Please do not read this as a definitive list.
In the interest of examining multiple strata of influence, we did not include every Black elected official on this list, or even every mayor.
We have tried to present a cross-section of African American leaders from different disciplines, including academic life, church institutions, labor, business and lobbying, the law, and all levels of politics, including elected and unelected office.
1. Cory Booker
The junior Democratic Senator from New Jersey needs no introduction. He’s the most powerful elected official in New Jersey right now. The likely 2020 candidate for president has found new life in politics as a transcendent figure who appears eager to go toe to toe with President Donald J. Trump.
2. Ras Baraka
Son of the celebrated activist and poet the late Amiri Baraka, the mayor of the City of Newark sits on the throne of the biggest municipality in the state and owns a strong base of support in the city’s South Ward. No one owns the grassroots politician or pushes him around, and in New Jersey – a machine state – that’s real power.
3. Leroy Jones
The Essex County Democratic Chairman and principal at 1868 Public Affairs derives his power from his local base of support in the politically potent City of East Orange.
4. Donald Payne, Jr.
Elected in 2012, the 10th Congressional District representative from Newark has built a reputation on the Payne name (his father was the first African American congressman in New Jersey) with a strong work ethic and commitment to constituent service. Having served as a city councilman and freeholder, Payne now has served at all levels of government with the exception of state.
5. Bonnie Watson Coleman
The 12th Congressional District representative from Ewing commands important Central Jersey political territory, including Trenton and Plainfield. First elected to the congress in 2014, Watson Coleman – a former state Democratic Party Chair and assemblywoman – is the first African American woman from New Jersey to serve in the U.S. Congress.
6. John Currie
The pioneering chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee from Paterson scored a victory this past weekend with the victory of his candidate for national commitee chair – former Labor Secretary Tom Perez. He’s also the leader arguably most responsible for making Phil Murphy the 2017 front-runner for governor.
7. Ronald L. Rice
One of New Jersey’s longest-serving legislators, the bold and daring state senator from the 28th District in Newark has survived numerous establishment attempts to dethrone him. He was also an early backer of Phil Murphy, the 2017 establishment favorite for governor.
8. Sheila Oliver
The first African American female Assembly Speaker served two terms in the leadership position (2010-2014) and holds statewide respect in government and politics on both sides of the aisle.
9. Nia Gill
The 34th District state senator from Montclair is a veteran lawyer and one of the best orators and inquisitors in the state of New Jersey. You do not want to end up in a chair in front of a microphone trying to field Socratic fast balls from Gill, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
10. Benjie Wimberly
Immensely popular locally and beyond, high school football coach and politician Wimberly is a likely contender for higher office, specifically Congress should U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) retire.
11. Herb Conaway
The senior assemblyman from the 7th District is the smartest legislator in Trenton, as both a doctor and lawyer. Chairman of the Assembly Health Committee.
12. Troy Singleton
The junior assemblyman from Burlington County’s 7th District is a star in statewide Democratic Party politics, with deep connections in labor as a member of the Carpenters Union. With the retirement this year of Senator Diane Allen, the Joe Roberts disciple appears tobe headed to the upper chamber, and possibly beyond.
13. Shavonda Sumter
The Patersonian assemblywoman from the 35th District is likely pick for a leadership in the Murphy universe, either as Lieutenant Governor or Secretary of Health and Senior Services.
14. Ken Morris, Jr.
When the Paterson councilman/St. Joseph’s Hospital vp talks, everyone listens. In 2014, the veteran local elected official barely had to campaign and still won comfortably. One cross-examination question from Morris sends his opponents reeling: a knock-out verbal punch without his having to really try. Also a stunningly talented artist. As for his voice – he could recut classic Paul Robeson records and no one would know the difference.
15. Eddie Glaude
He’s the chair of the Center for African-American Studies and the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Princeton University. Academia and New Jersey politics. The terms seem almost oxymoronic. But Glaude makes it a point of routinely coming down from the ivory tower, wading into intellectual debates with the likes of the formidable Michael Eric Dyson. Author of Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul.
16. Michellene Davis
The executive vice president of Barnabas Health remains a leading fundraiser for the Essex Democratic Party. An attorney and one of the true class acts in the strange swamp of New Jersey politics.
17. Kenneth Clayton
The pastor of St. Luke’s Baptist Church in Paterson combines on-the-ground activism and power player influence.
18. Sandy Cunningham
The 31st District Senator from Jersey City has her own power base and following. Close to Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).
19. Larry Hamm
The chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress is one of the state’s leading human rights activists.
20. Mo Butler
Formerly Booker’s state director and chief of staff, Mercury Public Affairs’ managing director will play an important role if and when Booker runs for president.
21. Gordon Johnson
The Democratic assemblyman from the 37th District was one of the first elected officials in the state to endorse Phil Murphy for Governor.
22. Eric Jackson
The Mayor of Trenton has strong ties to Washington, D.C. with Watson Coleman’s office. Also close to the Trenton churches.
23. Marty Small
Running for mayor of Atlantic City this year, the Council President must get through a Democratic Primaary in order to face incumbent Republican Mayor Don Guardian. Small occupies an important position in what will be one of the most watched local contests of the year in an embattled city resistant to a state takeover.
24. L. Grace Spencer
The former LD29 assemblywoman from Newark is a superior court judge and a possible future contender for appointment to the state supreme court.
25. Buster Soaries
The pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens is a former secretary of state in the administration of Governor Christie Todd Whitman. Politically savvy, Soaires is not as politically active as he was ten years ago, but he remains a force in Central Jersey.
26. Jerry Green
The Union County Democratic chairman has built good, strong relationships in Trenton and in statewide Democratic Party politics.
27. Tony Vauss
The hands-on mayor of Irvington has led the Essex City to a lower crime rate.
28. Shirley Turner
The 15th District Democratic senator from Lawrenceville is one of the state’s leading experts on education issues.
29. Albert B. Kelly
Elected CEO of the South Jersey city in 2010 and reelected in 2014, the first black mayor of Bridgeton also serves as president of the NJ League of Municipalities.
30. Steffi Bartley
On the front line of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the pastor of New Hope Memorial Baptist Church of Elizabeth heads the New Jersey chapter of the Al Sharpton-affiliated National Action Network.
31. Donald Hillard, Jr.
The pastor of Cathedral International in Perth Amboy has tremendous reach as a much sought-after author, speaker and media personality
32. Elnardo Webster, Jr.
A close adviser to Cory Booker, the attorney runs his own firm, Webster Inglesino, with former Morris County Freeholder John Inglesino.
33. John Harmon
President and CEO of the African American chamber of commerce CEO in Trenton.
34. Sarah Jones
Formerly of the office of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, attorney Jones serves as manager of Government Affairs for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield.
35. Ted Wells
The celebrated attorney who once represented then-U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli is a resident of Livingston.
36. Jeremy Farrell
Corporation counsel for Jersey City, legal adviser to Mayor Steven Fulop.
37. Richard T. Smith
The South Jersey based leader is president of the New Jersey chapter of the NAACP.
38. Chris James
Executive Director of of the New Jersey Dems and Currie’s confidant. He’s also an East Orange councilman.
39. James Gee
The chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman is long-time Mercer operative with state government experience, having served in both the McGreevey and Corzine administrations.
40. Doug Palmer
While his successor got jammed up, Palmer survived two decades as mayor of Trenton. The mayor emeritus still holds sway and influence, and is a charter member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
41. Joe Carter
Pastor of Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church.
42. Tai Cooper
Although she lost her recent bid to become the new assemblywoman from the 29th District, Cooper wields considerable influence as Mayor Baraka’s director of public policy.
43. Adrian Mapp
The Mayor of Plainfield and chairman of the Plainfield Democratic Committee.
44. Lionel Leach
President of CWA Local 1039, Leach is the veteran campaign strategist of numerous political campaigns; close to Senator Rice.
45. Adam Taliaferro
The former football player survived a spinal cord injury to go on to become assemblyman in the 3rd Legislative District.
46. Jiles Ship
The former cop and police training commissioner heads up NOBLE (the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement).
47. Junius Williams
The respected, Newark-based head of Rutgers Abbott leadership is the author of Unfinished Agenda; Urban politics in the Era of Black Power.
48. Jamel Holley
The former mayor of Roselle serves as the assemblyman from the 20th District.
49. Anthony Legay
Recently elected JC NAACP president. After a contentious election, all eyes are on him.
51. Keith Dickens
The pastor of Trenton Parkside United Methodist Church, he also doubles as Rowan University Admissions Director, at a time when college affordability and access is a huge issue.
52. Rick Thigpen
Head of state government affairs at PSE&G; son of the late Phil Thigpen, chair of the Essex County Democratic Committee.
53. Anthony Salters
Chairman of the Hillside Democratic Committee.
54. Rahaman Muhammed
The former SEIU labor leader serves as deputy mayor in the administration of Newark Mayor Baraka.
55. Jason Grove
Business developer for Essex Urban League, heavily involved in policy advocacy for young professionals.
56. Charles Williams
Longtime Essex County Democratic operative, the veteran of many campaigns and minder for Speaker Emeritus Oliver.
57. Sharpe James and John Sharpe James
The former mayor of Newark still wields influence, particularly in the South Ward, here his son serves as the city councilman.
58. TJ Best
Passaic freeholder, contender for higher office.
59. Wayne Richardson
Essex County Freeholder and veteran Democratic Party politician.
60. Britnee Timberlake
The East Orange politician serves as president of the Essex County Freeholder Board.
61. Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins
Influential Central Ward Newark councilwoman who knows the inside political game. A possible 2018 contender for mayor.
62. Joyce Watterman
The Jersey City councilwoman, along with her husband, the Reverend James Watterman, founded the Continuous Flow Christian Center in her native Jersey City.
63. Archange Antoine
President of the Roselle Board of Education, and president of the NJYD black caucus.
64. Thomas Little
Legislative Director to Assembly members Houghtaling and Downey, in battleground territory, he moves the legislative agenda that makes them look good.
65. Braxton Plummer
Political Director for the Phil Murphy for Governor Campaign.
66. Angela McKnight
The 31st District Assemblywoman from Jersey city is the founder and CEO of AngelaCARES, Inc.
67. Rufus Johnson
Veteran Essex County Freeholder, close to Senator Rice.
68. Donna K. Williams
A possible future mayor of Orange, the East Ward’s Williams was the top council vote-getter in her last two elections.
69. Dianna Houenou
Policy counsel to NJ ACLU, heads up lobbying and influential in the marijuana reform issue.
70. Tracey Brown
The pastor of Ruth Fellowship Ministries is a 2017 candidate for mayor in the City of Plainfield.
71. Ken Armwood
The Middlesex County Freeholder is a rising star in the Democratic Party from Piscataway.
72. Rebecca Williams
The Essex County Community College Literature Professor serves as the council president in Plainfield.
73. Mohammed Jalloh
Influential Union County Freeholder from Union Twp.
74. Mike Jackson
The Paterson First Ward Councilman won tough elections to get where he is, a former pro football player and local business owner.
75. Frank Minor
The long-serving mayor of Logan Twp.
76. Bill McKoy
A likely candidate for mayor in 2018, Jamaican American McCoy is the councilman representing Paterson’s 3rd Ward.
77. Della Crews
Respected anchor and reporter at News 12 New Jersey.
78. Keiona Miller
The North Plainfield Councilwoman is President of the Somerset County Governing Officials Association.
79. Frank Gilliam, Jr.
The longtime public advocate and Atlantic City Councilman is a 2017 candidate for mayor of the embattled gambling burgh.
80. Mildred Crump
Forty-two years a Braille Teacher and Education Consultant from the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the veteran at-large Newark City councilwoman has served on the local governing body since 1994 – the first councilwoman in Newark City history.
81. Marie Guervil
Parano and Associates. The EmergeNJ 2016 grad worked on Booker’s Senate campaign, heavily involved in Haitian-American community in NJ, sits on several key boards; young.
82. Demetrius Terry
VP of college Democrats, very outspoken in improving conditions for college students and minorities.
83. Eddie Osborne
Newark native Osborne serves as Director of Government Relations for the Laborers International Union of North America and is an at-large Newark City Councilman. Close to Baraka.
84. Hiver Ambrose
Influential and active veteran diner booth Democratic Party operative from Union County.
85. Gerry and Missy Balmir
The Jersey City-based Laborers labor leader and veteran Democratic Party operative respectively are one of New Jersey’s political power couples.
86. David Lyons
The North Ward-based Irvington City councilman.
87. Angela Garretson
Moving up, the Hillside mayor is headed to the freeholder board on the recomendation of the Union County Democratic Committee.
88. Reginald Bledsoe
Legislative Aide to Newark Councilman Eddie Osborne, former school board candidate on the Baraka slate; a candidate for the board this year on the Unity Slate.
89. Shanel Robinson
The Franklin Twp. councilwoman appears poised to run for freeholder this year in Somerset County.
90. Kyle Darby
The young, former exec member of NJ college Democrats is rising lobbyist in South Jersey.
91. Randal Pinkett
The powerful business consultant from Franklin Twp. won The Apprentice and went on to be a fierce critic of President Donald J. Trump.
92. Lebby Jones
Essex County Freeholder.
93. Andre and Shanique Speight
The Newark power couple serve respectively as Central Ward Democratic Party chair and candidate for the Assembly in LD29.
94. Petra Gaskins
Director of outreach for Bonnie Watson Coleman; involved in Young Dems and a millenial advocate.
95. Naima Ricks
Young, up and coming Roselle BOE member.
96. Ernie Rucker
Paterson, co-founder of Save the Village and Black Condition movement, has sway w/ city council members, and frequent powerful speaker at city council meetings.
97. Corey Teague
The one-time Paterson School Board member, still has a following, remains at heart a true education advocate and activist, and one of the more powerful speakers in the city.
98. George Dredden
Chief of staff to Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce; a veteran hand in Morris County Republican politics.
99. Jeff Booker
Veteran Republican Party player from Camden County.
100. Bill Payne
Deputy chief of staff to Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and former Assemblyman; brother of the late U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Sr. Honored patriarch of the Payne Family of Newark.
Councilwoman Ruby N. Cotton
Eric “Citizen” Payne
Khalil Chaneyfield Nass
Eldridge Hawkins, Jr.
Safanya N. Searcy
Jethro C. James
- Benjie Wimberly
- Bonnie Watson Coleman
- Cory Booker
- Donald Payne
- Herb Conaway
- Insider NJ's African-American Power List 2017
- John Currie
- Ken Morris
- Kenneth Clayton
- Larry Hamm
- Leroy Jones
- Michellen Davis
- Mo Butler
- Nia Gill
- Ras Baraka
- Ron Rice
- Sandra Cunningham
- Shavonda Sumter
- Sheila Oliver
- Troy Singleton
Click here for the full Insider Index