Baraka v. Fulop 2025: A Developing Rivalry and What it Means

Baraka and Fulop

In the 2017 gubernatorial pre-season, Ras Baraka supported Steven Fulop, the two big city North Jersey mayors bound by a common sense of an enemy festering in South Jersey. But now, with Fulop reigniting his ambition for the governorship and Baraka’s allies prodding him toward his first statewide run, the mayors of Jersey City and Newark respectively appear headed for a 2025 collision.

After winning a third term with – by all appearances – a no-sweat effort last month, Baraka last week helped secure

Dupre Kelly

a seat for handpicked ally Dupre “DoItAll” Kelly in the June 14h West Ward runoff to maintain a 5-4 edge on the city council.

It was what he needed to do to look strong enough to withstand the inevitable Essex chatter about how he won’t win the party line in his own county if he runs for governor, the consequences perhaps of a lifelong distrust for party authority. But as Fulop worked the phones early in anticipation of another bid for governor, trying to soften sceptics with a more veteran set of arguments than last time and dangling a PAC with $6 million in it as proof of his seriousness, Baraka faced spurious diner booth criticism about low turnout in that May 10th Newark election.

“Anemic,” establishment sources groaned, eyes glazed over by the 12% turnout figure in Essex on Election Night, as if looking for ways to nullify the impression of Baraka as an urban superstar even before he figures out whether he will actually undertake a run for governor.

But as Baraka gears up to try to muscle out Fulop (more on that in a minute, because there is some bad political blood there, too; and some comparison with other statewide seeking players) the context of his win and alleged inability to “inspire” voters merit closer inspection.

First of all, Baraka – running on a record of having secured new lead-free water lines for Newark, leading during the pandemic, and overseeing new development, some of it, or much of it, wholly congruous with the arts scene Baraka loves – crushed his opponent by a greater margin (83-17%) than any other past foe.  The mayor’s allies point out that Sheila Montague emerged as a challenger only because no one else saw a way to win. So with a nonexistent threat level, Baraka never had to campaign as hard as one who might have actually had to bench press more voter base.

But it goes even deeper.

James
Sharpe James

Remember, former Mayor Sharpe James – a one-man circus who did time for corruption – wanted to run for an at-large seat in this last cycle.

Now, the law forbade him from doing so, according to the state Attorney General – but he went out there and harvested ballot petitions anyway to get on the ballot, and stimulated a connected resistance culture with those other nascent candidates looking to get on the ballot to challenge the Baraka Machine.

A charismatic figure who still engenders a lot of goodwill, James could easily have turned the season into the Sharpe Show, which, if unchecked and unregulated, could have degenerated the cycle into bedlam for Baraka and his allies. Left to their own devices, the anti-Baraka contenders squirmed like so many sections of unsegmented polar ice floes. Sharpe envisioned connecting all of them to a reanimated Ringling Brothers with him as megaphone-wielding octogenarian ringmaster. The Barakas – Ras and his brother Middy – had to be careful. They didn’t want to too strongly rough up James – again, still an icon in political and some community circles – but they also didn’t want to risk letting his ego explode back onto the scene, complete with victimization lifeline when inevitably the local clerk ruled against his appearance on the ballot on the strength of that AG judgement against him. James basically cracked up on his own in the end, the clerk waving that letter of then-AG Anne Milgram to defuse what could have turned into a movie starring Sharpe with the Barakas in supporting roles. They couldn’t happen.

But in letting the law prevail and failing to secure a presidential pardon in time for the election – it’s absurd, yes, but these were the abiding conversations at the start of the cycle – the Barakas contributed – wittingly if not with any aggressive augmenting of Milgram’s legal ruling – to a more flattened political atmosphere. James ejected meant no at-large contest, and no at-large contest meant more reason for voters not to go to the polls. Irritating in the final analysis with 12% turnout in Essex? Maybe. But worse would have been having to endure the flamboyant Sharpe on wheels attempting to ride and platform-shoe his way back to City Hall.

That would have been a disaster.

So by letting James smother himself, they froze out a portion of the cycle, and contributed to lower turnout. Bothersome, yes, but necessary.

Finally, the point is don’t look at the bottom line of Newark/Essex turnout and read too much into it, without considering two glaring contributing factors to why it ended up that way: no competition in the mayor’s race, and no competition in the at-large race.

Baraka had a process beef, too.

From NJ.com’s Steve Strunsky:

“The day before Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s landslide re-election, changes in election districts and polling places prompted his campaign to file a lawsuit asking a judge to let voters cast ballots at any polling place in the ward where they lived.

“But the solution was not as simple as the campaign envisioned, and Superior Court Judge Robert Gardner denied the request at a hearing Monday afternoon.

“In an angry victory speech after polls closed the next night, Baraka denounced the judge’s ruling and the election officials who had imposed the changes, which the mayor said disenfranchised thousands of voters who went to the wrong polling places or could not get to their new ones.”

Now, back to the developing Baraka-Fulop rivalry.

Fulop

Sources say the mayor of Jersey City is already pursuing the 2025 governorship: making phone calls, rebuilding relationships, underlining successes and leading on the progressive front with heavy-impact measures like the following:

“Mayor Steven M. Fulop announced today [Friday] the creation of a $20 per hour Living Wage Statute for all full-time Jersey City employees to provide an adequate standard of living and help offset nationwide historic inflation and increased cost of living while retaining employees.

“As part of the City’s 2022-2023 fiscal year budget, the Living Wage Statute will boost salaries for hundreds of current and future Jersey City residents and workers from $17 (already one of the highest minimum wage rates in the nation) to $20 per hour – which is $7 more than New Jersey’s current hourly minimum wage.

“’In Jersey City, we already set the highest minimum wage standards, and we are taking it a step further to provide our residents and workers with a decent standard of living so that they don’t have to decide between feeding their children dinner or making rent,’ said Fulop.  ‘By introducing a living wage, we are raising the bar, putting upwards pressure on salaries, offsetting historic federal inflation levels and cost of living increases, improving employee retention, and sustaining our local economy.’”

If Baraka has lead pipe eradication, Fulop, it seems, has living wage bar-raising.

While Fulop prepares for another stab at Drumthwacket, Baraka too teases Trenton Tinseltown.

This from InsiderNJ a week ahead of the May 10th election:

“At a Kenyatta Stewart fundraiser tonight in Paterson, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka all but explicitly said he’s running for governor after Tuesday’s mayoral election.

“He chose his words carefully, but those words turned heads dramatically in the packed room at the Art Factory Studios, amped as Democratic State Party Chairman (and Essex County Democratic Chairman) LeRoy Jones gave his full-throated endorsement of Baraka for a third term as mayor of Newark.

“Baraka basked in the chairman’s praise.

“He built up those other members of Team Baraka.

“Then:

“’A lot of you are putting a target on  my back,’ said the mayor, in pursuit of his third term. ‘I’m not dodging that target. I’m not here to talk about that. [But] if we do that thing, I’m going to come find you. Newark is going to decide where I’m going to go. If there is a fight out there, I’m not afraid.’”

“A source in the room interpreted ‘that thing’ as governor 2025.”

So, it’s on. Baraka v. Fulop; Fulop v. Baraka – the intrigue intensified by the fact that Baraka originally backed Fulop for governor ahead of 2017, before the Murphy mudslide of support in North Jersey engulfed the Jersey City mayor, shaking loose his supposedly strong base of support, while Baraka stood by him, only to find himself on the losing side as Fulop very suddenly tapped out. A visibly ruffled Baraka subsequently showed up at an endorsement ceremony for Murphy. Maybe ironically, the Newark mayor would turn into one of Murphy’s staunchest local allies, the confluence of Newark’s need for state funds and the outsider tag of progressive street poet and Wall Street progressive in the static underworld of New Jersey establishment antics improbably turning Baraka and Murphy into political allies.

Baraka

 

If Fulop hated South Jersey machine Dems, his 2017 gubernatorial foray characterized by heavy sparring with George Norcross and fellow contender then-Senate President Steve Sweeney, he found a willing ally in Baraka, who defeated the South Jersey-infused Essex County machine when he first won the mayoralty in 2014. As Murphy found himself tested by South Jersey in the early days of his governorship, and outright opposed at every turn by a bitter Sweeney, who not only suffered losing the governorship to Murphy but then couldn’t convince Murphy to rein in the NJEA, which wanted him out of commission, Baraka got closer to Murphy.

Wall Street’s bad, but not as bad as that GN3 Camden helipad.

Speaking of South Jersey, Sweeney – already an announced candidate for governor in 2025 and nursing

Sweeney
Sweeney

the wounds not just of his 2017 statewide freezeout but the deflating feeling of having won the most expensive legislative contest that same year, only to get gonged out of office four years later – must feel somewhat deviously elated by the spectacle of an entangled Fulop and Baraka. North Jersey fractured remains the study South Jerseyan’s only shot at the top. The trouble is that arguably none of the party machines sees Fulop or Baraka as serious contenders right now for an organization line, which means both of them might end up – if one can’t knock off the other – running for the progressive vote out in the cold, like a pair of refashioned Frank Pallone and Rush Holt statewide duds.

Sweeney can laugh all he likes.

Out of office, mired in the state’s red voter zone, and certainly in no stronger position statewide than he was when he ran with the force of the senate presidency on his side, he seems less likely to project than Baraka or Fulop.

“Do you think he runs for his senate seat in 2023?” an insider asked last week in an eatery.

“Yes,” was the reply. He needs the office under him to credibly go after the governorship in 2025.

But the other man shook his head in disagreement.

“If he loses, he’s truly washed up, and he can’t risk that [against his conqueror, 3rd District state Senator Ed Durr] now that the district’s less Democratic,” said the source.

With Sweeney floundering to find a way back in (LG running mate on a GOP fusion ticket??), Fulop

U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill in LD24.
U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill

financially equipped and with a progressive Jersey City story to tell, but the hangover of 2017 putting past allies in cautionary postures around him, and Baraka boasting a progressive Newark success story but with the heavy Democratic Party caveat in an organization state of his defiant self-representation as his own man, which sends shivers up the spine of every organization-molded cog in the machine, from the allies of Speaker Craig Coughlin, to the basement dwellers in Senate President Nick Scutari-world, to the plush suburban climes of Bergen – what does it mean?

It means the likes of U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11) remain favored contenders for the office. Essex County Democratic Party Chairman (and NJ Democratic State Committee Chairman) LeRoy Jones likes her, and can pull another county or counties with her as the statewide candidate on the strength of her general election prospects.

Downside?

She alienates Baraka, also from Essex County, with a real base in Newark, who wants the job; as well as sitting LG Sheila Oliver, also of Essex, who also might want the job.

“Poor LeRoy,” a rival cackled from the comfort zone of another county.

Any others?

U.S. Rep. Josh Gotheimer’s (D-5) name comes up, but only because he has a lot of money. Most party sources say the Bergenite tacked too far to the right in his conservative district to be of any use in a Democratic Party Primary.  Coughlin’s name remains in contention, too, but mostly as leverage for Middlesex’s play for senate president, with one of three close allies in the state senate: Joe Vitale, Joe Cryan and Vin Gopal.

“It’s too fragmented,” a party source groaned on Friday to InsiderNJ, his head all but in his hands as he, presumably contemplated another Goldman Sachs panic button to level the statewide field with cash,  the way Jon Corzine and Murphy did in 2005 and 2017 respectively, to chase away the prospect of a mangled field and the prospect of party organizations doing something they dread: working for a candidate to actually connect with voters. In the meantime, that’s something Fulop and Baraka do well, better than anyone else, in fact, according to their allies, and, if you ask either one of them, better than each other. The self-nullifying properties of their would-be candidacies already have some North Jersey sources examining the possibility of Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh emerging as a prospect. After all, he too just won reelection in a supposedly ungovernable city, and did so while ensuring that a former mayor who did jail time for corruption and trying to get back in the game, stayed firmly affixed to the sideline – all with a progressive, pot legalization-friendly story tell, just like some other people in the party you may have heard of out there on the North Jersey urban landscape who view themselves as keenly aspirational executive members of the Democratic Party.

Sayegh

 

 

 

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One response to “Baraka v. Fulop 2025: A Developing Rivalry and What it Means”

  1. Baraka just lost the Italian vote by demolishing the historic Columbus statue at midnight by decree without the required review by the Newark Landmarks and Preservation Commission and the State Office of Historic Preservation.

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