In the West Ward of Newark, it suddenly got a little more interesting this week, as the campaign of Chigozie Onyema trotted out a video of Mayor Ras Baraka heaping praise on Onyema.
No one goes after the mayor, it should be noted, who appears to be in reelection cruise control mode, but if his positive words can be tuned into bountiful compliments, they’ll take it, or specifically in this case, Onyema will not only take it, but happily spread it around.
Of course, this was a long time ago – 2013, to be exact – when Baraka was still a South Ward Councilman gearing up to run for mayor of the city in 2014.
At the time, Onyema was a budding campaign soldier for Baraka.
In the video, which the Onyema Campaign avidly circulated on its social media channels, Baraka notes that he and the West Ward candidate both attended Howard University. “That means a lot,” Baraka says. He goes on to cite Onyema’s “clarity” on what Newark and urban America need, at a time “when so many are confused,” and lauds “this brother” for knowing the history and culture and roots.
In casual conversation, Baraka’s allies gently jeered at the video, arguing that it communicates nothing of real value regarding the developing West Ward contest.
Baraka doesn’t back attorney Onyema for the seat in a crowded field.
He supports Dupre Kelly, a community activist and rapper who achieved notoriety with the Lords of the Underground. Kelly and Baraka go way back, and the mayor respects the organic quality of Kelly’s work in the community, a source said, which is why he supports him. The mayor bears no ill will toward Onyema, who worked in the administration, but the Baraka organization is big, and other people stood in line for positions who have more seniority than Onyema, a source argued. Moreover, they see the polished Onyema as more of a legislator in the mold of a Cory Booker than an on the ground door pounder and ward heeler.
In any event, the circulating video highlights Onyema’s stepped-up efforts to try to prybar Baraka’s proven base here into his own square. A source says City Hall eyes his campaign with respect, on account of his fundraising, organizing, and the seriousness of his educational and professional preparation. There are other people in the contest, however, and a debate last week arguably highlighted the strengths of other candidates.
That makes it a little harder for Onyema to take the contest into a straight up mano-a-mano.
On the ground in the ward for decades, Lyndon Brown may not be able to match Kelly and Onyema in terms of dollars and organization, but he has credible roots in the ward, a source said, while Oscar James II, Lavita Johnson, and Michelle Middleton all had their moments at last week’s forum.
That said, Onyema intensified his effort to reach voters this week with the video, and it goes without saying that those five challenging Baraka’s candidate operate with knowledge of a somewhat more volatile West Ward atmosphere on account of the fact that former Councilman Joe McCallum, a Baraka ally, imploded on corruption charges.