InsiderNJ’s 2020 African American Power List in Honor of Black History Month


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 someday to visit 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.


U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)
U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Acting Governor Sheila Oliver today issued an Executive Order establishing a new interagency task force to provide advice and recommendations for strategies and actions to reduce incidents of hate, bias, and intolerance involving students and young adults.
Acting Governor Sheila Oliver.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Rep. Donald Payne and Winn Khuong
Rep. Donald Payne and Winn Khuong
  1. 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.

Watson Coleman and Pelosi
Watson Coleman and Pelosi
  1. 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.

Senator Ronald L. Rice issued a statement regarding the efforts underway in Atlantic City to put a hired manager in control of government, saying he supports the current form of government in place and that outside intervention does not prevent mismanagement.
Senator Ronald L. Rice.
  1. 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.

LD34 Senator Nia Gill
LD34 Senator Nia Gill
  1. 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.

Singleton, Coats Florence Pic 2
Senator Singleton.
  1. 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.

State Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-31).
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

First Lady Tammy Murphy and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37) campaign at the Shop Rite.
First Lady Tammy Murphy and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37) campaign at the Shop Rite.
  1. 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.

Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, outside City Hall with the statue of his mentor, former Essex County Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Mary Alice Williams of NJTV, activist Archange Antoine, Peter Woolley of FDU, and Michael Hill of NJTV.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Anthony Cureton

Elected in 2018 to supplant his disgraced predecessor, former NAACP Chapter head Cureton serves as the Sheriff of Bergen County.

  1. 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.

  1. Shavonda Sumter

The politically-grounded Assemblywoman from the 35th District commands a power base in Paterson. Close to Chairman Currie.

Assemblyman Jamel Holley says that real social justice accomplishments in NJ were imminent before Gov. Phil Murphy went to war with leaders in the NJ legislature. He says that if the full marijuana legalization bill had passed, the social justice effects would have been much greater than with the current expungement effort.
Assemblyman Jamel Holley.
  1. Jamel Holley

The 20th District Assemblyman has deep Trenton institutional roots and is a former Roselle Mayor.

The Patriarch of the Paynes, left.
  1. 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.

  1. Mila Jasey

Assemblywoman representing the 27th District. Close to slate mate former Governor Dick Codey.

Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31) of Jersey City.
  1. Angela McKnight

Represents Jersey City and Bayonne as the 31st District Assemblywoman. Outspoken and tough.

  1. Verlina Reynolds Jackson

Assemblywoman from Trenton representing the 15th Legislative District.

  1. Linda Carter: Energetic Plainfield-based Assemblywoman representing the 22nd Legislative District.
  1. 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
Shanique Speight
  1. Shanique Speight

Newark Central Ward-based Assemblywoman from the 29th District. A people-centered advocate.

  1. Ted Green

The Mayor of East Orange cut his professional teeth as a karate instructor. Close to Essex County Democratic Chairman Jones.

Marty Small
Marty Small
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Elnardo Webster, Jr.

Power attorney close to U.S. Senator Booker.

  1. Richard T. Smith

The Trenton native serves as the President of the New Jersey NAACP.

Antwan McClellan of Ocean City.
Antwan McClellan of Ocean City.
  1. 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.

  1. Mo Butler

Partner at Mercury. Point man for Senator Booker.

  1. John Harmon

CEO and President of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

  1. Mildred Scott

The Sheriff of Middlesex County.

  1. Sean Spiller

Vice President of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and Deputy Mayor of Montclair Twp. Running for mayor this year.

  1. 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.

  1. Amir Khan

An on-the-ground activist in the City of Camden and future candidate for Mayor.

  1. John E. Wallace

Former Supreme Court Justice and chair of the Joint Legislative Commission on Ethical Standards.

  1. 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.

Somerset County Freeholder Robinson.
Somerset County Freeholder Director Robinson,
  1. 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.

  1. James Gee

Watson Coleman’s Chief of Staff is a veteran of statewide politics.

  1. Dana Redd

The former Mayor of Camden is considered a stateswoman in South Jersey political circles.

  1. Dwayne Warren

Mayor of Orange.

Passaic County Freeholder T.J. Best.
Passaic County Freeholder T.J. Best.
  1. TJ Best

The only African-American on the Passaic County Freeholder Board will run for another term in 2020.

Bennett and Will Cunningham
  1. Ashley Bennett

Atlantic County Freeholder, social worker, and progressive Democratic candidate for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. William Spearman

Fifth District Democratic Assemblyman.

  1. Jonathan L. Young, Sr.

Camden County Freeholder.

  1. L. Grace Spencer

Superior Court Judge and former Assemblywoman from the 29th District.

  1. Andrew Bobbitt

Veteran respected Aide to the Mayor of the City of Trenton.

  1. Jeannine Frisby LaRue

Trenton-based power player with Kaufman-Zita.

  1. Adam Taliaferro

The Democratic Assemblyman represents the 3rd District.

  1. Jiles Ship

President of the North Jersey Chapter of NOBLE.

  1. Rebecca Williams

Union County Freeholder; former Council President in Plainfield and a New Democratic Party leader.

  1. Tahesha Way

Secretary of State for the State of New Jersey and former Passaic County Freeholder.

Activist Emeritus Larry Hamm, left, and Dr. Junius Williams, both spoke at the conference and were front and center to hear Baraka.
Activist Emeritus Larry Hamm, left, and Dr. Junius Williams, both spoke at this year’s Democratic Party conference.
  1. Junius Williams

Legendary Rutgers University Professor and author.

  1. Albert B. Kelly

CEO and Founder of Gateway Community Action Partnership.

Craig Callaway
Craig Callaway
  1. Craig Callaway

Veteran Democratic Party operative on the ground in Atlantic City.

  1. David Brown

Monmouth County Democratic Chairman.

  1. Sam Frisby

Mercer County Freeholder.

  1. Levon Putney

Distinguished WCBS 880 Overnight anchor.

  1. Anthony Salters

Veteran, politically savvy chair of the Hillside Democratic Committee.

  1. Rick Thigpen

Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for PSE&G; son of the late Essex County Democratic Chairman Phil Thigpen.

  1. Rahaman Muhammed

Deputy Mayor for the City of Newark.

  1. Alturrick Kenney

Surrogate for Essex County; close to Newark Mayor Baraka.

  1. 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.

  1. Charles Williams

Veteran Essex County Democratic operative; close to LG Sheila Oliver.

  1. Sharpe James and John Sharpe James

The inter-generational Newark-tandem consists of the South Ward Councilman and former Newark Mayor.

  1. 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.

  1. Ruby Cotton

Paterson 4th Ward Councilwoman. Briefly served as Mayor of Silk City.

  1. Cleopatra Tucker

The 28th District Assemblywoman from Newark.

  1. Lilisa Mimms

At-Large Councilwoman from Paterson.

  1. Mildred Crump

Longtime legendary At-Large Councilwoman representing Newark.

  1. Tency Eason

The veteran Orange Councilwoman represents the North Ward.

  1. Wayne Richardson

Respected Essex County Freeholder.

  1. Ken Armwood

Dynamic Middlesex County Freeholder from Piscataway; former football star turned politico.

  1. Eddie Osborne

At-Large Newark City Councilman; labor leader with LIUNA.

  1. Kenyatta Stewart

Highly respected and politically connected attorney from Paterson.

  1. 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.

  1. Angela Garretson

Union County Freeholder and former Mayor of Hillside.

  1. Joe MacCallum

West Ward Councilman representing the City of Newark.

  1. Lamonica McIver

Central Ward Councilwoman representing the City of Newark. Possible future Congresswoman.

  1. Andrea Staten

Union County Freeholder.

From left: Bollwage, Shabazz, Murphy and Perkins Auguste.
  1. Patricia Perkins-Auguste

Veteran Elizabeth Councilwoman. Instrumental in ensuring John Currie’s reelection as Democratic State Party chairman.

  1. Rufus Johnson

Essex County Freeholder; close to Senator Rice. After flirting with retirement, he announced his plans to run again in 2020.

  1. Rhashonna Cosby

Linden Councilwoman and 2018 candidate for Mayor. Author of Plantation Politics.

  1. Donna K. Williams

Dynamic Orange Councilwoman.

  1. Dahlia Vertreese

Labor leader with the Operating Engineers and the Mayor of Hillside.

  1. Gerry Gibbs

Principal at Capital Impact Group.

  1. Mike Jackson

Paterson Councilman representing the 1st Ward. Up for reelection this year.

  1. Keiona Miller

North Plainfield Councilwoman. Organizes the annual North Plainfield Community Black History Month Celebration.

  1. Frank Minor

The veteran Mayor of Logan Twp.

  1. Ernest D. Coursey

Atlantic County Freeholder.

  1. Gerry and Missy Balmir

One-two-punch Democratic Party operatives.



Fatima Heyward

Charlene Walker

Kimberly Francois

Crystal Pruitt

Jamillah Beasley

Elton Armady

David Sims

Fruqan Mouzon

Buster Soaries

Jay Redd

Derel Stroud

Danielle Imhof

Brandon Givens

Hiver Ambroise

Lisa Ormon

Davon McCurry

Donald Shaw

Renee Burgess

Orlander Vick

Vern Cox

Archange Antoine

Jeff Booker

Tara Dowdell

Jane Warren Williams

Jack Surrency

Braxton Plummer

Joe Carter

Michael Johnson

Steffi Bartley

Robert Artis

Al-tariq Ibn Shabazz

Durwood Pinkett

Rev. Lanel D. Guyton

Diane Tolliver

Steve Hockaday

Jamila Odom Garnett

Alexander Bland

Barry Goode

Ashley Davis

Sherwood Goodenough

Charles McRae

Gregory Good

Tamara Harris

Tanzie Youngblood

Joylette Mills-Ramson

Thomas Little

Della Crews

Marie Guervil

Demetrius Terry

Doug Palmer

William Gallman, Jr.

Steve Hockaday

Eric Jackson

Middy Baraka

Monique Baptiste

Reginald Bledsoe

Basil Parker

Marques-Akil Lewis

Brandon McKoy

Tracey L. Brown

Dianna Houenou

Mike Bland

Eric “Citizen” Payne

Kyle Darby

Randal Pinkett

Jason Redd

Mike Wallace

Eddie Cotton

Emanuel Capers

Andre Speight

Petra Gaskins

Kerry Coley

Naima Ricks

Ernie Rucker

Corey Teague

Christopher Jackson

George Dredden

Jamie Summers-Johnson

Will Cunninghham

John Francis

Renee Baskerville

Jeff Dublin

Sakeema James

Ayinde Martin

Khahil Chaneyfield Nass

Adrienne Wooten

Garry Williams

Shante Palmer

Eldridge Hawkins, Jr.

Wayne Witherspoon

John Campbell

Chris Irving

Harold Johnson, Jr.

Zelli Imani

Sherwood Goodenough

Shavar Jeffries

Jonathan Hodges

Lester Taylor

Jeff Jones

Al Spivey

Ingrid Hill

Shaheed Morris

Sharon Robinson-Briggs

Jason Solowsky

Jon Evans

John Amos

Lisa Jackson

Denise Coleman

Safanya Searcy

Jethro James

Selika Josiah Talbott

Ronald C. Rice

Vernon Richardson

Ronald Slaughter

Ken Gibson

Lucy Edmund

Kason Little

Susan Hairston

Kim Dehaarte

Marilyn Davis

Samantha Gordon

Reverend John Givens

Lizbeth Davies

Lynda Gallashaw

Jim Johnson

Jason Grove

Gregory Good

Keith Jones

Ken Morris, Jr.

Kathy McBride

Tennille McCoy

Lynn Haynes

Regena Thomas

Ashton Burrell

Kason Little

Jude Ezeh

Justis Brown

Jerell Blakeley

Regina Appolon

Michael Johnson

Joyce Watterman

Robin Vaughn

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