I’m writing this in the Paul Robeson room in the library at Raritan Valley Community College, hoping the proximity of the oil paintings and framed news clippings and volumes like gems from another time from the life of the late great native New Jerseyan – arguably our most distinguished son – convey some sense of gravitas to this enterprise.
Hopefully, if you haven’t been here, you take the time some day to vist this beautiful place in the heart of Central Jersey, and on the way, take a trip to downtown Somerville to admire the Main Street fresco of renaissance man Robeson (pictured, above).
Here is the InsiderNJ list this year, in honor of African American History Month, of some of New Jersey’s most prestigious political players.
- Cory Booker
Like Bill Bradley and Chris Christie, the junior Senator from New Jersey couldn’t make a quirky, Spartacus-friendly Garden State style work on the national stage – at least for now. Up for reelection in 2020, he has the added irritation of having to sweat out the process to see who does, in fact, grab the Democrats’ nomination for President in November.
- John Currie
The Democratic State Party Chairman is one of Governor Phil Murphy’s closest allies and the grand old man of North Jersey Democratic Party politics. At the close of 2019, he stared down a challenge to his throne by Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman LeRoy Jones.
- LeRoy Jones
Chair of the Essex County Democratic Committee, Jones will succeed Currie as chair of the Democratic Party in June of 2021 on the strength of the late 2019 deal he secured with the sitting chairman.
- Sheila Oliver
The Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey (a former speaker of the General Assembly) fills in for Murphy when he’s out of state, and serves as commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs. Respected.
- Ras Baraka
The Mayor of Newark had a rough year as he weathered the lead pipe crisis but still in strong political shape. Close to the Governor. Son of the late poet Amiri Baraka, one of the last truly literate people in the state, let alone politics.
- Donald Payne, Jr.
The bow tied Congressman from the 10th District hails from one of New Jersey’s most distinguished African-American political families, son of New Jersey’s first African American Congressman, the late U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Sr.
- Bonnie Watson Coleman
The 12th District Congresswoman made history in 2015 when she assumed the oath of office as New Jersey’s first African American Congresswoman. A former Democratic State Party chair with a strong and independent progressive record, Watson Coleman keeps her own counsel and makes her own political moves. A survivor and a fighter.
- Ronald L. Rice
The man no one pushes around, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam and veteran member of the New Jersey state Senate, who survived numerous establishment attempts to eject him from power. Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, Rice has assumed the lead role statewide to decriminalize marijuana.
- Nia Gill
The Montclair-based state senator from the 34th District stands atop the New Jersey State Senate as the governing body’s most fearsome inquisitor.
- Troy Singleton
Schooled in the governing arts by former Speaker Joe Roberts, the 7th District state Senator from Willingboro moved quickly up the ranks of the New Jersey Legislature to win a state senate seat in 2017. He’s the point man in the legislature to ensure safe and clean drinking water for New Jersey.
- Sandy Cunningham
The Jersey City-based state Senator from the 31st District has for years managed to stay on her feet in the internecine nightmare otherwise known as Hudson County politics.
- Shirley Turner
The Lawrence-based state Senator from the 15th Legislative District remains one of the senate’s most dignified members, an expert on education issues, an independent Democratic voice, and a champion of government accountability.
- Benjie Wimberly
The Assemblyman from the 35th District heads the Paterson Recreation Department, a perch he has used to build considerable power and influence as a coach for future leaders. A future Congressman, state senator or Governor.
- Herb Conaway
The most educated member of the legislature is both a medical doctor and an attorney. The 7th District representative chairs the Assembly Health Committee.
- Gordon Johnson
The Englewood-based Assemblyman from the 37th District co-chairs the select legislative committee examining how the Economic Development Authority (EDA) receives and distributes funds.
- Tony Vauss
The no-nonsense Mayor of Irvington won a second term in office in 2018 with a walkover election. This year he champions ward candidates with the strength of a legendary local political organization behind them overseen by Vauss.
- Allen Stephen Potts
The Pastor of Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church welcomed Baraka and Murphy to worship the morning after Democrats destroyed Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections in New Jersey. Spiritually – and politically – connected.
- Michael Hill
The reporter and news anchor at NJTV commands respect as one of the best newsmen in New Jersey. Aggressive but also elegant. Deep Newark family roots.
- Derek Armstead
The Mayor of Linden easily won reelection in 2018 despite a strong challenge by the allies of State Senator (and Union County Democratic Committee Chairman) Nick Scutari. He continues to harry Scutari in a local political fight that long ago rose above the pushing and shoving stage to genuine running board war, complete with phone calls issued to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and state Attorney General.
- Larry Hamm
The executive director of the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) commands instantaneous respect in the progressive community of New Jersey as one of the longest-standing frontline advocates for working people and communities of color. Chairman in New Jersey of the Bernie Sanders Committee, Hamm is a candidate for U.S. Senate in the 2020 Democratic Primary.
- Anthony Cureton
Elected in 2018 to supplant his disgraced predecessor, former NAACP Chapter head Cureton serves as the Sheriff of Bergen County.
- Kenneth Clayton
The pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church in Paterson stands at ground zero of one of New Jersey’s most challenged urban neighborhoods.
- Shavonda Sumter
The politically-grounded Assemblywoman from the 35th District commands a power base in Paterson. Close to Chairman Currie.
- Jamel Holley
The 20th District Assemblyman has deep Trenton institutional roots and is a former Roselle Mayor.
- Bill Payne, Sr.
Deputy Chief of Staff to Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo the former Assemblyman is the patriarch of the Newark-based Payne family. Brother of the late U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, and father of actor Eric Payne, he is the author (along with his nephew former Assemblyman Craig Stanley) of legislation that created the New Jersey Amistad Commission.
- Mila Jasey
Assemblywoman representing the 27th District. Close to slate mate former Governor Dick Codey.
- Angela McKnight
Represents Jersey City and Bayonne as the 31st District Assemblywoman. Outspoken and tough.
- Verlina Reynolds Jackson
Assemblywoman from Trenton representing the 15th Legislative District.
- Linda Carter: Energetic Plainfield-based Assemblywoman representing the 22nd Legislative District.
- Britnee Timberlake
34th District Assemblywoman from East Orange; former President of the Essex County Freeholder Board, and possibly a future Essex County Executive.
- Shanique Speight
Newark Central Ward-based Assemblywoman from the 29th District. A people-centered advocate.
- Ted Green
The Mayor of East Orange cut his professional teeth as a karate instructor. Close to Essex County Democratic Chairman Jones.
- Marty Small
Appointed Mayor last year on the heels of a meltdown by Frank Gilliam, Atlantic City Mayor Small faces the voters in a special election on June 2nd.
- Adrian Mapp
The Mayor of Plainfield easily won reelection in 2017 and commands a strong power base in Union County. Came out early in favor of the presidential candidacy of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
- Elnardo Webster, Jr.
Power attorney close to U.S. Senator Booker.
- Richard T. Smith
The Trenton native serves as the President of the New Jersey NAACP.
- Antwan McClellan
The former Ocean City Councilman now serves as the legislature’s only sitting African-American Republican Assemblyman in the state of New Jersey.
- Mo Butler
Partner at Mercury. Point man for Senator Booker.
- John Harmon
CEO and President of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.
- Mildred Scott
The Sheriff of Middlesex County.
- Sean Spiller
Vice President of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and Deputy Mayor of Montclair Twp. Running for mayor this year.
- Michellene Davis
A veteran of RWJ-Barnabas Health since 2009, Davis is the first person of color to serve as executive vice president in the health system’s history.
- Amir Khan
An on-the-ground activist in the City of Camden and future candidate for Mayor.
- John E. Wallace
Former Supreme Court Justice and chair of the Joint Legislative Commission on Ethical Standards.
- Chris James
The former executive director of the Democratic state Committee and 1st Ward East Orange Councilman in 2018 became the local governing body’s president.
- Shanel Robinson
The former Franklin Twp. Councilwoman made history in 2018 as the leader of the Democratic Freeholder ticket that broke the GOP chokehold on county government. Now chair of the Somerset County Freeholder Board.
- James Gee
Watson Coleman’s Chief of Staff is a veteran of statewide politics.
- Dana Redd
The former Mayor of Camden is considered a stateswoman in South Jersey political circles.
- Dwayne Warren
Mayor of Orange.
- TJ Best
The only African-American on the Passaic County Freeholder Board will run for another term in 2020.
- Ashley Bennett
Atlantic County Freeholder, social worker, and progressive Democratic candidate for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District.
- Tai Cooper
A former Deputy Chief Policy Advisor in the Murphy Administration, Cooper serves on the senior leadership team of the state Economic Development Authority (EDA). Vital in Baraka World as the communications point person in one of the most brutal contests of all time.
- Sarah Jones
The Director of Government Affairs at Blue Cross/Blue Shield emerged from Payne world to become one of the most dynamic veteran minds in New Jersey politics.
- William Spearman
Fifth District Democratic Assemblyman.
- Jonathan L. Young, Sr.
Camden County Freeholder.
- L. Grace Spencer
Superior Court Judge and former Assemblywoman from the 29th District.
- Andrew Bobbitt
Veteran respected Aide to the Mayor of the City of Trenton.
- Jeannine Frisby LaRue
Trenton-based power player with Kaufman-Zita.
- Adam Taliaferro
The Democratic Assemblyman represents the 3rd District.
- Jiles Ship
President of the North Jersey Chapter of NOBLE.
- Rebecca Williams
Union County Freeholder; former Council President in Plainfield and a New Democratic Party leader.
- Tahesha Way
Secretary of State for the State of New Jersey and former Passaic County Freeholder.
- Junius Williams
Legendary Rutgers University Professor and author.
- Albert B. Kelly
CEO and Founder of Gateway Community Action Partnership.
- Craig Callaway
Veteran Democratic Party operative on the ground in Atlantic City.
- David Brown
Monmouth County Democratic Chairman.
- Sam Frisby
Mercer County Freeholder.
- Levon Putney
Distinguished WCBS 880 Overnight anchor.
- Anthony Salters
Veteran, politically savvy chair of the Hillside Democratic Committee.
- Rick Thigpen
Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for PSE&G; son of the late Essex County Democratic Chairman Phil Thigpen.
- Rahaman Muhammed
Deputy Mayor for the City of Newark.
- Alturrick Kenney
Surrogate for Essex County; close to Newark Mayor Baraka.
- Bill McKoy
The 3rd Ward Councilman from Paterson known for tell-it-like-it-is oratory. Up for reelection this year in one of the toughest battles of his long political career.
- Charles Williams
Veteran Essex County Democratic operative; close to LG Sheila Oliver.
- Sharpe James and John Sharpe James
The inter-generational Newark-tandem consists of the South Ward Councilman and former Newark Mayor.
- Lamont Repollet
In his first year in office, New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education proved a visible ally of Governor Phil Murphy. Under consideration to serve as the next president of Kean University.
- Ruby Cotton
Paterson 4th Ward Councilwoman. Briefly served as Mayor of Silk City.
- Cleopatra Tucker
The 28th District Assemblywoman from Newark.
- Lilisa Mimms
At-Large Councilwoman from Paterson.
- Mildred Crump
Longtime legendary At-Large Councilwoman representing Newark.
- Tency Eason
The veteran Orange Councilwoman represents the North Ward.
- Wayne Richardson
Respected Essex County Freeholder.
- Ken Armwood
Dynamic Middlesex County Freeholder from Piscataway; former football star turned politico.
- Eddie Osborne
At-Large Newark City Councilman; labor leader with LIUNA.
- Kenyatta Stewart
Highly respected and politically connected attorney from Paterson.
- Denise Ridley
In January, the Jersey City Councilwoman partnered with the Hudson County Democratic Black Caucus, Jersey City Vulcan Society, and Jersey City Greek Alliance to hold the second Annual MLK Day of Service, at which donated hygiene items were collected to donate to Ward A Public Schools.
- Angela Garretson
Union County Freeholder and former Mayor of Hillside.
- Joe MacCallum
West Ward Councilman representing the City of Newark.
- Lamonica McIver
Central Ward Councilwoman representing the City of Newark. Possible future Congresswoman.
- Andrea Staten
Union County Freeholder.
- Patricia Perkins-Auguste
Veteran Elizabeth Councilwoman. Instrumental in ensuring John Currie’s reelection as Democratic State Party chairman.
- Rufus Johnson
Essex County Freeholder; close to Senator Rice. After flirting with retirement, he announced his plans to run again in 2020.
- Rhashonna Cosby
Linden Councilwoman and 2018 candidate for Mayor. Author of Plantation Politics.
- Donna K. Williams
Dynamic Orange Councilwoman.
- Dahlia Vertreese
Labor leader with the Operating Engineers and the Mayor of Hillside.
- Gerry Gibbs
Principal at Capital Impact Group.
- Mike Jackson
Paterson Councilman representing the 1st Ward. Up for reelection this year.
- Keiona Miller
North Plainfield Councilwoman. Organizes the annual North Plainfield Community Black History Month Celebration.
- Frank Minor
The veteran Mayor of Logan Twp.
- Ernest D. Coursey
Atlantic County Freeholder.
- Gerry and Missy Balmir
One-two-punch Democratic Party operatives.
Jane Warren Williams
Al-tariq Ibn Shabazz
Rev. Lanel D. Guyton
Jamila Odom Garnett
William Gallman, Jr.
Tracey L. Brown
Eric “Citizen” Payne
Khahil Chaneyfield Nass
Eldridge Hawkins, Jr.
Harold Johnson, Jr.
Selika Josiah Talbott
Ronald C. Rice
Reverend John Givens
Ken Morris, Jr.