James and Kelly Clash in Post-debate Debate

More than a few spats spilled out of the debate last week, and they share a protagonist (or an antagonist, depending on your point of view): Dupre Kelly, perceived to be the frontrunner by virtue of Mayor Ras Baraka selecting him to serve as his West Ward ally for Team Baraka.

Kelly came out of the debate defending his successful career as a rapper, but that worldwide acclaim doesn’t necessarily translate to government effectiveness, his rivals argue. Among those intent on beating Kelly, former South Ward Councilman Oscar James II offers pointed criticism of the professional record of Baraka’s choice to fill the vacant West Ward Council seat.

“During his time in the industry [as a member of the Lords of the Underground], a trillion dollar industry, DoItAll went in as a rapper, and remained a rapper,” James told InsiderNJ last month. “He has not gone from rapper to music executive. He’s gone from rapper to rapper.”

Kelly hit back, defending his career as a dream fulfilled, and his community activism reflective of his devotion to Newark hometown roots.

In a private conversation at the debate, James apologized to Kelly.

Kelly didn’t like the way James handled the slight.  “Don’t apologize to me in private; apologize in public,” he said.

He noted that when James was a child, he picked him up to play basketball and served as a mentee to the budding Newarker.  “I haven’t just started doing this,” he said.

Ultimately, Kelly downplayed James as a contender.

“He’s from the South Ward,” he said of his rival, who indeed served as the South Ward Councilman from 2006 to 2010 until Baraka beat him.

James objected to Kelly characterizing him as a ward heeler from another ward. “Newark has no borders,” he told InsiderNJ. “There shouldn’t be borders for where love starts and stops.”

As for Kelly mentoring him, he pointed out that “my father [Oscar James, Sr.] ran the basketball program. He never picked me up. My father was the leader in my life – and his life. I wish he would recognize that. It shows my lineage and history.”

The West Ward candidate acknowledged that he had apologized to Kelly for remarks he made about his rival’s rap career, and said he was prepared to repeat the apology publicly.

“I’m a man of Christ, and I did see the distress on his face, and I apologize for anything that might have been hurtful to him,” James said. “I have to clear things up each week when I go to church, and I am sorry to have caused him distress.”

That said, “It was clear to me the community was not comfortable with his background being a rapper,” James added. “[Attorney and fellow candidate] Chigozie [Onyema] said ‘we all know who’s not qualified.”

James said he took that to mean Kelly.

He knows Onyema wasn’t referring to him.  “I left the debate as the only one with a clear plan,” James said. “While they’re clapping for themselves, people cant hear their plans. I’m the only one who’s done tis before. I’ve reduced crime in the South Ward with a black female captain. I hear Chigozie talking about economic development. My man, you can’t have economic development if people don’t feel safe.”


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