the city’s pipe system that contained high amounts of lead. During his tenure, he guided the city during the pandemic, and is continuously implementing initiatives as it recovers. Previous programs include multiple rounds of rental assistance; the Creative Catalyst fund for creatives in the city; a guaranteed basic income program; and small business grants.

For elections, Mr. Baraka uses an oft-practice strategy of endorsing a candidate collective in other offices. Hence,  creating a political dream team that aligns with his political agenda.

Sheila Montague:  A 20 year veteran teacher of Newark Public Schools (NPS), Ms. Montague is a West Ward Democratic district leader and an Essex County College professor. 

In a virtual meet and greet given by R. Jamaal Gourdine, she was asked what she would do in the first 100 days in office. To which, Ms. Montague detailed that she would focus “assessing [the budget] . . . in terms of what was spent.” In her talk, she said that she “just recently . . . request[ed] the budget for the last three years . . . and I’ve been stonewalled.”

Throughout her professional career, she has been involved in a number of community and established advocacy organizations. Focusing on initiatives that are community-driven, she is an active founding member of Parents United for Local School Education. Also, she is a member of the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) and The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Added to her work, she advocates for positive educational programs alongside being a voice for women and girls. “For the sake of our daughters, we must be responsible for creating an environment where it is okay to be an intellectual, that it is okay to be a leader and that we can do much more than be attacked personally by men in attempts to disregard our minds,” recently messaged Ms. Montague. 

Lastly, she noted that she will work with law enforcement for effective policing, and represent a leadership that does not involve themselves in criminal affiliations such as gangs.

Donna Jackson: Recognized as an unwavering champion for the everyday Newark resident, Ms. Jackson is a well-known activist whose on-the-ground involvement has pushed for a city that protects and values its residents. “We have watched our City be drastically changed without our input,” Ms. Jackson explained to Ark Republic.

Ms. Jackson says if elected, she will immediately address public safety by tackling the following issues. Firstly, look into the reasons why there is low staffing in police, fire and sanitation departments. Next, review the City budget to see how there can be an increase in staff to better city services. Third,  increase the wattage in street lighting to prevent community members from being so dark. 

“The residents have been asking for years for the city to brighten the streets to make things safer. The concern about the lighting has been brought up in countless council and community meetings; however, the cries of the residents have not been addressed,” Ms. Jackson wrote to Ark Republic. 

Additionally, Ms. Jackson plans to perform a complete audit of the City’s budget and resources to paint “a better picture of what’s needed in order to get a clear . . . understanding of what the city, community and residents need.”

Included in her budget review, she will emphasize youth and recreational services she says “are critically lacking.” If given the opportunity, Ms. Jackson plans to start a fully developed before-and-after school program, as well as a summer work program and peer-to-peer initiative via an interventionist lens. Her goal– hire 7,000 youth in the summer to work substantial hours. “Previously, these services were offered with a joint City and Board of Ed collaboration. We must ensure our children have safe spaces.” 

In closing, Ms. Jackson emphasizes that she “will build a team to address the good and build on it” while also looking at “the ills that continue to plague our City.” For years issues residents have complained about go unanswered. From crime, vacant properties, dirty streets, rodent infestation, dark streets and the list goes on.  With all these concerns the average Newarker Loves our City and wants better.

(Here’s a list of others who took out the petitions and have either dropped out, or Ark Republic was unable to locate a platform by press time: Anthony Diaz, Latirah J. Brown, Shirley McLean, and Salvatore G. Gencarelli).

South Ward Council

Pat Council: The incumbent running on the Baraka platform, Mr. Council says his leadership will ensure “residents have a place to live, work and play.” For this election he is using the tag line: “Refocusing, reimagining, rebuilding a better South Ward.”

Terrance Bankston: Running on a platform stating that  “Time’s up” for the old guard, Mr. Bankston has proven himself a viable contender after previously  losing by slim margins for the same seat in the 2018 general election. 

Former Director of Constituent Affairs for the City of Newark and then Director of the Newark Youth One Stop Career Center under the Cory Booker administration, Mr. Bankston expressed to Ark Republic in an interview that it was “time for a new leadership  . . . that guides the ward with care and concern.” In his tenure, he has managed a $5.5 million budget and co-authored, The People’s Policy, which was adopted into practice by NPS.

Working at Bloomfield College, Mr. Bankston focused on first-generation and under-represented students. Now, he shifts his energies on advocacy for often overlooked South Ward residents. He wrote, “There are two things that can happen with Trust, it can be earned or it can be violated. Given the present conditions in the South Ward of Newark, which would you say has happened to us?”

Using his extensive work in community and government, Mr. Bankston also seeks to remedy the growing environmental issues in the South Ward. “Amazon trucks come down residential streets . . . airplanes fly over our heads,” he informed as he detailed his strategy to handle the daily environmental problems connected to the physical well-being of residents.

For Mr. Bankston, he is interested in serving the resident needs rather than posturing as a politician. He will seek basic needs for constituents like cleaner roads and safer streets. All the while, halting the rise in property taxes. His goals are to deal with enhancing the services to the South Ward, and ultimately improving the quality of life of Newarkers.

Altarik White: With 15 years of experience as a high school administrator and football coach, the former NFL athlete is running on a platform with the message, “We are better together.” Born and reared in the South Ward, Mr. White aims to enhance economic empowerment; residents’ access to social and educational services; building the infrastructure of the city; as well as, vying for safer and cleaner neighborhoods. 

“Safety remains a top concern throughout our city,” drives Mr. White. “Creating avenues for our youth to peacefully resolve issues and reducing poverty overall is the most effective way to reduce crime.”

In addition, he seeks to address the continual issue of food insecurity and cultivating programs assisting Newark residents to train for and develop careers that provide meaningful employment. He believes that locals must take an active role in bettering their city.

Cynthia Truitt-Rease: The former chief-of-staff of current South Ward council, John Sharp James, Ms. Truitt-Rease says she served as one of the first contacts for constituents during her work at City Hall. As well, during Councilmember James’ absence, she ran the day-to-day operations. 

In a recent talk, Ms. Truitt-Rease says she brings “experience . . . dedication . . . transparency.” Her goal is to initially work on uniting the community to work on basic quality of life issues such as communal policing and  engagement before any economic development or other investments can take place in the community. 

“We can’t push everything on the council. We can’t push everything on the police,” Ms. Truitt-Rease stressed this as a way for residents to acknowledge their part of the problem as a method to help find a solution. At the same time, she underlined that Newark residents need council members who are “viable leaders” who engage with the public other than for photo opportunities.

Using Shirley Chisolm’s philosophy of being “unbought and unbossed,” she wants to restore “truth and trust” back into elected officials. If elected, she will be the first woman to serve as South Ward councilmember.

Trenton Jabu Jones: A former legislative aide to the current South Ward councilman, John Sharp James and previous senior legislative aide to current councilmember, Eddie Osborne, the lifelong Newark resident plans to use his extensive experience serving constituents in city hall as a base for his intended leadership. 

“I attended more than 2,000 meetings,” Crime, illegal dumping, exorbitant increase of rent and a plethora of slumlords are some key issues plaguing the progress of the city. “Folks cannot sustain with the economic issues going on in our community,” stated Mr. Jones.  

One of the strategies he plans to implement is setting up community meetings with youth and seniors. The plan– compile  a list of the needs of the issues experienced by all residents, and come up with a collectie plan to tackle solutions.

Douglas Freeman*: “It’s time for advocates to step up and be the representation of this community,” says Mr. Freeman, an advocate for Newark residents, and in particular, South Ward residents. “We have been doing the most work in the community, but there has been a disrespect.”

With this work, he aims to provide an inclusive leadership which brokers better relationships with law enforcement, more services and recreational programs directed to youth and seniors, and continues to place emphasis on improving the infrastructure of the area.

Mr. Freeman’s central work has been in emergency planning, reinforcing the bones of the Bricks,  its communications and power. Years ago, he discovered that there was a lot of planning for natural crises and emergencies, but little action. Of which was most evidenced during Superstorm Sandy.

After the natural disaster, he was part of a collective having provided electricity with generators until electricity was restored. In that time, they discovered the utility poles and street lights were severely damaged and degraded. So they placed pressure on power companies to get $3 million worth of enhanced utility services and programs in the South Ward. 

Other initiatives were to create the Weequahic Sports Authority, and renovate parts of the historic park, children and senior programs, and to get better utility equipment.

East Ward Council

Louis Weber: The current incumbent, Mr. Weber also serves as the executive secretary of the Newark Police Department’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Unit. As a retired Newark cop whose family has lived in the East Ward for almost 100 years, he says that he wants to “revive” a  ward long having been “complacent . . . and quiet.”. Mr. Weber, who says he bridges the gaps between seniors and youth, aiming to “bring [the ward] back to life, our light is not out, but we can shine so much stronger.” 

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs and law enforcement, Mr. Weber identifies safety as the primary concern for voters.

Michael Silva: Another former Newark officer, Mr. Silva also worked as a detective. His campaign has two main emphases: 1. Maintain a Little City Hall in the East Ward to provide convenient and easier accessibility to city services. 2. Restructure the police department to enhance focus on community policing and neighborhood relations. “You are your community,” expressed Mr. Silva in his bid for city council. He says he is a “son of the Ironbound.” 

A core agenda for Mr. Silva is to ensure that the East Ward gets its share of the City’s resources. He declared that the residents “deserve respect,” as he further explained. “We don’t get the municipal services that we deserve. We don’t get the snow removal that we deserve. We need to get that pride back in the community and stick together so that they know in City Hall that the East district shouldn’t be last in line.”

Anthony Campos: It seems that the East Ward’s retired law enforcement are representing strongly in this year’s elections to lead the ward. Mr. Campos, who uses the slogan, “He’s with us,” is a former Newark police chief. He has three focal points: 1. Getting a fair share of the city’s resources for services. 2. Improving public safety. 3. Advocate for cleaner sidewalks and streets.

“Our local businesses . . . the very establishments that [serve] our basic needs, sustain our local economy . . . are all reeling due to loss of revenue and effects of a pandemic.” He adds. “Our residents . . . pay the highest share of taxes in the city  . . . but yet we also have to endure garbage on our streets, flooding lately, and a homeless problem.” In addition, Mr. Campos raises the massive environmental issues in the ward due to its unique structure of being a residential and manufacturing district.

Jonathan T. Seabra*: Returning for another chance to snag the council seat after a 2018 and 2014 loss, Mr. Seabra is a local businessman whose family owns Seabra Markets, a chain of grocery stores specializing in Latin American produce and foodstuffs. 

Declaring his candidacy, Mr. Seabra posted via Facebook, “Living here for 30 years, I have seen how much our vibrant neighborhood has grown and changed. I know the residents of the East Ward as hard-working, and humble people who deserve the best services and public resources from the city. However, I have heard so many times from residents of the East Ward about how ineffectively these resources have been provided. The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated our community’s problems.”

If voted in, Mr. Seabra wants to address issues such as street repair, the lack of police patrol units, flooding, the absence of a hospital, and the rising rents.

West Ward Council

Lyndon Brown*: A life-long resident of the West Ward, Mr. Brown has been a community and education advocate for four decades. For the activist who works extensively in a number of spaces, , public safety, education and quality of life issues such as low income housing, viable job opportunities, and youth programs, are major concerns.

“Violent crime … foreclosures are highest in the West Ward than they are in any other ward in the city, so we need to combat those challenges,” Mr. Brown said in a video post on Facebook. 

A district leader for three decades and a block association president for 40 years, Mr. Brown has assisted in putting 5,000 people in college. Included with his youth efforts, the former Thirteenth Avenue School PTA and the Essex County PTA president consistently organizes efforts to feed the homeless and eradicate ongoing food insecurity. 

Plus, he has coordinated job and college placement for teens, connected senior citizens, new immigrant families, merchants and new residents with city and community resources. “I feel like I’ve already been doing the work, now all I need is the position,” concluded Mr. Brown.

Oscar S. James II*: A former South Ward councilman who lost his seat to Ras Baraka in 2010, Mr. James has been working in the private sector for the last 10 years in commercial real estate and political consultation. Now a resident in the West Ward for the last five years, he recalled that he entered back into public service after West Ward Councilmember Joseph McCallum was indicted for fraud in October 2021. 

Mr. James has cited much of the work he’s done previously in the South Ward like working with police and offering programs for homeowners. “We have lack of leadership in the West Ward and I believe I am the only person that’s qualified that has the experience to actually go in on day one and work with the mayor and accomplish certain things to get the West Ward where it needs to be.” 

He wants the West Ward to have a state-of-the-art recreational facility that also houses seniors. If elected, some of his plans involve plans to address the public safety issues and help homeowners—many of whom are elders—to upgrade their homes.

A consistent and prominent education advocate, fighting for and securing options for quality education for children throughout the city is also a key item on Mr. James’ agenda. Currently, he serves as a board member for the Family Healing Center and Logistic Professionals. In addition to being a  managing member of Freedom Capital, a private equity real estate fund.  As a licensed New Jersey real estate agent, he noted that “Newark is getting $300 million from the federal government – funding that could get our kids back up to speed – and we don’t know how it’s going to be spent.” 

Chigozie Onyema*: Onyema recently served as the Assistant Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs under Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver. There,  he focused on economic justice and led a policy team that evaluated the impact of state and federal legislation on the department’s programs and objectives. Mr. Onyema believes  people closest to the problem should be closest to power. 

With a commitment “to be honest, transparent, and to serve with integrity,” Mr. Onyema is now an attorney working in social activist spaces. He previously ran a bold campaign when he was just 18-years-old.  After graduating from high school, he ran for School Board Member in the Maplewood/South Orange School District. Having identified public schools as an “unjust tracking system” where “Black students were disproportionately tracked in remedial and lower-level courses.” At the same time, “white students were overwhelmingly placed in honors classes.” Endorsed by the local teacher’s union, he did not win. Yet, continued to work in public service. 

Moreover, Mr. Onyema co-founded the Maroon Project, a Newark-based activist incubator  that creates spaces for students, organizers, and residents to impact social justice issues through political education, civic engagement, and leadership development. 

Dupré Kelly*: In 2018, Mr. Kelly independently ran for Council at-Large. Ultimately, he did not capture the seat. Although he did not win, it was not a loss for him. Moving forward, he persisted in working with various community initiatives, which also include educational and youth programs. 

Said Mr. Kelly, “We need to expand our young people’s employment opportunities through education and youth initiatives that are of interest to them. We need to reimagine senior recreation and entertainment.”

Through his charity work, Mr. Kelly implemented the Let’s Eat program, where they delivered over 80 thousand pounds of food to West Ward families and other communities ; especially during the pandemic. This is just one of the non-profit organizing efforts he has done over the years. As a candidate, he insists that Newarkers “need to reevaluate legislation that’s already in place or propose new legislation that will hold small businesses and storefronts accountable for how our corridors look and are maintained.” 

Lyn Middleton*: This candidate’s platform is unknown at press time.

Central Ward Council

LaMonica McIver*: The only woman who has a seat on the sitting City Council, Ms. McIver seems to be running unopposed this election cycle. 

North Ward Council

Anibal Ramos: Running unopposed, Mr. Ramos is working towards securing his fifth term. “It’s part of my goal as I sit in office to help bridge that gap every day between our municipal government and the people,” Ramos told a crowd of over 50 supporters at his campaign launch event hosted on Bloomfield Avenue. If reelected, the incumbent said one of his objectives will be to advocate his continued support of the Essex-Hudson Greenway path project.

Council at Large

Luis Quintana, Carlos Gonzalez, Edward Osborne and C. Lawrence Crump, all hold seats as Council-at-Large. 

The first Latino to serve in council, Mr. Quintana was elected in 1994. Another seat holder since 2006, Mr. Gonzalez, comes with a background in the financial sector. . As well, Mr. Osborne, who has the support of several key labor unions, plans to be on the ballot. On the other hand, Mr. Crump filled his mother’s seat in late August 2021. The first woman council member elected to office, Mildred C. Crump stepped down for health reasons. 

Linda Carter: A political science and legal professor, Prof. Carter affirmed that Newark “should be a clean city, the roads should be paved, we should invest in the infrastructure, we should invest in young people.” For her platform, she lists the following concentrations: 1. Neighborhood-focused Public Safety; 2. Good Jobs for All Newark Residents; 3. Cleaned and paved streets in all neighborhoods. 4. Creative solutions for those experiencing homelessness; and 5. Investing in Newark by investing in its people.

In a discussion, Prof. Carter pointed out that tax dollars allocated to the city should be dispersed to everyone rather than “just a chosen group of individuals.” 

For her career, she has been the resident manager at Scudder Homes Public Housing Project, worked for Senator Bill Bradley, and opened her own law practice in order to best serve the public. 

Growing up in public housing, Prof. Carter recounted that a homeless problem did not exist in her community until the government high-rise housing complexes were closed. Because the buildings provided thousands of units, there was an inadequate amount of housing to relocate residents when they shuttered. Thus, Prof. Carter suggests that the high-rise buildings that are still up, can be thoroughly renovated to deal with those who are experiencing displacement. “Affordable does not mean public housing,” she said. 

In her talks, she proposes to provide more comprehensive, implementable programming for those who are mentally ill. Committed to the long haul, Prof. Carter underscored, “if you’re serious about loving the city, you should be here [after running for office].”

Dannisha Clyburn: Riding through the streets of Newark, Ms. Clyburn has been canvassing the old school way—with bullhorn and heart. Her major focus is that a change is needed in the top brass of administration, tackle homelessness and place term limits on elected offices. 

Her leadership will ensure she is accessible, visible to residents, by frequent engagement with community members, along with her aides. “My mission is to help the unheard and unseen, those who are not being paid attention to,” Ms. Clyburn highlighted in a panel talk. She also underscores the need for council and community to work together, and hold each other accountable.

Ronald Jamaal Gourdine: An activist and third-generation educator, Mr. Gourdine says the city needs to move away from the “struggle” trope toward leadership “that will properly address the issues of the people.” He focuses on the following: 1. Funding for senior programs; 2. Better school funding formula for our kids; 3. Use abandoned properties more efficiently.

Mr. Gourdine put together the only public panel allowing council and mayoral candidates  to speak. “There are neighborhoods that are failing in the city,” in all of the wards, he explained. As a result, he says we must come up with plans that get to the heart of issues together.

Elaine Aquil: By day, Dr. Aquil is a chiropractor. At other times, she is an activist. Involved in anti-gun violence since 2000, her main goal in running is to push for a city council that representive ofcity demographics. “There’s only one woman out of nine and I believe in the balance of power . . . when in the city of Newark 52 percent of the voter base are women,” expressed the owner of Nubian Family Chiropractic Center. She thinks there needs to be terms limited citing people being in office for 298 and 24 year

Khalil Kettles: After running for South Ward councilman in 2018, he did not nag the seat but says he gained a wealth of information. For 12 years, he was a South Ward district leader , and works as a community advocate.

Nadirah Brown: Also known as “Ms. Information,” Ms. Brown furnished community members with news for years. Furthermore, she details resources and ways to navigate the daily challenges of being a Newark resident. In her candidacy, Ms. Brown indicates that we need to “follow up with agencies . . . organizations” who are given the lion’s share of money dedicated to dealing with the homeless “we need to bring the wards back together again, we’re too separated.” She proposes accountability and the City utilizing its resources more effectively.

Jimmie White: A local business owner and mentor, Mr. White says he wants to pass legislation that “benefits the people” and provides rights to people who have been living in the various neighborhoods throughout the city for generations, but have been largely ignored. 

“Slumlords [are] one of the big[gest] reasons why crime is happening in our city,” he argued. “There’s no security in their buildings and it’s giving crime places to hide . . . and a lot of crime to happen.” He stressed that residents who are renting need better living conditions and have been “taken advantage of” by people who come to the city to buy up properties, but lack the care and concern for tenants.

Louise Scott-Rountree: Calling herself a “servant to the people,” Ms. Scott-Rountree has worked in a number of community initiatives and programs. Her platform is unknown at press time.

(Here’s a list of others who took outt the petitions and have either dropped out, or Ark Republic was unable to locate a platform by press time: Linda McDonald Carter, Blanca Lopes, Joy Bembry Freeman, Dion C. McCutcheon, Sharpe James, Pablo Olivera and Sharronda M. Wheeler)

The symbol* signifies candidates who have been certified.

Updated March 5, 2022

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