The coming retirement of state Senator Ronald L. Rice sets up an intriguing Newark-centric dance
against the backdrop of the fledgling gubernatorial candidacy of Mayor Ras Baraka – a delicate political high wire act, not only for Baraka, but for Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman LeRoy Jones.
Going back to the 2021 sheriff’s race, Baraka and the county have rattled some sabers, each on an opposing battlefront, never enough to threaten the alliance of Baraka and county stalwart North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, who ran for reelection on the same slate this year.
The innate organizational distance between Baraka and the county – and – increasingly – the mayor’s political ambitions – make their relations intriguing and never inevitable.
Could 2023 prove the precursor to 2025 – the battlefront that exposes a crack between Jones and Baraka?
In fairness, probably not, given the self-protection policy built into most politicians, who know the consequences of all hell breaking loose.
Still – in the inimitable words of Joe Cryan – they have some work to do.
By way of background:
Team Baraka appears positioned to accept Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-28) as the senator’s replacement.
They’re not opposed.
But they also need to hear from her.
She needs to want it, after all.
Redistricted into the 28th, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey appears to stand with equal poise in both organizations’ good graces.
If Tucker moves up and replaces Rice, the question then becomes who replaces Tucker.
The players behind the scenes point to the role of the LD-28 county committee members as the final decision-makers.
No boss, they say, or heavyweight, will lean on the scale.
That said, the iconic retiring Rice favors Lionel Leach, his longtime ally and political protege, sources say.
Irvington ideally wants someone from Irvington.
It’s a conflict.
Sources say Team Baraka leans toward favoring Rice’s pick for the Assembly seat, in the name of honoring the senator and his designs for the 28th.
It would signal disrespect to Rice to put up, for example,
Councilwoman Jamillah Beasley for the seat.
The councilwoman’s father, the late D. Bilal Beasley, ran unsuccessfully against Rice in 2007.
The county, a source close to the mayor said, should respect Rice’s wishes and back Leach – not Beasley.
Jones may have a reason to do so, if he’s looking to maintain peace in Essex – especially ahead of 2025 – and prevent any fragmentation with Baraka.
But the late Beasley was iconic in county circles.
Team Irvington Strong has been a steadfast backer of Jones and a strong performer in elections.
Moreover, Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss – the late Beasley’s political protege – has a developing political alliance with Bloomfield Mayor Mike Venezia.
They could do some damage.
But Newark doesn’t roll over for anyone.
If Baraka is indeed running for governor and Jones is committed elsewhere, is a fight not inevitable? In such an environment, with competing kingdoms and alliances, is LD-28 the developing proxy war everyone craves?
If relations melt down over the assembly seat, other names could crop into the picture as potential flag bearers for either side in a three versus three full-on LD-28 on-the-line-off-the-line fight to test drive the county strength against Baraka and Baraka’s strength against the organization.
Chigozie Onyema, who lost the May runoff election against west Ward Councilman DoItAll Kelly, is said to be taking a hard look at the situation in the name of ensuring West Ward representation for the district.
Tucker, too, a source close to the process insisted, should not be regarded as inevitable.
By the time it’s over, the district could look entirely (or at least somewhat) different, even if it gets resolved by the committee and Baraka and Jones avoid a fight – this time.