The latest in Newark and the 28th District

A funeral service for the late Donald Tucker, a Newark city councilman and assemblyman from the 28th District, is scheduled for next Tuesday. Essex County Democratic Chairman Phil Thigpen is expected to announce soon that the special election convention to fill Tucker’s Assembly seat will be held after the November 8 election, so as not to distract from the gubernatorial race. If the vote takes place immediately after the general election, the new assemblyman or woman could be sworn-in in time to take part in what is expected to be a close Democratic caucus vote for majority leader. Two Essex candidates — Wilfredo Caraballo and William Payne— are expected to seek that post. Caraballo and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman are considered the front-runners. Tucker’s widow, Cleopatra Tucker, is publicly lobbying for both of her husband’s seats. She has also begun making phone calls to party leaders. However, Essex insiders say that she has not been active in the party and is a longshot for either job. The 28th District includes Irvington, Belleville, Bloomfield and about one-third of Newark. The district’s Senate seat now belongs to Ron Rice, who is from Newark’s West Ward. The other Assembly seat is occupied by Craig Stanley of Irvington. Belleville and Bloomfield make up about 40 percent of the district, and could unite behind a candidate at the special election convention. But if a suburbanite wins the Assembly seat, it could provoke a primary challenge next year from a Newark candidate. It also might splinter the party, possibly prompting a primary challenge to Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who will run in next June’s primary with the new Assembly member. Insiders say DiVincenzo is likely to push for the seat to go to a woman who could become a consensus candidate. One insider said the early favorite is Evelyn Williams, the Democratic leader in Newark’s South Ward and a former school board member. Williams apparently is on good terms with most of Newark’s competing power brokers. Tucker’s city council seat could potentially remain vacant until next May’s municipal elections, unless 5 of the 8 remaining members can agree on someone to fill the at-large position. The main stumbling block figures to be the reluctance of at-large council members to create a new incumbent who would essentially become their competition next May. Besides Tucker’s widow, two names being mentioned are Ras Baraka, the son of controversial poet Amiri Baraka and a deputy mayor, and Rice, the state senator and another deputy mayor. Baraka apparently has strong support from the younger crowd, though Rice, who would probably abandon his plans to run for mayor next year if he snared the $80,000-a-year council post, is apparently spreading the word that he has the votes.

The latest in Newark and the 28th District