PLAINFIELD – Over the shoulder of Mayor Adrian Mapp tonight in a crammed city council chamber under a framed landscape painting by Albert Bierstadt sat Councilwoman Bridget Rivers, who wants to be mayor; and in the audience, among immigrant cab drivers and their families, sat the Reverend Pastor Tracey L. Brown, who also wants to be mayor.
To run the scrappy Queen City of Union County, population 50K, they’ve got to knock off Mapp to get there and the biggest initial obstacle for each appears to be the other.
Then there’s the mayor himself, who already subdued his most vocal critic with an alliance that appears mutually beneficial in the best tradition of New Jersey politics. Right when it looked like the two of them could use an election this June to settle an old grudge, Mapp – chair of the local Democratic Party – endorsed Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-22) – chair of the Union County Democrats – in exchange for Green backing Mapp.
With Green and Mapp suddenly in a loving bear hug, potentially positioning Mapp to replicate his 2013 Green-assisted 61-38% burial of incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, Brown and Rivers stepped forward with the same plan of exposing the Mapp-Green union as a cynical insider exercise, even as they mutually cut into each other’s chances of gaining traction against the incumbent in the June Democratic Primary.
A two-term 4th ward councilwoman who is giving up her seat to run for mayor, Rivers has defined herself on the governing body as an opponent of Mapp and the Mapp majority. Tonight, she opposed an amendment to a local ordinance that would impose stricter penalties on out-of-town cabbies, specially empowering the police to tow them. One of two council people who voted unsuccessfully to halt the measure, Rivers argues that the amendment unfairly impacts hard-working drivers and their families.
“There a lot of Plainfield residents who drive those taxi cabs, and we’re taking food out of people’s mouths,” the councilwoman told InsiderNJ.
“It’s a very sensitive issue,” the reverend told InsiderNJ. “I think a license should be given to the cab company in question because most of their customers come from Plainfield. The cab companies are not always readily available, and a license should be considered for other cab companies [besides Plainfield cabs] also. A lot of the customers say how convenient it is for them to have reliable transportation.”
They both radiate concern.
A well-known local church leader, founder of Ruth Fellowship, Brown grew up playing basketball with the then-unknown Leroy Jones, now the powerful chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee. Her campaign manager, John Campbell, told InsiderNJ that his candidate lost by 100 votes last year to Council President Rebecca Williams, who on the line with Hillary Clinton and Bonnie Watson Coleman in the overwhelmingly Democratic town received 3,000 votes. When he won the mayoralty four years ago Mapp collected 2,793 votes. So Campbell sees opportunity for Brown.
Veteran Democratic operative Derel Stroud doesn’t see it that way.
“She lost,” he said of Brown.
He’s working for Mapp, who works by day as the business administrator for the City of Orange.
The mayor’s minders drew InsiderNJ’s attention to past numbers in the at-large and mayoral races and note that the outcomes have been determined by wards 2 and 3. They argue that neither Brown nor Rivers has a stronghold or any influence there, while Mapp is strong in precisely those two wards.
Then there’s Maurice Clark, campaign manager for Rivers. “Of course his people will say that, they have to say that,” he said. “But we are stronger than people think we are. Mapp avoids the councilwoman.”
Rivers – unopposed in 2013 when she collected 384 votes – wants to parlay her vocal opposition to Mapp’s agenda into engaging millennial voters in this election.
“As I state to everyone, I’m not running against Tracey or Mapp,” the councilwoman said. “They know what’s going on. They know I’m an effective leader. I’m going to run on my record. I’m going to let the people decide, because they are tired of all the negativity.”
Just outside the overflowing council chambers as the council took up the thorny issue of the taxi cabs, InsiderNJ asked Brown if she intended to target those longtime Jerry Green adherents who might feel disenfranchised by the powerful assemblyman’s election time embrace of their longtime nemesis, Al McWilliams New Democrat turned face of the new Plainfield establishment.
“I’m not going after any particular voters – I’m going after voters, period,” Brown said. “We want to see the city go forward.”
As they attempt to connect with young voters and give voice to disaffected populations like the cab drivers in the council chamber tonight (confirmed by the councilwoman’s vote against the amendment in question, at least one Team Rivers member sees Mapp as an elitist who will quash out-of-town cabbies, for example, then rush to the aid of wealthier residents worried about the chamber’s two glorious Albert Bierstadt paintings.
“Which are politically incorrect,” council candidate Alma Blanco told InsiderNJ, referencing the paintings.
Rivers, for her part, said she believes the paintings are jewels, and opposed Mapp’s efforts to sell the city assets, instead favoring renting the art works to museums wherever Plainfield can find interested parties.
The meeting lasted very late, with Council President Williams allowing a long line of irritated cabbies to form at the microphone during the public comment portion of the meeting. Mapp was gone by that point, having sat with stately attentiveness and friendly, forceful encouragement in front of one of the Bierstadt masterpieces, as two young Plainfield students read their winning essays on the enduring virtues of Martin Luther King, Jr.