NEWARK and PATERSON – The rain storm punished the world with a vengeance, overkill repayment in these parts perhaps for sins registered on a feeble human scale, and in the crevices and under the besieged tarpaulins, the mortals of Brick and Silk cities in response offered that enduring, faithfully secular social ceremony called politics.
On Tuesday, voters will choose a mayor in two of New Jersey’s biggest cities.
In a sign, perhaps, of contrasting terrains, even as both burghs endured the same monster rains, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka took it easy on Saturday; while Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh braved the bad weather with coat and umbrella and went door-to-door in the First Ward.
Baraka faces an opponent whom no one gives a chance, and so he contented himself to stand at the head of a room packed with his allies at an under 40 event down on Market Street: a strictly back car door to the front door exercise. Not at risk himself, the mayor – trusting in his own executive potency and name ID – wants to get at east five strong allies on the city council, and to that end needs his West Ward candidate, Dupre “DoItAll” Kelly to gut out a win to westward. With City Hall advantages of organization and a record to run on, Team Baraka probably welcomed the rain as a thunderous obstacle to those guerilla forces commanded by Chigozie Onyema, Kelly’s West Ward nemesis.
But while the mayor and his allies prepared for their indoor bash, Onyema and his forces took to the
streets, cheerfully shrugging off bucket-loads of wet and looking to motivate their base to go to the polls. In the hours leading up to Saturday’s weather debacle, the Kelly Campaign dropped the endorsement of Essex County Commissioner Rufus Johnson. “For decades, I’ve witnessed this young man putting Newark residents’ needs first,” the commissioner said in a statement. “In 1994, as a world-famous entertainer, Doitall Du gave a speech on the steps of City Hall in support of a community activist named Ras Baraka. Together, these young men used their influence to help curtail gang violence in the City of Newark. While on an international tour, Dupre never stopped promoting or investing in his hometown. Wherever he was, he consistently wore Newark across his chest or on his hat during performances. In addition, he always came home to S19th Street, where he would faithfully make sure that those in need had coats, clothing, turkeys and toys for the holidays. As our next West Ward Councilman, Dupre Kelly will not just meet West Ward residents where they are; he will continue partnering with our Mayor to educate and empower us!”
The challenger (pictured, above) – comparable on the fundraising front – seemed unfazed, in GOTV G.J. Joe mode.
Basking in organizational bliss as rain pelted the sidewalks, Onyema predicted a first place finish on Tuesday, which would force a runoff with Kelly. “Just trying to make sure we hit as many doors as possible, but we feel like we hit our targets – just keeping the energy high,” aid the candidate in the middle of his bustling campaign headquarters on South Orange Avenue, where allies departed armed with voter ID rolls and buttons with Onyema’s picture on them accompanied by the slogan: “Our Chance. Our choice.”
The drenched, careening, windshield wiper-frenzied drive to Paterson on Highway 21 dead-ended at the Islamic Center, where Third Ward Councilman Alex Mendez majestically climbed out of the passenger side of his SUV vehicle. The rain seemed to crash around him – not on him. The resplendent Mendez wants to dethrone sitting Mayor Sayegh, and his allies like the raw numbers: a third mayoral candidate, Aslon Goow, will chop into the mayor, while former Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres will help captivate the city’s Latino voters, as Sayegh struggles to connect with Blacks, they say. At least one Mendez-ite howled in the aftermath of the mayor’s previous evening event with U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).
They see it as a sign of desperation that Sayegh ($252K cash on hand to Mendez’s $11.4K) needs the U.S. Senator to bail him out of tough straits in the African-American community, and note the absence from the contest of Assemblyman Benje Wimberly (D-35), Paterson’s African-American elder statesman. But a day after he welcomed Booker for the poetry portion of weekend campaign events, Sayegh clomped through the prose of door-pounding in the middle of a driving rain, as if intent on making those 11th hour connections in case Mendez sneaks up on him. Sayegh’s allies don’t think that will happen. Mendez
(pictured, above) faces an indictment – politically motivated, he argues – and protests the presence of an international star like Booker because bad decisions have whittled down those who would stand with him to the hapless Torres, himself bounced out of City Hall for bad behavior.
“I would like to see more bridge building,” Wimberly told InsiderNJ.
The assemblyman doesn’t like the fact that between them, Mendez and fellow indicted Councilman Mike Jackson collected 4,000 signatures to run for mayor.
Somewhere, somehow, elected officials, the mayor included, must do a better job to connect.
That said, while he can’t endorse Sayegh like his colleague Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35), Wimberly says he “supports” the incumbents this season – Sayegh included.
The Saturday drowning of Paterson likewise didn’t deter Council President Maritza Davila, a veteran street level operator who, as she made the rounds of a packed schedule, appeared with her colleague, Sixth Ward Councilman Al Abdelaziz (pictured, above). “Come to the center,” Davila told InsiderNJ, describing her movements in time for this election. One of Sayegh’s most ardent critics in the lead up to the pandemic, the council president accepted a $1,500 donation from him – is proud to note his recognition of her public advocacy – and doesn’t have anything bad to say about him. Davila burnishes labor support, including the Paterson Education Association (PEA), and the Passaic Valley Labor Council.
“My most important endorsement is from the people themselves,” said Davila, who wore a red beret in the rain that made some prospective voters think the Guardian Angels had arrived.
They hadn’t, and the rain – it seemed – had only just begun.
The storm cascaded over Paterson, as if the Great Falls themselves had broken loose, and cheerfully defiant as always, Sayegh trooped down a sidewalk with allies in rain parkas, to make contact with Ahmed Bryant (pictured, top), who couldn’t believe the mayor was actually on his front step, offering a fully extended happily un-punishing Paterson campaign version of a Floyd Mayweather jab of a fist bump, through the endless grind of Jersey rain.