NEWARK – It happened 20 years ago on the corner of West End and 18th Avenue.
Trenton Jones was standing on that corner, preparing to go in and get a haircut, when a man pointed a gun at him, and demanded he hand over his cellphone.
Jones hesitated, and absorbed multiple bullet wounds.
“I thought he shot my arm and knee off,” said Jones. “The friend I was with went and told the guys [in the barber shop] that I was in the street, shot. I endured months of therapy, and never got fully back to normal, but I can relate to that song by 50 cent, when he says, ‘I been hit with a few shells and I don’t walk with a limp.’ My body aches sometimes. I dream about it. I live on 18th venue and I hear the cars going by at high speeds at night, the guys in BMWs with ski masks on their faces. I’m aware. I wouldn’t say nervous or scared. What I am is I’m worried about my two boys. They don’t hang out in the street, but some time they cross the street to the store. The first thing I do when I hear about a shooting in the city is I call my boys. It doesn’t mean I think they’re right there. Someone can shoot a bullet that goes astray.”
Or you can be standing on the street corner waiting to get a haircut.
“It traumatized me for a while,” Jones said. “I have scars all over my body. A scar on my stomach. Fragments in arm. A metal rod in my knee. But Newark to me is one of the greatest cities in the world. I wear this shirt [Love Newark First] with a badge of honor.”
Inspired by Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope, the Newarker found his way to local politics, ran the 2014 campaign of his friend Shawn McCray, then, on a phone call from former Mayor Sharpe James, went to work as a legislative aide for South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James, and later at-Large Councilman Eddie Osborne.
Jones is running for the South Ward Council seat in the May 10th nonpartisan local election.
People have noticed.
“He’s a worker,” said a South Ward source.
“Politics became a part of me,” said the candidate, in his vibrant campaign headquarters on Bergen Street. “I didn’t want to do politics, but working under two council members gave me the greatest experiences of what we can do and what we can be.”
Jones only worked for John Sharpe James for about a year. They had their differences. But he ended up working for Osborne for four and a half years.
Like John Sharpe James, Osborne is not running for reelection this year.
A grocer – owner of Jabu’s in Irvington – and the father of five children, Jones started a nonprofit, and thrives on organizing community events, including an annual Love Your Community Day, back to school fundraisers, and food drives.
He says he wants to be a more engaged, active and community-minded councilman.
“There are a lot of folks in City Hall who collect the paycheck and don’t do the work,” said Jones. “I have years of experience and I have gone to over 2,000 community meetings. I have heard the anger and frustration of people.
“I think there is some confusion in City Hall over the difference between legislation and administration,” said the candidate. “I think the administration has the mindset of ‘this is what we want,’ but the council needs to be more of ‘we want these things as well’ mentality. I think the administration is driving the agenda.”
Jones wants the council to assume more of its built-in powers, not that he doesn’t see elected officials now who wield appropriate command.
“I commend [North Ward Councilman] Anibal Ramos,” he said. “He’s doing a tremendous job with his ward. The North Ward has togetherness. A lot of folks call the South Ward ‘the mighty South Ward.’ But we lost a lot of our might.'”
It’s not the fault of the South Ward’s favorite son, Mayor Ras Baraka, in Jones’ judgment.
“First off, I think the mayor is doing the best he can, and he loves his ward. I think the others, such as John Sharpe James – his heart and his commitment weren’t to the community. I believe a councilman needs to walk these streets.”
James, the sitting retiring councilman, endorsed Jones’ rival and Team Baraka member Council to succeed him.
“In 2014, Councilman James had 6,000 votes. He lost 50% of his votes in 2018. John James endorsing
Patrick is meaningless. It more so shines a light on Pat by him accepting it. I wouldn’t take that endorsement. I think that endorsement – and you can quote me – is garbage.”
To be fair, 2018 was not a heavily contested citywide election, and everyone’s vote totals fell considerably, including the mayor’s
Contacted for comment, John Sharpe James said he won every district twice, even those districts occupied by his opponents.
“And I’ve never run a negative campaign, I don’t believe in it,” said the councilman.
Jones said he doesn’t have a problem with anyone personally, but also questions what he sees as a conflict for Council as the candidate works as the city recreation director while campaigning for the South Ward seat.
“I created a back to school event,” said Jones. “With Pat, we keep talking about the past. He doesn’t run that Jackie Robinson League anymore. My point is, what are you currently doing for the community? He’s making $140,000 a year as the recreation director and he’s a pastor, ok, but what is he doing in addition?”
Jones said he thinks his rival should have already given up the recreation job. “It’s a monopoly,” he argued. “If you’re the director of recreation, and you have the ability to run in senior buildings and talk about yourself and the thins you’re doing, I really think it’s a conflict.”
Contacted for comment, Council said, “The community knows the work I’m doing, and it shows on the streets every day.”
Jones said he gives Mayor Baraka for his leadership during the pandemic.
But he said he didn’t see anyone else out there as visible and committed – other than himself.
“The mayor was running around the city, but no one else was speaking out,” he said. “I was out there, in districts 10 and 12, giving out food; some days feeding families cold cut sandwiches and snacks and giving out disinfectant spray, and I didn’t see anyone except the mayor.
“But look, my business is not to create enemies,” he added. “My business is to create a healthy community. I don’t hate John. We have a cordial relationship. His father was the one who helped me get the job with the city.”
A lifelong resident of Newark, Jones attended Cleveland Elementary School and Malcolm X Shabazz High School. He lived in Guyana with his father and ran an export business.
He said he knows the insiders think Council has the edge in the South Ward race, but he shrugs it off.
He even laughs it off.
“You knw where Pat Council’s headquarters is, well, I wanted that space. I called the owner and told her, ‘I would like to rent this location. She said, ok, it’s $3,5o0. I said, ‘That’s a little steep.’ She said, ‘I can take off a couple hundred.’ I said, ‘That’s still a little steep.'”
Then Council moved in there, the candidate said with a grin.
When he reflects on his time in Newark City Hall, Jones said he takes pride in having marched to the port with Councilman Osborne and Mayor Baraka for a $15 minimum wage.
If elected, he wants to focus on affordable housing, and ensuring that development affordable obligations go into the South Ward. He wants to crack down on illegal dumping. “The penalties need to be much stronger,” he said. Knocking on doors in just the last few day he heard from a resident who said ‘You work for the city.’ I said, ‘I don’t anymore, but I can make phone calls.’ She complained about the landlord and what needed to be fixed in the building. Then I went upstairs and saw her entire house in squalor. Dead mice in mouse traps. She’s complaining about the landlord, she’s telling me, ‘You need to call code enforcement.’ But if I call the police, they’ll call DYFS and take your kids away.”
Jones choked back tears as he recounted the encounter. “I don’t want to go down there just because it’s a $100K-a-year job,” he insisted. “I want to give back to the community, to the community we grew up in. I want to do the job, but I want to remind people of what we are doing beyond the job.”
He respects Council, but he said he thinks he can beat him.
He’s run campaigns, he’s worked in City Hall. He sees the team Baraka posters, and says he thinks they do a disservice to the team’s South Ward candidate, because it makes him look beholden to the machine.
“Machines break down,” Jones said. “Look at what happened with [Senate President Steve] Sweeney. I
don’t see any individual posters for Patrick by himself. Councilman Ramos is by himself. When you’re not, I think there is the idea that the individual is not that strong.”
The times are volatile, he notes, though the allies of Pat Council trust in their candidate’s public service record, and note that when he had a chance to site his business, Jones picked Irvington, not Newark.
Still, the COVID era and its aftermath plays havoc with politics.
Jones is working.
He was the first candidate certified in the South Ward.
He said he doesn’t believe in defunding the police. “If you did that, a lot of cities would be in chaos. I don’t think as a whole all police are bad. We’re hiring new police officers but we’re also losing officers due to retirement. Knowledge in the community is what you really need. You need to be out there, in touch, connected. Guys on the corners are the ones who could be the victims.”
He knows something about that, having gone out for a haircut some 20 years ago, and almost never coming back.