When North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos kicked off his campaign for mayor last year there were insiders on the terrace of the Robert Treat Hotel who called it one of the most impressive launches in recent memory.
So what happened?
How did Ramos go from looking like the next mayor of Newark on May 30th, 2013, to dropping out of the Newark Mayor’s race.
Some insiders blamed race, in fact, pointing out that a Latino candidate can’t win yet citywide in Newark, an African-American city.
But how did the dynamic of race change from last year to this year? How is it that powerful Democratic Party players were publicly unconvinced it was a game-changing factor then, and now adamant that a Latino can’t win in Newark?
The truth is there are many factors – not just one – that contributed to Ramos’ derailment.
First of all, on two big issues that Newark continues to grapple with in this cycle: crime and education – the North Ward councilman had trouble defining a message.
Ramos has close ties to the Newark Police Department. That made it hard for him to throw a punch at that embattled operation at exactly the most inopportune time: coming off a record year for homicides.
South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka has no trouble criticizing the PD, and state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries made crime busitng his signature campaign issue.
Then there’s education. A big charter school advocate, Superintendent Cami Anderson handed another issue to Baraka, a high school principal on leave energized by Anderson’s schools overhaul plan.
In terms of raw organization, the North Ward operation is not as robust as it was in 2007.
From the beginning, Ramos’ campaign was also dogged by internal squabbling over strategy. Allies and friends of the councilman’s complained that the campaign wasn’t hitting Baraka hard enough, often enough and early enough. Others fought back, arguing that they needed to save their heavy fire for a runoff and dismantle Baraka once the others (Jeffries and Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif) had folded in behind Ramos.
Then there were the unfortunate optics of Ramos’ mentor, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo wandering around the county alongside Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
It made campaign allies of Ramos’ cringe in the Democratic Party-dominant city.
The candidate’s style hurt him, too.
Ramos is not a demagogue.
If you give him a microphone in a roomful of 500 people waiting to hear a zinger, he refuses to give into the easy line or a phrase that might produce catcalls and claps and score political points at someone’s expense.
This is not to say that only an Elmer Gantry can win in Newark.
But Ramos’ quiet demeanor did not help him define himself in a city used to big wattage personalities like Sharpe James and Cory Booker.
Financial backers started peeling away from Ramos, and when the campaign discovered it couldn’t go on without the money it needed, even despite the candidate’s willfullness in the face of allies turned doubters, it was only a matter of time, sources told PolitickerNJ.