The Streets of Irvington: Beasley and Shabazz and Vauss and the Deeper Ties

South Ward Councilwoman Jamillah Beasley is running in Irvington's Nov. 5th Special Election against Al-tariq Ibn Shabazz.

IRVINGTON – What political fathers give to sons and daughters runs deeper than the grimmest streets.

Irvington Twp. Hall
Irvington High School (thank you, James Eaddy)

The word that South Ward Councilwoman Jamillah Beasley least likes at the moment is “entitled,” a completely inaccurate assessment of her place within the Team Irvington Strong party organization, she says, while Al-tariq Ibn Shabazz, her counterpart running for the seat she occupies, finds himself growing weary at the mention of the word “legacy.”

A calm and straw-hatted wise man, Beasley’s late father, Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley, taught two generations of Democratic Party members in this tough Essex County town, Mayor Tony Vauss among them. Now, in the Chancellor Avenue headquarters where many of those leaders got their political start under Mr. Beasley, his daughter looks to defend the seat once occupied by another one of those leaders, the late South Ward Councilwoman Sandra Jones.

It’s all too establishment-cozy for Shabazz, who argues that Team Irvington Strong the child of Team Irvington, has become a kind of inter-generational club in need of another perspective on the council, which he says should be a co-equal governing body with the mayor, not a collection of vassals under a powerful executive’s local wings.

Both sides hit the streets tonight in a town fighting to get out from under a foreclosure crisis, unemployment, and years of homicide.

“What I envision here in Irvington is we have a lot of abandoned properties,” Beasley told InsiderNJ as her team, including her brother, two daughters and grandchildren, and numerous political allies gathered for door-to-door duty.

“We want to bring some developers in here so we can rehab these properties,” said the candidate, who has something of the same serene demeanor of her late father.

The mayor and his team got the longtime violent crime rate down. Now Irvington needs to attract investment, she says.

“I’ve traveled out of town, out to dinner in different places,” said the councilwoman. “I want to be able to stay in Irvington. I want to be able to go to cafes and boutique shops, so I want bring some smaller businesses in; I want to bring redevelopment in.”

The councilman’s two daughters assumed the command position, obviously ready to work.

The door swung wide and the mayor entered.

A no-nonsense presence in the room who conveys almost feverish focus on the job, Vauss believes in the

Councilwoman Beasley and the Mayor of Irvington.

organization that made him politically, his leadership of the town vitally connected to the Beasley name, now publicly borne by the councilwoman.

Everything ties to the core of the organization.

“There’s a lot of historic value here,” said the mayor – nine years on the Board of Ed under the auspices of Team Irvington (an unpaid position) before making the cut to higher office – moments later on the sidewalk in front of headquarters. “On September 14th, Councilwoman Beasley kicked off her campaign here. We wanted to do something to honor the pioneers on Team Irvington. This office was held by D. Bilal Beasley in the early 80’s. The legacy of Team Irvington Strong and prior to Team Irvington Strong, Team Irvington – Councilwoman Beasley is a part of that legacy. I want people to know we never forget where we came from; we never forget the pioneers who gave Councilwoman Beasley and myself a chance to serve the residents of Irvington.”

Veteran West Ward Councilman Vern Cox arrived.

A 19-year veteran of the council, he’s running for reelection next year, where he hopes Beasley will run with him as an incumbent of the late Ms. Jones’s unexpired term in search of a full, four year tour as the south ward representative.

A half an hour earlier, it was just Beasley and her immediate family in the headquarters once operated by here father. Soon, the street was teeming with activity – township hall soldiers ready to work under the watchful eye of the mayor, a picture of the late Beasley on the door of the HQ he once ran.

Team Irvington Strong at historic HQ on Chancellor Avenue.
Team Irvington Strong at historic HQ on Chancellor Avenue.

North on the avenue, Shabazz worked alone in his own headquarters, fixing lawn signs while talking, not missing an opportunity to make an amiable crack about the servile relations of the council to the mayor, in his opinion. Coordinator for the City of Newark’s Affordability and Sustainable Housing Program, the challenger radiates alertness and curiosity, and dedication to opportunity for poor populations, seemingly his life’s work, learned in the 9th District of the South Ward, where he grew up.

He once lived, in fact, in the same building as Councilwoman Jones, evidence his opponents say, of the craven ambition of a young man unwilling even to respect the sacred community boundary line of an “auntie,” which he called her before running against her and losing 2-1.

Beasley waited her turn, her allies note, recognizing her predecessor’s work as undone, filling the seat only after Ms. Jones died earlier this year.

Shabazz refuses to wait.

His mien shows a comfort zone with the will of resistance.

Shabazz brushes off the criticism.

Even Castro, he says unapologetically, displaced his own mother from private property for the sake of the revolution.

He works for Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, but it’s the late Amiri Baraka, the late radical poet and thinker, whose works make a ready reference point for the fledgling politician, whose youngest son joined him on the street tonight. Campaign Manager Garfield Smith headed out of headquarters, bound for another corner of the South Ward. The father and son pair went back to the father’s old neighborhood, where he lived before shipping out to Parris Island and later Okinawa in the Marine Corps.

Structure.

He respects it.

It’s maybe one of the reasons he went to the mayor to inquire about the south ward seat.

Vauss had other plans; plans that protected the organization, which would not impair the town’s direction.

“I’m not running against the mayor,” the ward challenger said.

But the organization is the mayor, and Continuing Beasley, and the continuing influence of the elder Beasley, and the people whose work made it, among them not just Jones and Freeholder Lebby Jones, but North Ward Councilman David Lyons, and hundreds of others. To Vauss and his allies, it’s not a fortress of political power for its own sake, to empower the hunger of young rebels intent on breaching its walls – but the rigorous, campaigns and government-tested outgrowth of community.

Still, there are 52,000 to 60,000 people in town.

Irvington reelected Vauss in 2014 with 3,500 votes.

There’s untapped potential out there – to motivate, to inspire, to serve, the lone challenger argues.

His rivals say he only shows up at Election time. Yet nearly everyone in the old hood knew Shabazz,

Shabazz
Shabazz

where youth congregated on street corners and around parked SUVs. A former high school football player draped his arms affectionately around the South Ward candidate. The youngster’s eyes were bloodshot and insistent on friendliness through sadness. A prowl car would show up in that vicinity before the evening ended, a city cop directing two young men into cuffs, chins to the wall.

“We need new blood to replace the old, stagnant Essex swamp,” a resident named Mike told InsiderNJ. “There’s a ton of issues here. What are they? Property taxes, schools, misguided youth, keeping them off the streets so regular working folk can live in peace.”

Shabazz gave Mike a knowing look.

“Nah, I’m done with that street life, man,” he insisted, making the case for newfound respectability.

He seemed hopeful of convincing Shabazz.

There was an army called Team Irvington Strong out there in the same ward, connecting with voters.

Forty-one days until Election Day.

Shabazz’s son dutifully held a clipboard, and silently came forward with his father’s card on command.

He was here before, the father, and not just when he ran against Sandra Jones.

Shabazz ran against the organization once and won.

It was a district leader fight.

It was 2012, the same year Newark West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice lost the 10th District seat to Congressman Donald Payne, Jr.

Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, outside City Hall with the statue of his mentor, former Essex County Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley.

In the days leading up to Election Day, Shabazz saw the iconic straw hat on the street, the relaxed face of the elder Beasley, a native of Dothan, Alabama, in the local center of an election year whirlwind.

Shabazz told him he was going to win.

The older man looked back over his shoulder.

“We’ll see,” Beasley supposedly said.

The upstart won by two votes.

It was a meaningful moment for him.

“Sometimes, the man who talks in a low-key voice does so to make you listen more closely,” said Shabazz, reflecting on D. Bilal Beasely, as if he knows.

Standing on Chancellor Avenue, Vauss kept his eye on the mobilizing troops as he worked his phone.

Team Irvington Strong; Beasley, Cox, and Vauss.
Team Irvington Strong; Beasley, Cox, and Vauss.

He wanted to get a councilman down there.

He’s used to getting people in gear.

It’s how he learned the job for Freeholder Beasley.

“We have record crime numbers,” said the mayor, his mantra in a town long defined by a dreaded narrative. “We used to have anywhere from 28 to 30 homicides a year. Now we’re down to four or five. We had eight one year. That’s out of double digits. Irvington is number 20 in the nation in reduction of crime.

“We’re going to make Irvington prosperous, we’re going to make Irvington grow,” he added.

What are the particular qualities of his candidate for South Ward council?

“The traits I see are community involvement,” Vauss said of Councilwoman Beasley. “What have you done prior to being a candidate for office? When your heart and soul are in this community, then it shows, whether you have a title or not. Not only was the councilwoman involved in this community since the day she was born, as the daughter of D. Bilal Beasely, but the councilwoman on her own was a member of the Board of Education and involved in several civic organizations. That’s what this is all about.”

Beasley’s daughters went into campaign-time motion, helping their mother, as their mother helped their grandfather.

“They understand that it’s about service to the bigger family, which is why I take them with me, to community events,” the councilwoman said.

Shabazz and his son turned onto Grace Street, a block away from Irvington Park.

On the South Ward beat in Irvington with Shabazz.
On the South Ward beat in Irvington with Shabazz.

The candidate waved to another pair of men relaxing on their front porch in early autumn.

“I need to get you a lawn sign,” he told one of them, who seemed willing to help the cause.

But, “I don’t have a lawn,” the man called back.

Another street. Another ragged home in half light.

“You’re fiiiinnnnne!” a Jamaican woman called from a stoop.

“Thank you,” Shabazz said. “I want you to vote for me.”

“Can’t,” said the woman. “Going back to Jamaica in a week. I don’t live here.”

When he looks around at his home town, what does the Marine see that his own sons have that he himself did not possess?

The sun was going down over Irvington.

Up ahead, two young men had their palms against a wall and a cop at their backs.

What do his two sons have that he lacked?

“A political father,” Shabazz said.

Father and son Shabazz in Irvington.
Father and son Shabazz in Irvington.

 

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