The Newark runoff elections in three wards on Tuesday, June 14th contain the additional drama of what sources identify as the likely 2025 gubernatorial candidacy of Mayor Ras Baraka, the hinges of citywide political power, and the acceleration of West Ward intensity and accusation (see below).
With six races decided last month and the balance of power locked at 3-3, Newark’s political establishment contemplates control of the City Council in the unfolding remaining three contests.
Baraka continues to invest heavily in the South and West wards.
If his candidates win in those wards (Pat Council in the South and Dupre “Doitall” Kelly in the West), the mayor will maintain a 5-4 edge of the governing body.
If he loses one of those seats, he will lose the citywide power play to North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos.
Ramos wants a victory tomorrow in the East Ward, where his candidate, Mike Silva (1,039 votes on May 10th), a former cop, is trying to defeat Anthony Campos (989 votes), a former cop. Almost the entire county government apparatus has gone in behind Silva, including Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, and state Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29).
Originally committed to another candidate in the East, Baraka, too, has endorsed Silva.
The weight of political power behind Silva makes him the favorite on Tuesday against Campos.
But even if most of that power originates from the county establishment, a Silva victory does not give Ramos – the county’s most visible emblem on the city council – the votes needed to control the council.
It gets him, arguably, to 4-3.
In the South, Council is the favorite to defeat Terrance Bankston, by virtue of his having secured 1,636 (45%) of the votes in the May 10th race, to Bankston’s 638 (17.8%) in a crowded field (see below).
If Council wins, as expected, and Silva wins, as
prognosticators suspect he will given the organization behind him at this point and the double endorsement of the county and the mayor, the city council power divide would stand at 4-4.
That leaves the West to decide where the balance of power will reside.
Remember, this is the ward where former Councilman Joe McCallum – who has since vacated the seat – cracked up on corruption charges.
Now Kelly, a former rap star who has run a tortoise shell campaign heavy on Baraka-connectivity optics, will try to gut out a win against attorney Chigozie Onyema.
In a crowded field, Kelly beat Onyema on May 10th by about 400 votes.
For the last month, Baraka’s handpicked candidate has maintained an exceedingly low profile, while Onyema has upped his organizing profile. With one eye on Baraka’s statewide ambitions, the mayor’s allies have tried to discredit Onyema as a socialist because he received the endorsement of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), among other progressive groups.
Baraka, in fact, campaigned for mayor back in 2014 on a platform that included securing free healthcare for Newark residents. His father, Amiri Baraka, the late poet laureate of New Jersey, was a self-professed communist.
At least to date, the county and Ramos have not gotten involved (publicly!; see below) in the West Ward.
That could change late, of course.
But it hasn’t happened yet, at least by the looks of it right now.
So even if Onyema, on the strength of his organizing ability and his visibility through this campaign cycle (former candidate Lyndon Brown endorsed him in the runoff), pulls off the upset in a run against City Hall, there is no guarantee of where his political loyalty would lie. From the beginning of his 2022 campaign effort, he has argued that the West demands an independent voice, in the mold of favorite son state Senator Ronald Rice. He has argued for the seat in part by identifying McCallum as controlled by Baraka, which didn’t ultimately yield good government.
What is not in dispute is Kelly’s loyalty to the mayor, as signs with the West Ward candidate’s and the mayor’s faces bedeck the neighborhoods. If Kelly beats Onyema on Tuesday, Baraka can outright claim a 5-4 city council margin and the citywide upper-hand, in a continuation of a power dynamic that existed pre-election, and pre-McCallum meltdown.
If he wants to run for governor, Baraka would stand in a stronger position if he can maintain – at the end of this cycle at the end of Tuesday night – control of his local City Council. Of course, given Onyema’s flexibility as a candidate who to date has remained independent of the powerful county party organization, their relationship could change should the attorney win the West Ward council seat. Onyema, after all, served as Baraka’s 2014 West Ward grassroots organizer, and worked in the administration, but a Kelly win would should conversation-ending dominance outright, albeit arguably of a kind that minimizes vigorous political discussion.
For his part, Kelly on Facebook did issue a disgruntled statement regarding Ramos and his fellow councilmen, Luis Quintana and Carlos Gonzalez and their supposed underground West Ward Latino district activity on behalf of Onyema:
“The three Latinos that were on Team Baraka have stab [sic] me in the back after I supported them thru their entire campaign. After they won they have turned their back on me and team Baraka because they want more political power & they are trying to use my opponent to do it, in which he doesn’t even realize he’s being played as well. I ask all of you to share this repost this and make sure every person who is registered to vote in the West ward gets to the poll tomorrow on June 14th, 2022. We can no longer have these liars do what they want to do just because they are elected officials.”
In a word: intriguing.
Offended by Kelly’s statement, Gonzalez responded to a phone call from InsiderNJ.
First of all, he says he has not done any work on behalf of Onyema, as part of an agreement with the Barakas about staying out of the West Ward contest.
He said he was offended by Kelly’s comment, which pertains to a controversial circulating flyer (see below).
“That’s a racist statement,” Gonzalez said of Kelly’s remark. “If he were elected, we would have to deal with that but it’s unacceptable.”
Ramos was likewise appalled.
Like Gonzalez, he denied involvement in the Onyema cause.
“We’ve been fully engaged in the East Ward,” said the councilman. “I’m shocked that he [Kelly] would be willing to put something out like that.”
Ramos said he has spent the last 20 days helping Silva in the Ironbound, which, he said, “is where I am heading right now.”