by MAX PIZARRO
Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo has nailed down the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, and is using pictures of himself with Payne in campaign literature as he fights the power structure that spit him out after he bucked the bosses last year.
"He told me he didn’t believe he could sit on the sidelines, and he thought my record and my tenure made my re-election important," said Caraballo, speaker pro tempore in the Assembly. "He made it a very personal thing."
Said the Congressman, "I think he has served the district well. Being the incumbent, I felt he certainly deserved to be returned to office. He is intelligent and he is one of the best qualified members of the Legislature."
Payne celebrated Caraballo’s knowledge of the law.
"I think he is a role model for his community and for the overall community," said the congressman. "He is a great example of someone who has excelled in education to move up the ladder financially."
By throwing his support behind Caraballo, Payne, who has won nine successive bids for re-election without much opposition in his Congressional district, has joined his brother, Assemblyman William Payne, who is running off the line against M. Teresa Ruiz in the November general election.
"It’s very important in a democracy that you don’t punish people who have contributed in a positive way," said William Payne, who has served in the Assembly since 1997. "People seem to be intimidated because the power brokers have orchestrated this whole thing with (Newark Mayor) Cory Booker, who is really a political neophyte."
Payne, who was South Ward Democratic Chairman, Essex County Freeholder, and Newark City Councilman before going to Washington, D.C., said he believes firmly in a politician working his way up through the ranks in politics rather than being "placed in a position without earning the right to be there."
Now in his tenth year of Legislative service, Caraballo, and Essex County power broker Steve Adubato, both say it was Caraballo’s opposition to a sales tax hike proposed by Gov. Jon Corzine that incurred the boss’ wrath last year and forced Caraballo into the cold.
"I find that ironic," said William Payne, "because I supported the governor’s sales tax and I was also forced out."
In his re-election bid, Caraballo faces community activists Albert Coutinho and Grace Spencer, who have been endorsed by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and Adubato.
Caraballo remembers early in the primary when his opponents told him, "I hope this campaign doesn’t get dirty."
"I told them it can’t get dirty because one of you is going to be serving with me," Caraballo said.
Caraballo complains that Booker’s record contains his firing of over 300 African-Americans, and his bringing in of over 400 people from outside of Newark. Booker’s supporters argue that the new mayor’s moves were necessary to confront the enormous debt that Newark faced after the profligate tenure of Newark Mayor Sharpe James.
Bolstered by Donald Payne’s endorsement, Caraballo is also proudto partner with former Councilman Ras Baraka, who was bumped off the Newark City Council when Booker and his candidates swept into office.
"Ras Baraka helped me in my first campaign," Caraballo says. "Do I agree with him on every issue? No. But is there anyone else in the city who has done as much as he has to help the youth? The answer is ‘no.’ I have formed alliances with people who haven’t done anything but good for this city. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with them as people who can stand up to scrutiny."
Caraballo says he backed Anibal Ramos in his successful bid for council in the north ward last year, giving money and walking the streets with the candidate during his campaign.
But Phil Alagia, a spokesman for Spencer, Coutinho and Ruiz, says Caraballo didn’t provide the support the organization expected from him.
"That’s not the level of commitment the rest of us had," Alagia said of Caraballo’s efforts. "We were in the fight of our lives and he was in Puerto Rico for two weeks a month before the election."
Whoever is right about that, what no one disputes is that Caraballo is now in the fight of his life.