NEWARK – The crowd inside Mompou, a popular wine bar, lounge and tapas spot on Ferry Street in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood, could blend in well in Manhattan’s Soho or downtown Jersey City.
Karen Suarez, a young professional who works in Manhattan in the financial industry, was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Ironbound. Although she now lives in Brooklyn, she returns to the old neighborhood regularly to see friends.
On Thursday evening, Suarez, a former volunteer for then-Newark mayor and now U.S. Senator Cory Booker, tapped back into Newark’s political flow and felt that the tide was turning towards one mayoral candidate with just 12 days left before the May 13 municipal election.
“I really do think that Baraka is going to win. The South Ward is going to support him heavily, and they vote, unlike a lot of people here in the Ironbound, who don’t vote,” said Suarez, a graduate of Newark’s East Side High School and Rutgers-Newark. “You have people who own homes here, but now they’ve moved away, so they simply don’t care.”
Suarez also believes that another element will lead to Baraka’s victory.
“There is also a sympathy vote because of his father,” Suarez said, referring to the death of Councilman Baraka’s father, the famed poet and activist Amiri Baraka, who died in January and was honored with a huge public funeral that fused the personal and political together. “He was the poet laureate of New Jersey. I’m not in love with the son, but he’ll win, hands down.”
“I really thought that [North Ward Councilman] Anibal Ramos had a chance,” added Suarez, referring to the erstwhile mayoral candidate who dropped out in February and who is now on Jeffries’ council slate. “It totally blind-sided me when I heard about it. I didn’t understand why it happened.”
While Suarez was speaking, it was clear that there was another happening taking place.
A group of Portuguese-speaking and Spanish-speaking businessmen filed into Mompou and descended into the basement lounge. Following them soon after was Ras Baraka himself, along with his campaign manager, his brother Amiri “Middy” Baraka, Jr., and other members of his campaign crew.
A peek into the basement lounge revealed Baraka sitting on a bar stool, actively engaged in conversation with the members of the Ironbound business community.
Soon thereafter, Baraka came up for air and spoke to Suarez briefly before rushing out his next meeting.
“I just want to introduce myself. I was very involved in politics here, and I just want to congratulate you on running. I live next to [New York City] Mayor Bill de Blasio now,” said Suarez to Baraka.
Baraka, whose right eyebrow momentarily arched, smiled, told Suarez it was nice to meet her, then moved on into the Newark night.
“I’ll always be a Newark girl at heart,” said Suarez, turning back to her glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. “You know what, I’ve always said this – people who complain about who is in power, I always ask them, do you vote? No? If you don’t vote, then shut your mouth.”