NEWARK – The American Flag stood at half mast today at the North Ward Center to salute a soldier of Newark.
Central Ward Democratic Committee Chairman Dwight Brown died this morning of a heart attack, PolitickerNJ.com has learned.
A Vietnam veteran andcareer military manwho retired from theNewark Housing Authority to work at the North Ward Center in June of 1996, Mr. Brown, 61,was “at the top of his game” politically at the time of his death, according to North Ward political operative Phil Alagia.
“We were playing poker last night and we were having a good time,” said Alagia. “When I heard the news today, I was shocked.”
“Newark lost a leader who was especially focused on developing his home, the Central Ward,” said North Ward Democratic Leader Steve Adubato, Sr., who co-founded the North Ward Center,which consists of five private learning andhealthcare instituions, where Mr. Brown had served as chief operating officer.
One year ago, Mr. Brown defeated Jermaine James to become chairman of the pivotal Central Ward in a victory many observers read as an expansion of North Ward political power into the Central Ward and a weakening of James’s boss, Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Mr. Brownsubsequentlyserved as campaign manager for Charles Bell ina highly competitive2008 Central Ward council race.Running against Eddie Osborne, a candidate backed by Booker and labor and outspent 10-1,Bell won, giving Mr. Brown at least a 2-0 record in 2008 and earning him a year-end political operative awardon PolitickerNJ.com.
“We’re going to have a small but highly effective and well-trained GOTV effort on Election Day made up of 250 soldiers,” Mr. Brown had saiddays before the Bell-Osborne matchup, when President Barack Obama scored huge numbersin Newark and gave Mr. Brown, by his own admission,another reason to be proud.
After their victory, the councilman made Mr. Brown his chief-of-staff, and this year, Mr. Brown was running himself as the Democratic Party’s candidate for county register.
Still focused on the organizational side as committee chair, hemeton Tuesdaywith Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Phil Thigpen to discuss the Central Ward specifics of Gov. Jon Corzine’s re-election campaign.
“He was in great shape in anticipation of getting his ward running for the gubernatorial election,” said Thigpen. “We have lost a valuable ally. To say the least, he was experienced and mature enough not to need on-the-job training. He had been through many battles in his life and he had learned to harmonize. He had an infectious smile and presence which drew people to him.”
Mr. Brownworkedas an operative and organizer in many campaign cycles,including the 2007 District 29 race won by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark), and Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-Newark).
“He was a committed individual with a passion for life,” said Ruiz. “A lot of people pointed to his military background as a source for his work ethic, but his work came from his soul. He engaged himself 110%.”
“He was a gentleman,” said Spencer.”He worked tirelessly in the best interest ofthe people of the Central Ward.”
Although they assumed opposing sides in that election in the neighboring 28th District, state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Newark) hadlongstanding respect for Mr. Brown, his ally in the Bell race.
“When hewent to theNorth Ward Center from the Housing Authority, he had the ability to balance relationships and still stay focused on grassroots folks,” said Rice.”He was a Vietnam veteran – I was recon and he was special forces. They backed us up a lot. His family certainly has my prayers.”
Newarkers remembered Mr. Brown’s gravitas and strapping physical presence – he was an ex-football player – and hiscalm presence, and recognized him as the close personal friend andconfidante of Adubato, with whom he regularly discussed and debated issues of the day and Newark politics at central headquarters on Mount Prospect Avenue.
Adubato said henot only respected the retired Sergeant Major’s discipline and leadership ability but the caring he and his wife saw Mr. Brown demonstrate at the Housing Authority, and his intellect.
“When he was in the service, he was in Vietnam, he did two tours in Germany, and he served in Hawaii -I think that helped give hima global view,” said Adubato of the Fort Knox, Tennessee native.
“I called him my gentle giant,” said North Ward Executive Director Adrianne Davis, who co-founded the center with Adubato. “He never raised his voice, but when he was stern, you knew he was stern.”
“He was like a ninja,” former Newark Councilwoman Gayle Cheneyfield-Jenkins said of Mr. Brown.”He would move quietly, steadily and he would keep focused. Tempers flared all around him all the time and egos got out of line, buthe never lost hiscool.”
South Ward Democratic Committee Chairman Lee Fisher said of Mr. Brown, “He was a great guy and a good friend and colleague, a family man who wasalways a gentleman – humble but very confident.”
“A great man passed this morning,” said Coutinho. “May the gentle giant rest in peace.”
Mr. Brownis survived by his wife, Alita Thompson Brown, seven children, Benita Brown, 43, Donna Smith, 42, and Denessa Brown, 40, all of Queens, N.Y., Dwight Brown Jr., 35 of East Orange, Tavaris Brown, 34 of Newnan, Ga., Terrance Thompson, 21, who is attending Jackson State University in Mississippi and Charles Lester Brown, 20, who is attending Bacone College in Muskcogee, Ok. He also had11 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.
He is also survived by three sisters, Charyl Thompson, 64, of Queens, N.Y., Roberta Stroughton, 56, of Brooklyn, N.Y. and Maryann Stroughton, 45, of Kingston, N.Y.
A viewing is scheduled at the Ayssinian Baptist Church from 5 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Mr. Brown’s funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Wednesday.