IRVINGTON – Council President John Sowell and Councilman David Lyons stepped up their attacks on each other this week, as each aggressively backs a candidate in the other’s ward in the upcoming Irvington Council race.
Sowell, an eight-year veteran of the council and friend of Mayor Wayne Smith, hopes Gene Etchison bumps Lyons off the council in north Irvington.
“Some people are tired of Lyons being condescending,” Sowell said of the 12-year council veteran. “His service is a combination of demagoguery, bad attendance and an inconsistent, contradictory voting record. I can’t tell you the number of people I meet who ask me, ‘When is this guy going to stop complaining?’”
An outspoken critic of Smith and often the lone dissenting voice on the council, Lyons also used the term “condescending” to characterize Sowell’s approach to his constituents’ concerns in the West Ward.
Anxious for an ally on the council, the North Ward maverick supports National Guardsman Keith White, a candidate brought along by the Durand Place Block Association, a neighborhood organization co-founded by White’s uncle, Rodney White.
“Keith has the energy to get out there and work,” Lyons said of his 21-year old ally, for whom he placed a robocall last week highlighting what Lyons believes is a record of inaction by the Smith administration and its chief facilitator on the council: Sowell.
As for Sowell getting behind Etchison, Lyons said those efforts, and the efforts by Sowell ally At-Large Councilman D. Bilal Beasley to oppose him will prove a strategic mistake.
“They wanted to put all of these people in the north against me,” said Lyons. “Now John’s coming after me with Etchison. But my constituents know me. I’m out there. John’s not. And right now he’s got Keith out there, 21-years old and full of energy knocking on doors. John’s got some real competition in his own ward.”
Sowell said Lyons and White would try to use his past salvos as a member of a group led by Smith called Team Irvington to oversimplify him as the Smith-Beasley candidate.
“Everyone is saying Bilal and Smith are behind my candidacy, but they’re not on the ballot,” said the council president. “As for what David’s doing in here, robocalls don’t work in an election like this where you’re going to get about 9-12% turnout.
“They have not demonstrated any organization,” he added of Lyons and White. “Campaigns of this sort come down to either money or shoe leather, and I’m going to have 15-20 volunteers knocking on doors.”
While the two sides battled, a third candidate in the West Ward this week told PoltickerNJ.com that he needs just 13 more petitions to qualify to run in the May 13 municipal election.
Cedric Hunter, 41, a substitute teacher in Newark,supported Sowell before becoming disillusioned. He also backed Lyons and that too fell apart. Now he opposes both of them.
“Sowell’s associated with Bilal Beasley, who’s bought and owned by (Newark Mayor) Cory Booker and (North Ward Democratic leader) Steve Adubato,” said Hunter. “These guys – Beasley and Sowell – don’t represent the people on potholes and crime. They sit there in an office and hire people, and pad the employment roles of the Board of Education.”
As for the other man in the race, White, “I don’t have a problem with White,” said Hunter. “I have a kid who’s 20 years old. They’re the same age.”
Hunter still bristles when he recalls how he labored to re-elect Lyons ally Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) in his tough re-election battle last year against Beasley. Hunter had hoped Rice and Lyons would be there for his challenge of Sowell.
But they’re not.
“I worked for them,” said Hunter. “I’m the one who will hit your door during the dinner hour. But Dave’s ducked every phone call I’ve given him, and so has Ron Rice.”
Still, Hunter insisted his main focus is not Lyons but Sowell, whom he describes as a high-handed official who has lost touch with the neighborhood. “I’m your guy coming up the middle,” said the candidate. “I bring the experience of John Sowell but the energy of Keith White.”
At odds over virtually everything but mostly on their views of the mayor, whom Lyons believes is self serving and Sowell enthusiastically supports, the antagonist councilmen agree on one subject at least: Hunter. Lyons dismisses him as a spoiler and the disgruntled member of an organization, the Irvington Alliance, which was once strong but is now a fragmented shell of itself.
“The last time he ran for school board I backed Cedric Hunter,” said Lyons. “It’s unfortunate, but he has an abrasive personality. He knew we were backing Keith but he’s going to run anyway. I’ll be surprised if he gets 50 votes.”
Said Sowell, “Mr. Hunter worked on the Smith campaign in 2002. He knows my drill. Anybody who knows me knows that I work. As I’ve said many times, you’re only as good as your work. I’ve been on the ballot twice, won both times. As an operative, I’ve run 58 campaigns in 14 years. I don’t anticipate having trouble with Mr. Hunter.”