EAST ORANGE – Martial arts instructor Council President Ted Green removed his jacket – Joe Biden-style – unbuttoned his cuffs, and rolled up his sleeves, bidding those cheering faces in the crowd to do the same, as he launched his 2017 campaign for mayor here backed by the powerful local Democratic organization.
“I officially declare my candidacy for mayor of East Orange,” said Green, a 12-year veteran of city hall. “I need your help.
The kids in his karate school need help, he said.
The senior citizens need help, he added.
“We have much more to get done in the city of East Orange. “Let’s make East Orange a place where youth returns from college, as I did.”
Highway 280 splits the town not quite in half, an urban island with the rest of the Oranges on its western shoulder and Newark to eastward. Much is made of the place’s illustrious past. East Orange gave the world – among many others – Cozy Cole,Whitney Houston, and Gordon MacRae. Annie Oakley even lived in town for awhile.
“We have an illustrious present, too,” said Assembly Speaker Emeritus Sheila Oliver, who introduced Green.
Oliver was an option for the organization once East Orange Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones made the decision not to back incumbent Mayor Lester Taylor. But the establishment has passed Green over four years ago and now it was his time.
He waited, and Jones rewarded him.
By all accounts a humble family man, the kind of guy who shovels seniors’ walkways and doesn’t look for credit, and who hosts a Father’s Day celebration to honor his fellow patriarchs, the council president took his time pronouncing the name “Leroy Jones.” He was almost overcome by emotion.
The power behind the power behind the power wells up in Jones, who doubles as the Essex County Democratic Chairman.
There are those who fear that Green won’t really have enough power to stand on his own two feet. He’ll be too beholden to Jones, as if the latter beckoned Green onto the bridge of the Enterprise, presenting him with James T. Kirk insignia and august captain’s chair, only to have calculatedly recruited on more red-shirted crew member, expendable at precisely that moment when Jones chooses to beam him down to the hostile planet of the chairman’s choosing.
In other words, that place where he sent Lester Taylor.
“More time with family,” Green clarified at the microphone, a reference to the sitting mayor, where he stood with his own wife at his side – and Jones in the tableaux of power over his left shoulder – amid a bulked up local political observation, one of the strongest in the state. In that crowd also stood Oliver, who spoke of Green as a “servant leader,” Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Roselle), Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson, Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin and Essex County Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake, East Orange Councilman Chris James, veteran operative Charles Williams, and many others.
Jones was firmly in charge.
He’s one of the strongest local chairs in the state, as we documented here.
But what stood out today – and stood out boldly – was that unlike his predecessor, Green has deep local roots here in a city that prides itself on past addresses. That was why they had the kickoff at the intersection of Winthrop and Steuben. Five of the guys Green grew up on this very block with came here to support him, and the mayoral candidate mentioned that they were so close, they only called one another’s mothers “mom,” and never by their last names.
“God dwells among the people,” said Oliver, not at the top of the church steeple, and that is where people will find Green, she noted. It didn’t seem like a slap at the lordly Taylor so much as an affirmation of Green’s doggedly humble brand.
Prior to today’s kickoff, Jones tried to put together a full-proof set of alliances to avoid a grueling primary, but it appears that someone from the longstanding Kevin Taylor camp will likely emerge to take a crack at the organization Jones largely built. “I hope so,” the chairman said mischievously, as if craving the chance to test the ship, with a new helmsman, and happy now to have a friend, Green, who – if today’s launch gave any indication – couldn’t be anything other than East Orange.