Council Steps to the Plate in the South Ward for Team Baraka

NEWARK – Pat Council grew up in the South Ward as the son of a single mother, and on the proving ground of sport – specifically the baseball field – honed his competitive edge. It was in that other grounded place, the church, that he found perspective and a commitment to the sacred. Over the years, that purposeful foundation of religion and sport and family, values instilled in him by his mother and brothers, led Council to politics, with hopes of a deepened service to his community.

Father and husband, director of the city’s recreation program with deep roots in the school system, reverend pastor of St. John Baptist Church, former School Board Member, chairman of the South Ward Democratic Organization, and community activist going back to his participation in the Million Man March in 1995, and at-large candidate for council in 2014, Council as a member of the Baraka Team now seeks the South Ward seat occupied by retired Councilman John Sharpe James, who backs him as his successor.

On a Monday evening, with his family and political lieutenants around him, an energized Council sat down with InsiderNJ at his campaign headquarters on Bergen Street, in the thriving heart of the South Ward, this inveterate political organism onto itself, home to the ward candidate and his longtime friend and ally Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

“The South Ward has been a good place for family orientation; a good place to grow families, a place for families to reclaim themselves,” said Council, the favorite in a crowded May 8th South Ward field, not only by virtue of his affiliation with Baraka, but also because of his own roots and preparation. “We families have come together through high school sports, but more importantly, backyard conversations of where we want to see the next generation. If we’re not doing this to forecast for our children, then we are in this for the wrong reason. We are people centric. The south ward is the vernacular of how we came up sharing, growing, learning, developing, instructing.”

The late Councilman (and Assemblyman) Donald Tucker served as one of those political instructors to Council.

As a young man, Council went to City Hall to protest the city council’s decision to limit residents’ right to speak. Councilman Tucker told the incensed youth, “If you act like adults, we’ll treat you that way.” Looking back, “That contact forced a stronger relationship with the councilman, and taught us that if we were going to see ourselves in a place of power, it would not be in a place of entitlement,” Council said.

In the room on Monday evening stood Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-28), widow of the late Donald Tucker, offering her endorsement of Council for the South Ward seat.

“He used to come to the community meetings,” Tucker told InsiderNJ. “He was always there. He always wanted to learn. He was a young man in the Jackie Robinson Baseball League, always involved in the community and always wanting to learn. This is a hard-working ward. We have hard-working people who live in the South Ward. I know Pat is concerned and dedicated. When you see Pat, you see a minister, someone who can help the people not only recreationally and educationally but spiritually. He can do everything you can think of to represent the people, and I am proud to say I endorse Pat for the South Ward. The Baraka team is the team, and I am proud to be a part of the team.”

Council spoke specifically to those values he learned here.

“My mother was focused on work, education and also discipline,” said the candidate. “As long as we stood together, and reached out and helped other people; as long as we were present for other people, the end result would always be positive. My older brothers kept me engaged. I had one brother in the Air Force, another brother in the Army. They kept connected and grounded as a student athlete. They taught me that your word is your bond. I think it’s important to be principled, and optimistic about life. God put us in a position to solve problems together, not to create noise that comes in and prevents us from being focused and intentional.

“I’ve never run from leadership,” he added.

From left: James, Richardson, Council, and Tucker.

Retiring from the City Council at the end of this term, John Sharpe James, son of former Mayor Sharpe James, offered his enthusiastic support.

“The South Ward needs someone who loves the community and Pat has always been there,” James said. “We need someone who can work with a team and is not self-centered. We need someone who is available and committed. This is a home owner and family member, not someone who is just trying to make a name for himself.”

Essex County Commissioner President Wayne Richardson (who serves as President of Laborers Local 55) said Council thrives on forging trust among key leaders.

“He was a unique skill set, with his educational background, his dedication to seniors and to recreation,” said Richardson. “The ward also needs good career opportunities, and I’ve been president of a union and know the value of those relationships in government to help people get jobs. Pat is a relationship builder, and you can see here today his relationships extend to Trenton, the county, and the city.”

It started with a kid hitting a ball with a bat. In high school, Council made all-state and all-county. He played outfield and in his senior year had a .414 batting average. When he came back to Newark after attending Ramapo College, he found his beloved local baseball programs in disrepair, and set about correcting the problem.

It led him back to the schools and ultimately to the leadership position as director of city recreation.

“It’s always been about trying to get equity and fairness,” said Council, in particular reflecting on his ongoing efforts to get young people more engaged in baseball. “We have some strong programs in the city. We have to refocus our initiatives. We have spring and fall football and year-round basketball. We want to get kids expanded to find out where their strength, and yes, we are fighting to keep the mantle of the next generation of baseball players alive. I always point out that there are so many opportunities to play baseball, with Double A, Triple A, the minors, the majors.”

In that other place, that place of intense concentration and reflection, the church, Council said he was always ready to be a pastor, as his mother raised him in the church. He grew up admiring the example of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., seeing religion and activism as one in the same. His journey took him from United Methodist, to the Fellowship Missionary Baptist, to Saint John Baptist. His political travels intensified along the same path, as he joined forces with Baraka in the 1990’s, worked unsuccessfully to reelect his friend to the city council in 2006, then stood beside him on the 2010 comeback trail, when Baraka displaced Cory Booker Team ally Oscar James in the South Ward.

In the subsequent pre-2014 search for a mayoral candidate, Council and others got behind the citywide prospect of Baraka, and helped elect him. Briefly the South Ward council candidate in 2014, Council ultimately yielded to James, wait his turn, and finally resurface as the 2022 South Ward candidate.

He said he continues to strongly believe in Baraka, now in pursuit of his third term as Newark mayor.

“This is a mayor who shows up,” said Council. “This is a mayor who comes to work for real. You knock on his door, he’s there. He’s at work. He’s present in the community. He’s people-centric. He’s providing an energy. I think part of what it is with Mayor Baraka is the understanding that self hatred is real, but self love is real as well. Trial and temptation may come, but we have to still love where we are, love it to the point that other people buy into it.

“Newark,” Council added, “is the place that you have to be and that you want to be. We are an eclectic, resilient, loving and compassionate place that sticks together through any trial and tribulation, in the face of any perpetrator or issue from the outside; any dilemma. We are that urgent need of the people to bind together. We’ve come a long way. We have a long way to go. We can get there together.”

The COVID-19 crisis especially challenged Council.

He heads the city’s recreation program. He’s a minister. He’s a civic and community player by definition.

“My wife and my family grounded me,” Council told InsiderNJ, reflecting on 2020. “They kept me sane. It’s good to have a good family around you. It motivated me to create remote learning activities and virtual programs for young people and seniors. We had virtual programs for people to develop basketball techniques, skills and drills for football. We had many activities, not just for the youth but young people, and we made sure we reached out to our senior population to let them know we are here for them.”

His mother’s still there for Council, too.

“My mother has always been supportive and cheered me and her children on, and most importantly, she’s praying for me all the time,” he said.

On Bergen Street, his wife, Alicia, stepped up to give her endorsement.

“It’s in his blood,” she said of his dedication to community. “We stand by him – not behind him – but by him. He holds the people in his heart. Through the long nights and early mornings, we make sure he stays healthy to be out there for our family and for people. We accept that the next councilman is not only my husband but my best friend.”

Council’s son, Hassani, served on the staff of Councilman James, and now serves as a school board member, following the public service path of his dad. “He’s my hero and my mentor,” said Hassani Council. “I look up to him. If if wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be right now.”

Council with his granddaughter, Zurie Gillespie.
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