The East Ward Augie Amador Story

NEWARK – On Ferry Street, amid the pure, rustic waft of Iberian beef, Anthony Campos – in the Ironbound his whole life – might actually be viewed as an intruder by the old school crowd, because the former police director/chief’s spoken Portuguese is evidently less than flawless.

But it might not be enough anymore here just to cohere the old country, which delivered 2,050-odd votes to 20-year incumbent East Ward Councilman Augie Amador four years ago, while the challengers huffed and puffed together a less than 2,000-vote combination, failing to drag Amador into a runoff election.

Now Campos – well-funded and well-known – wants to haul Amador into territory that hasn’t been kind to incumbent Newark City councilmen. In the last 20 years, George Branch, Charlie Bell and Darrin Sharif all lost two person showdowns – all in the Central Ward.

There are other candidates in the East Ward contest this year: millennials Crystal Fonseca and Jonathan Seabra.

But it’s Campos and Amador getting the most attention and buzz.

If he guts through Campos, Amador will accomplish something his East Ward predecessor failed to do: last past the 20-year mark.

The councilman’s political pedigree intrigues, in part because it relates to the larger fabric of Essex politics. He knocked off incumbent Councilman Henry “Hank” Martinez in 1998 to make history as the first Portuguese to nab a Newark City Council seat. That’s his legacy, whatever happens on May 8th or in a runoff. He will always be the first. But how he beat Martinez relates back in part to when Tom Giblin and Cardell Cooper squared off in a Democratic Primary for the vacant county executive seat in 1994. Martinez was also a freeholder, and he ran with Giblin on the line. Sheriff Armando Fontoura backed Cooper, who won the primary, but would go on to lose the general election to Republican Jim Treffinger.

Fontoura was irritated with Martinez, running against his county executive candidate like that and there was some appetite anyway for a history-making Portuguese Councilman, so he got behind Amador – a PSE&G executive who was involved in the community and served on the school board. Intent – as Fontoura and other Portuguese Americans were – on claiming a council seat with jewel in the crown implications for that only postcard-worthy portion of an otherwise mostly smoldering city – local businessman Amerigo Seabra likewise snubbed Martinez, and backed Amador.

“We need a Portuguese councilman,” was the mantra.

Amador won.

Now, 20 years later, Fontoura’s still with him, still loves him in fact and wants to help stop Campos  – but Amerigo Seabra backs Campos.

The neighborhood’s changed. The old proud Portuguese base of Amador’s has dwindled over the years. Each election, he gets fewer votes. He’s gone hard negative on Campos, his mail reminding voters about the half a million dollar boat check for unused sick time Campos left the police department with, but not nuclear. There’s been some fairly hard buttonholing in the east this season, with Amador allies wondering why he doesn’t vaporize Campos by hitting some softer underbelly issues on the retired cop. It hasn’t happened.

At Adega’s on Thursday evening, East Ward Democratic Chairman Angelo DiFederico and veteran Ironbound operative Joe Parlavecchio played hosts to a shindig that drew Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, state Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-29), Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James, Essex Freeholder Len Luciano and a slew of other insiders. Campos and/or Amador might have eventually shown up, but in the meantime the crowd – arguably deprived of a donnybrook citywide as Baraka cruises against Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins – chatted up the East Ward contest as still the one to watch.

“We are working as hard as ever before, there is a new energy and we are ensuring that we get numbers that demonstrate strength but the most important thing is unity,” Ruiz said of activities in the North Ward, her home base.

That unity wasn’t exactly on display here in the east.

It turned out the candidates didn’t go.

Campaigning.

Someone saw Amador pounding doors on Walnut Street.

Besides, there was some bad blood between him and DeFederico apparently. The local party chairman worked for Amador as an aide for 13 years but they had a falling out, and DeFederico individually endorsed Campos, though Parlavecchio remains loyal to the incumbent.

DeFederico
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