Every four years, the opponents of incumbent Newark East Ward Councilman Augusto 'Augie' Amador say voters need to give him the heave ho, just before Amador flattens them on his way to reelection; but Anthony Campos, former police chief and police director, insists on the seriousness of his May 8th challenge of the veteran.
“Look, I take what people say with a grain of salt,” Campos told InsiderNJ, acknowledging trail chatter and people’s traditional eagerness to tell candidates what they want to hear, namely those four magical words – “I’m voting for you,” that might loosely be translated as “leave me alone” and resulting low voter turnout.
But Campos said he’s hearing the same consistent message mouthed over and over in the Ferry Street environs: “Over 20 years is just too long.”
“It’s time for a change,” said Campos, a 30-year retired police officer, born and raised in the East Ward,
who’s dedicating himself fulltime now to walking and talking as he tries to unseat Amador.
He’s got the old Newarker attitude of pride in sticking it out through the rough haul of the city’s history.
He never moved from his hometown, he said.
“I’ve always been accessible and very responsive,” said the ex-chief. “It doesn’t matter if someone leaves a note under the windshield of my car, I’m proud and humbled by it.”
The East Ward gets some attention this year by virtue of Amador’s longevity and the intrigue of Campos – a well known figure locally – and Crystal Fonseca, daughter of operative Pablo Fonseca, battling for the perch. Campos and the elder Fonseca together clashed with former Police Director Garry McCarthy when Fonseca served as chief of staff to former Mayor (now Senator) Cory Booker.
Mayor Ras Baraka dusted Campos off, reinstalling him at the upper echelons of the department when he first became mayor in 2014. But ever-the-survivor from one mayoral regime to the next, Amador’s running with Baraka, who has a walk-over contest against Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins by the reckoning of most Newark insiders. The tug from above can’t hurt, but the councilman also has to get to 50% plus one to avoid the runoff Campos craves.
“I’m running an independent campaign,” said Campos. “Obviously, I worked well with Mayor Baraka. I was the chief of police, and what was reported at the time, that there was a rift between me and the police director, was not entirely accurate. I’m close to Ras and I do respect him.”
There might be a more natural connection there to the mayor, but the larger dimensions of a political alliance admit Amador to the circle of incumbency.
Asked about what he sees as the top issue in the race, Campos says, “I know I’m biased, but public safety. I feel the police department is really good at what they do, but they don’t always get support. There are still festering wounds from the layoffs of 170 cops and the massive layoffs of civilian personnel. Councilman Amador voted for a plan that resulted in mass layoffs, and I can’t condone any of this.
“I’m not going to comment on his entire record,” Campos said. “But most people – they can only be spectators in public safety. I see myself as an active participant.”
When he retired from the force, the retired cop collected nearly half a million in unused sick time. He also collects a pension.
Does he intend to collect a salary as a councilman?
“Yes, I do,” Campos said.
An Amador mail piece already highlighted that issue in an attempt to make the case that it’s too much.
Campos, of course, doesn’t think so.
“I’m collecting a pension, just as Councilman Amador is collecting a pension from PSEG, just as the mayor is collecting a pension from the board of education,” he said.
He’s running a real campaign, and he’s known. He’s also respected for his academic background and strong credentials at the PD, but others have tried and failed to knock out Amador on a very hard-edged beat called Newark politics that he’s dominated out of the Ironbound for two-plus decades.