Darrin Sharif, son of veteran political operative Carl Sharif, tonight defeated incumbent Central Ward Councilman Charles Bell by 25 votes.
Unofficial machine totals with 32 of 32 Central Ward districts reporting show Sharif with 2,328 and Bell with 2,308 votes.
The challenger grew his lead by five votes after a tally of absentee ballots, according to the Essex County Clerk.
Bell’s defeat tonight occured despite his having the backing of the Central Ward Democratic Committee, the North Ward Democratic Organization and North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos and, most significantly, Mayor Cory Booker.
Insiders knew it would be a long night when absentee ballots showed Sharif with a small edge – 46-41. The drama of a close contest intensified with Sharif up and 31 of the ward’s 32 districts reporting when a voter in District 29 voted, then went back into the booth to vote again, prompting Sheriff’s officers to case the scene.
Essex Clerk Chris Durkin said 59 provisional ballots are outstanding, a mass of votes likley divided between both men.
For the moment, Sharif stands supreme in the Central Ward.
Booker’s chief of staff from 1998 to 2000 and the 48-year old director of operations for the Urban League of Essex County, and his father – disagreed with Booker’s decision to back Sharpe James era relic Bell instead of selecting a Central Ward candidate from within his inner circle.
The Sharifs had also bickered with the Booker administration over communications strategies. After his father secured one big money contract from the Booker administration, Sharif’s older brother lost a key bid the Sharifs argue would have improved the mayor’s branding in the neighborhoods.
Tweaked by Booker last year when he sank as Senate President and reached out – to no avail – for the mayor’s help, and perpetually harrassed politically by Adubato and company, state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Roseland) backed Sharif.
Bell, a retried labor labor whom the remnants of the James machine plucked off the golf course to run for Dana Rone’s vacant Central Ward seat in 2008, beat Booker’s candidate, then gradually worked his way – always old school – into the affections of Booker and his public allies on the governing body.
Booker’s decision last year to run in 2010 with Bell on his ticket infuriated grassroots Booker organizers and operatives who had long jockeyed for a chance to shine as representative of the mayor’s former home ward.
The councilman’s defeat tonight gives the mayor in this cycle a final record of 8-2.
Booker and seven other incumbents won re-election, as first South Ward Councilman Oscar James II – and now Bell – lost.