NEWARK – Surfacing nearly everywhere with a smile and a handshake, eyes twinkling with an awareness of the absurd rigors of politics, Councilman Carlos Gonzalez seeks re-election as that at-large candidate of the Booker Team who in 2006 won with the smallest vote total.
“On Tuesday, we’re going to bring this ship in to port,” he tells a crowd of South Warders on Saturday, sparing them the longer speeches prized by others with a fever for the spotlight.
“We’re ready to land this airplane.”
An attorney and the husband of Booker Deputy Mayor Margarita Muniz, Gonzalez, a late bloomer in Newark politics, this year faces his toughest challenge from John Sharpe James, son of former Mayor Sharpe James.
Other incumbents possess their own own proven political organizations or family institutional background separate from Booker.
North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos holds an administrative job at the county and counts himself a member of the vaunted North Ward Democratic Organization; At-Large Councilman Donald Payne, Jr. is the son of a congressman; Councilman Ronald C. Rice the scion of a state senator; Council President Mildred Crump and At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana built their bases over years in office; so did East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador and Central Ward Councilman Charles Bell. While South Ward Councilman Oscar James II is most reliant on the mayor’s deep campaign coffers, his father, Oscar James senior, has his political roots in the Sharpe James era.
Otherwise bereft of deep political ties – the consequence of not having been connected to government for as long as the others – Gonzalez runs this year with the particularly amped up backing of the mayor.
“The handsomest member of the council,” gushes Booker of his equally bald legislative counterpart.
The Booker-Gonzalez alliance includes the organizational prowess of Booker Campaign Manager Pablo Fonseca, who projects confidence in a Gonzalez victory over James.
That’s not to say there have not been messaging challenges.
Intent on proving the power of his name in this election as a springboard to a future run for mayor, Ramos seeks domination of the North Ward, where both he and Gonzalez reside. The consequence is Ramos blotting out the North with his own brand.
But if Gonzalez can’t gain optical parity with the more visibly energetic Ramos, and his allies remain alert to the fact that James and Ramos both work for Essex County and are friendly in the nexus of old school power-sharing, Fonseca trusts in a massive, targeted GOTV effort citywide for both Booker – and Gonzalez.
Alone in the Ironbound as he campaigns, James admits he doesn’t have the money or the pinpoint politics of Fonseca, but believes the affections of Newarkers for his father – and their disaffection with the mayor – will sink the Booker-symbiotic Gonzalez.