Rousing Ras World: the Essex County Kenney Play in Newark and How it Can Help Menendez

In a statewide election cycle with time ticking down, a direct line can be drawn from the stirring, standing ovation speech delivered last week by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka in Atlantic City and the nomination for surrogate of Alturrick Kenney made last night by the Essex County Democratic Committee.

The party organization has planned the move for some time, looking to replace former surrogate Ted Stephens, with someone from within Baraka’s circle. Kenney – a former school board member – is within the within, one of the most recognizable recurring figures in the mayor’s retinue, a fierce Baraka loyalist and long identified as a rising force in the mayor’s inner circle. As one Baraka ally put it, “Altrurrick is above the field.”

Baraka’s incrementally moved his organization forward with undisputed wins.

It’s not the first time Kenney’s name has surfaced in connection with higher elected office. In 2015, he floated as Camp Baraka’s choice for a vacant assembly seat. But the party organization still controlled by the allies of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and Chairman Leroy Jones determined that someone from DiVincenzo world should fill a 29th District vacancy. The 28th belonged to Ras. Joe D. had the 29th.

Baraka’s wanted this for some time.

But the problem this year with having a dominant figure from DiVincenzo World – and not someone from Baraka World – boils down to what most politics watchers perceive to be a close race between U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his Republican challenger Bob Hugin.

Menendez needs urban cities to perform.

DiVincenzo and Baraka are allies. They embraced each other shortly after their operations went to war with each other locally in 2014 and Baraka won. Since his first citywide victory and subsequent 2018 walk-over, the mayor has collaborated with every level of government.

But he and the county executive still command different organizations.

DiVincenzo’s base begins with the North Ward Center of Newark, the House that Steve Adubato, Sr. built now run by North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos and party leader Sammy Gonzalez.

Baraka begins in the South Ward.

Kenney comes right out of that stronghold.

And he’s been looking at a run of this kind for some time.

The North Ward runs its elections operations like a drill. The wired functionaries perform in a way not dissimilar from the units of state Senator Brian P. Stack’s outfit in Union City.

But Baraka World has longed since 2014 for one of their own to ascend into that North Ward Center-ruled habitation called county or state government. Yes, Senator Ron Rice, Assemblyman Ralph Caputo and Assemblywoman Cleo Tucker all backed Baraka in 2014, but really only Tucker can be said to be an absolute Baraka diehard. And even she got to the dance long prior to Baraka becoming mayor.

Kenney is Ras World.

So his place on the ballot at a time when Baraka demonstrates his own special ability to speak truth to power, to galvanize and energy, as he did in Atlantic City last week – as no other – comes at a critical moment for Menendez, who apparently needs every urban vote he can get to block Hugin.

The absence – for the most part – of urban dramas on the ballot makes it tough to identify – really outside of Perth Amboy where there are real local races going on – spike opportunities for Menendez.

Now Newark has DiVincenzo on the ballot (he’s running for reelection). North Ward, check.

And Kenney. South Ward, check.

“Menendez is a big component of this,” a party source acknowledged to InsiderNJ.

Long time coming Kenney conceivably installs the South of Newark in an atmosphere of excitement for one of their own, a testament to delicate politics by Jones, DiVincenzo – and Baraka, who can just as passionately project from a microphone as he did once with a bullhorn.


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