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Mostly relegated to a moribund 2019 general election year afterthought, Essex County nevertheless offers Irvington, specifically the city’s south ward, as contested turf this year, where the scion of a county party icon hopes to secure the balance of time remaining on her seat against a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
Jamillah Z. Beasley, daughter of the late Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley, once the mastermind of local party operations here, earlier this year filled a South Ward vacancy after the death of Councilwoman Sandra Jones. With the support of Team Irvington and Mayor Tony Vauss, her father’s political protege, Beasley wants to win in November to complete the balance of Ms. Jones’s term, and then run again in next year’s May nonpartisan election.
“First, I want to continue the legacy,” said the councilwoman, referring to her late father, who worked alongside L. Bilal Beasley on political campaigns from the age of eight. In 2008, she was first elected District Leader to represent the West Ward, 2nd District, and in 2015 she filled a vacancy on the Irvington Board of Education
“I’ve lived here in the township and I want to continue the initiative of putting people first,” added Beasley, who worked in the town for 28 years, starting in the records bureau of the Irvington Police Department.
A lifetime of direct contact with residents makes her “the best person, and the best candidate,” said the councilwoman who also worked for the Irvington Neighborhood Improvement Corporation Department (I.N.I.C.), and Department of Neighborhood Preservation. After working a year in Department of Neighborhood Preservation, she received a promotion to head the department until her departure in April 2019. She currently works for the City of East Orange in the Department of Policy, Planning, & Redevelopment.
Challenger Al-Tariq Ibn Shabazz also wants the seat, and Nov. 5th makes his second attempt. In 2016, he ran against Jones and lost 66-34% (621 to 315), but he says he’s learned from his mistakes and ready for another shot. “We’ve made some adjustments,” Shabazz told InsiderNJ. “And Sandy [Jones] was a 15-year incumbent, who was well-liked by the voters and responsive.”
Beasley, it should be pointed out, won the symbolic victory in the petition signatures department: 500 to 95.
But Shabazz is indefatigable.
At the heart of his candidacy is the challenger’s assertion that Team Irvington is liberal without being progressive. A kid who went to Parris Island at 17, became a sergeant in the Marines, worked as a wellness specialist at Covenant House, graduated from Monclair University with a major in political science and minor in film, and now is employed by the City of Newark, the 37-year old Shabazz wants to be a stronger labor voice on the council. He also wants to do a better job of engaging Irvington’s immigrant community, with a specific eye to avoiding what he cites as the typical city hall strategy to divide groups in order to consolidate power, and to engage the city’s young people.
While Jones was well known in the city, Beasley is arguably the most politically resonant name in Irvington. Married with two sons, Shabazz insists he’s well known too, based on his work in the community. He also said he’s mentally prepared.
“On Parris Island, I had my world impacted,” he said. “It’s not the physical piece so much as it’s the mental piece. The Marines taught me that anything you put your mind to, you can do it. That pushing yourself to destroy the barriers in your mind. That’s what I learned.”
The late Freeholder Beasley ran with the support of the Essex Democratic Committee in 2007 against state Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) and lost.
Has Shabazz spoken to Rice about an endorsement?
“I have started some conversations with labor and trade unions but I haven’t talked to Senator Rice,” the candidate said. “The main endorsements I’m seeking are from the people of the South Ward. I definitely think this has much more to do with the residents of the South Ward.”
Shabazz doesn’t disparage the concept of team, but questions the council’s relationship with the mayor.
“The council should not consist of the mayor’s aides, but serve as a necessary part of checks and balances,” he said.
Vauss, who toiled as one of the late D. Bilal Beasley’s party loyalists through multiple political fights before becoming mayor in 2014, said his mentor’s daughter does the work.
“Bilal told me once there would be a changing of the guard,” the mayor told InsiderNJ. “One of the main things is we have a lot of Johnny come lately’s out there who show at election time. Jamillah’s has been involved in the community this entire time, both in civic associations and as an employee in her hometown. This is someone who cares about the community. Remember, too, her mother is the Democratic chair for the township. It comes down to this. I need someone who will work. I am in constant communication with the community and everybody understands where we were and where we are. Crime is at an historic low. We have had five this year. Five the year before, and four the year before. Those are trends we have set in progress.
“When I got here we were averaging 30,” the mayor added. “We are ready to take this journey to the next level. When I started I said ‘if it’s not clean or safe I can’t improve the town, and we have done that and now we are ramping up plans for major redevelopment all over town.”