West Ward’s Middleton Wants to Crash Male-Dominated Party

NEWARK – The corruption crack-up of Joe McCallum summoned a crowded field of would-be successors in the West Ward, among them former New York Police Department Officer Michelle Middleton, a lobbyist and single mom who says she wants to shake up the male-dominated club-like atmosphere of Newark politics.

Originally from Brooklyn, a 17-year Newark resident and a homeowner, Middleton ultimately heeded the words of her mentor, the late Ronald J. Clare, suggested she get into politics.

Now’s that time, she told InsiderNJ over coffee.

The nine-person council contains one woman. A second woman – Reverend Louise Scott-Rountree – is running on the Baraka Team.

It’s not enough, said Middleton.

“There’s a boy’s club in Newark, and I’m about to break the barriers,” the West Ward Council candidate said. “Politics has always been a male-oriented environment. Women are apprehensive about getting into politics. They don’t understand that they are the reason for effecting change. We need women right now in politics. I’m standing on the shoulders of Maxine Waters. We’re coming to make changes. We will be listened to and we deserve our seat at the table.”

Middleton initially fundraised for the campaign of Mayor Ras Baraka’s West Ward candidate, Lords of the Underground star Dupre “DoItAll” Kelly. It didn’t work out, and while the ward contender likes the work Baraka is doing, she disapproves of the candidacy of Kelly.

“He’s [Baraka’s] doing a phenomenal job,” Middleton said. “He’s done more than anyone could do. He has put a lot of time and energy and monies into schools, artistic programs, after-school and housing programs; anything that will bring or catapult the community forward into the 21st Century, including job offerings to the unemployed. He was also on top of the COVID crisis.”

But Baraka made a faux pas at a summer rally in her judgement when he vociferously expressed his support for Kelly.

“He said Dupre Kelly didn’t take the elevator, he took the stairs,” Middleton said. “If he did, he must have fallen asleep on the second landing of a 3o-story building because he doesn’t understand government.

“I like rap,” she added. “I was in a rap group at school with Lil’ Kim in 1988, believe it or not. But my almost 70-year old mother does not need rap as a policy. She needs programs, like other seniors, to keep them alert and active. I don’t understand how rap gets parlayed into policy.”

But Kelly in a big field, which includes attorney Chigozie Onyema and former Councilman Oscar James, Jr. – has the organizational advantage of Team Baraka.

Middleton shrugged.

“Yes and no,” she said. “I do think his affiliation with Ras is interesting but from my senses, people don’t know who Dupre Kelly is or care to know who he is. I’m not looking to defibrillate a rapper’s career by putting him in office. Me, I’ve been here 17 years. My son is part of the fabric of the community. Not one of the [other] candidates is a parent – not one.”

But she’s not originally from Newark, perhaps a political challenge in a big, parochial New Jersey town like Brick City.

“It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at – that’s part of a rap song,” she added, with a glint of irony. “I’ve got skin in the game. He [Kelly] doesn’t have any children who have gone trough the school system. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a single mother going to pick up your kid at school at 6 at night, while hustling through Holland Tunnel traffic. He doesn’t understand the plights of a single mother. I don’t think men are excluded from the perils of parenthood, but you have to be there sometimes to really smell it and taste it. Men generally are not single parents – some are – but generally when a man leaves the relationship he says ‘I’ll come see my kid on the weekend.’ They don’t take the kids with them. Women can do the same – but not so easily.”

Middleton said her plan for the West Ward includes cracking down on businesses that are noncompliant with city zoning laws. She wants to revitalize outdated and dilapidated infrastructure in the west. Residents see innovation in the downtown area, but “we have taxpayers living in their houses… that can’t afford” the same, and to that end, she wants to implement residential renovation programs to help people improve the facades of their homes. She wants better restaurants, and stores that don’t hang their clothes outiside.

She wants tougher crime fighting in the ward, and the former cop knows something about that subject.

She threw an elbow at Onyema, another rival in the big field of challengers vying for the council seat in the May 8th citywide election.

“He says he wants to defund the police,” she said. “That’s insane. We need better community policing. We need to reallocate funding. Are all cops bad? No. Do all politicians steal money? No. Do all police officers brutalize? No. We have to come away from a certain way of thinking.”

For the moment, as the season of a citywide election in Newark intensifies, Middleton wants to have a conversation with the voters of the West Ward.

“I’m not anybody’s team,” she told InsiderNJ. “I’m on Michelle Middleton’s team. I’m not anyone’s sycophant.”

 

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