Newark South Ward Candidates Clash at St. John’s

NEWARK – In front of a crowd of local ward standard bearers, community emblems and citizens, the candidates for the South Ward Council seat clashed tonight at St. John’s Community Baptist Church, where a hardening rivalry between Pat Council and Terrance L. Bankston formed the dramatic centerpiece of the forum.

Council has an organizational edge here, as the friend and ally of incumbent Mayor Ras Baraka.

Pat Council

 

It’s Baraka’s home ward, his base of operations, and Council – chair of the local Democratic Organization in addition to directing the citywide recreation department – occupies a vital role as part of Team Baraka, as he attempts to fill the seat occupied by retiring Councilman John Sharpe James.

But Bankston – an environmental justice organizer for Clean Water Action – wanted the crowd tonight to know that he sees the Baraka connection in Council’s case as a detriment, not an asset, and embraced an attacking role almost from the offset, following up on social media posts he released earlier today in which he criticized Council’s job in city government.

Terrance Bankston

 

Council emphasized “redemption,” and in response to a salvo by Bankston concerning the sale of drugs at a city recreation center, said, “It is great people talk about our recreation centers, but we should be praying with those families that was engaged in that activity.”

Bankston stuck to his central argument of independence.

“Terrance Bankston has a plan to actually lead, and is not handed jobs by his friends and his family,” he said. “Don’t let other candidates lie to you… I’m not running to be the mayor’s aide. I’m running to be your south ward councilman.”

They seesawed several times.

“We want to rebuild the faith, hope and optimism of the people of the South Ward,” said Council, a pastor in addition to his other duties. “We have already begun to put fiber throughout the entire city, and are proactive within this administration.”

Bankston, though, pointed to a Rutgers University study citing Newark’s 16,000-unit affordable housing gap, which includes 3,000 units in the South Ward, and complained about a loophole in Baraka’s inclusionary zoning ordinance. “Developers pay a fee and renege on affordable housing,” he said. “It’s an insult. Gentrification is real. I don’t want to call them [the council people] puppets but… we keep putting people on burgers who belong on fries.”

The inclusionary zoning ordinance, in fact, requires a percentage of all development to include a plan for affordable housing or payment into a general affordable housing fund.

“The role of the council is to monitor the budget,” Council said. “It’s cute to talk about burgers and fries when you have been nowhere and have done nothing. We need to build a narrative where people feel like they belong again.”

In fact, Bankston served as Director of Constituent Services for the city during the Booker years, where he developed a constituent services guide he says is still in use. Throughout the debate tonight, he stayed on message, calling the South Ward home to the city’s political elites.

“We can’t elect a surrogate,” he said. “We need a leader.”

Council sees the city heading in the right direction under his friend and ally Baraka.

Bankston brought a harsher assessment of life in the South Ward right now.

“The guns and garbage must go,” he said, calling for uniform garbage cans similar to a program implemented in Baltimore. “The rats standing on trash cans in broad daylight must go.”

The other four candidates had something to say, too.

Trenton Jones

 

Trenton Jones, formerly an aide for retiring Councilman James, likewise questioned the city’s inclusionary zoning policy. “We put this money into a trust, and when that money goes into the trust, my ward can lose out out on that,” Jones said. “We need to be stricter on how we delegate these projects.”

Cynthia Truitt-rease

 

Cynthia Truitt-rease, former chief-of-staff to James, had a strong moment when she talked about Bergen Street in Newark’s not-too-distant past.

“When it comes to economic development, if we want it, we have to say what we want. Why can’t we have bistros sitting outside? These are the things we want that we used to have,” said Truit-rease. “Bergen Street used to flourish with businesses. I do not want to go to a funeral home to order flowers. We had our own dry cleaners and liquor stories. We have to make our community look like what we want it to be.”

Douglas Freeman

 

Douglas Freeman, who ran for commissioner in 2017 as a Republican, said, “We need to do the plans that are already in place. There is a lot that is already working. Community based organizations are doing great work; we just need to bring them together. Each and every community-based organization [needs to be] recognized for what they already do.”

Christina Cherry

 

Christina Cherry, who served in the United States Navy as a Seabee, and has degrees in business management and psychology, said she is proudest of being the mother of a five-year old son. As councilwoman, she would ensure services throughout the entirety of the ward, not just in those districts home to the friends and family or powerful people. She would strengthen programs that create opportunities for Newarkers to stay in Newark. “There is no greater wrath than the wrath of a mother protecting her child,” said Cherry.

Dr. Uche Onyeani

 

Dr. Uchenna Onyeani moderated the debate featuring the six candidates competing in the May 10th election, in an event hosted by The Historic Weequahic Neighborhood Association, Concerned Citizens of Clinton Hill, Newark Branch NAACP, 100 Urban League of Essex County and Clinton Hill Community Action. Those in attendance included organizer Deborah Gregory, President of the Newark NAACP; Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker; At-Large Councilman Larry Crump; Surrogate Alturrick Kenney; former Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif; and activist Donna Jackson.

“Redemption is very important,” said Council, hitting one of his key themes throughout the evening. “We have a responsibility to them [constituents] by creating a narrative of truth.”

“It’s time to stop settling for weak leadership,” said Bankston. “Redemption without consequences is a false choice.”

It wasn’t all rough going between the two rivals. When Onyeani relayed an audience question to Council about how Newark should handle marijuana legalization and the crowd groaned, Bankston offered a word of sympathy over the difficulty of the question.

Later, Council zapped his rival. “During COVID, Pat Council was in a long-term care facility, in all of the nursing homes, [caring for the sick and removing bodies], giving out… face masks, feeding the homeless – even Terrance stopped by,” he said.

At least one attendee was unamused. “You’re kidding, right?” perennial activist-gadfly Donna Jackson told InsiderNJ when asked if she intends to endorse a candidate. “I’m not endorsing any of those candidates, absolutely not.”

 

Editor’s Note: All Photos by Carina Pizarro

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