In 2014, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka led a people power movement against an establishment defined by that old, sturdy alliance between Essex County Democrats and South Jersey. Weathering a blitzkrieg of mail supporting his opponent and overcoming the county party machine, Baraka got to City Hall in one of the toughest campaigns in recent memory.
Now, nearly four years later, as he nears 2018 reelection, he stands with that power structure he put down to get where he is: a willing (purple tie-wearing) participant yesterday at a Taste of Portugal with Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-29) and Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19). The occasion was the luncheon portion of Pintor Marin’s golf outing, as she builds on her political relationship with Coughlin, ordained to succeed Assemblyman Vincent Prieto as speaker by South Jersey, Middlesex and the Joe D. segment of the Essex County Democratic Party.
Notwithstanding his close ties to Assemblyman Ralph Caputo and Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker in the 28th District, Baraka tried to fight the power to gain his own toehold in the legislature. But he failed in at least two tries, first to get Alturrick Kenney – and then Tai Cooper – to supplant retiring Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-29). This summer, he welcomed the endorsement of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, apparently preparing to endorse the county executive in return next year as both power players seek to secure their own reelections through the path of least resistance.
Baraka did not have much choice, when the tri-city alliance he forged with Jersey City Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop crumbled.
Despite receiving a never-say-die endorsement from Baraka in the face of the party establishment controlled by powerful South Jersey boss George Norcross III, Fulop opted out of running for governor this year, somewhat blindsiding and absolutely disappointing the Newark mayor. Then Torres cracked up completely, finally pleading guilty to corruption charges almost a week ago and handing the mayoralty off to Council President Ruby Cotton. Baraka had already undertaken building his own sturdy relationship with DiVincenzo and the county Dems, Fulop’s recalibration to a local election and Torres’ implosion dwindled his recourses for alliances, and made his fastening to the train of power (including a fairly early signal of support for Phil Murphy last year) that much more critical.
Now, in a dignified kowtow to the forces that he smashed locally but whose Trenton arteries remain integral to the game, Baraka yesterday put in that grip and grin appearance in support of Pintor Marin, who stands to become the next budget committee chair if the South Jersey-engineered deal holds to land Coughlin the speakership.