The Way West: Rice, Davis and the future of the Newark Ward

During his State of the West Ward address, Councilman Ron Rice announced that he would not run for a third term, as he was giving thought to running for At-Large.  That announcement created a vacuum; seven possible hopefuls are now vying for the West Ward spot and that’s with just less than 300 days to go.   

Possible candidates include, Joe McCallum, (presently, legislative aide to Councilman Ron Rice) Anton Wheeler, (former aide to Sharpe James), Derrick Dillard, (previous West Ward candidate) Maryam Bey,  (possible team member on mayoral candidate Shavar Jefferies ticket), Kevin Waters, (West Ward Little League coach), Patricia Bradford and newcomer, Rashawn Davis, who announced his candidacy January of this year.

A self-proclaimed pragmatic politician, Rice has become increasingly disenchanted with the fettle of state and local politics.  Of particular concern to him is the ‘super power’ formed by Dem Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s endorsement of Republican Governor Chris Christie’s re-election bid. Rice worries about “the place of grassroots progressive politics and politicians (of which, I am one) in a state where Dems are gravitating toward political machines, calculating power structures that are more concerned with meeting parochial needs than tackling big, transformative change policies.” 

Given Rice’s possible run for an At-Large seat, Booker’s anticipated departure to senate, as well as the North and South seats up for grabs. Rice contends political tides will soon morph into a tsunami of power struggles.

“Many people have the desire to run and I encourage them too, but someone can’t just think they can jump in without doing real public service in the community,” Rice said. “I had to pay my dues and put in work.”

He pointed to the recently elected East Orange Council member, Chris James.

“James worked on elections for free; he put in a lot of time, did a lot of good work and has good will with lots of people,” Rice said. “That’s how it’s done; putting in work, not just showing up one day and saying-I’m going to run.”

Rice said  Rashawn Davis, a West Ward native, called and asked him for  advice, then subsequently shared with the two-term policy wonk that he would be running. Rice said, “Although, I was surprised by his decision, he showed a great deal of respect. The only piece of advice I gave him was on public service and community engagement.” 

While Rice appreciated the shown respect, he voiced reservations about the 20-year-old political-up start.  “He’s ambitious,” said Rice, “respectful and smart, but what has he done to prove his ability to hold a seat? Where’s his record of  community service? Does he understand the budget, economic development or any of the pressing issues affecting Newarkers? It’s important to know the issues and develop a healthy public service record before one decides to run. Given the current state of affairs, there is very little time for on the job training.”

When contemplating his own run for a U.S. Congressional seat then held by the late Donald Payne, Sr., Rice said he contacted Payne. Sr. to discuss his intent. In reply, he was told it was not his time. Rice ignored the elder Payne’s opinion and ran an aggressive race.

Davis, a 20 year old, Georgetown University senior-slated to graduate this December; said, “It is always important to pay homage to the people who came before us. While I respect Rice a great deal, his decision whether he was going to run for the West Ward seat or not, was irrelevant to me.” He went on to say, “I praise him (Rice) for the work he has done, yet he has become complacent, with glaring shortcomings.”  Davis pointed to the proliferation of crime, stating that “the West has been ravaged by crime, especially robberies.” Davis’ mother was recently robbed at gunpoint while going to a bank on South Orange Avenue.

Davis contends that there is not enough vocalization about crime from Rice, nor are  there solvency mechanisms in place to effectively handle those issues.

Rice’s lack of vocalization on some of the West Wards most pertinent concerns,  according to Davis, could best be seen in the case in what he sees as the failed development of West Side High School.

“The proposed development of West Side High school spurred the demolition of West Ward resident homes, for which people are still upset about today,” said the newcomer. Davis holds Rice partially responsible for the lack of continued advocacy regarding the development.

He highlighted the accomplishment of  South Ward Councilman and  Central High School Principal, Ras Baraka.

“Although, I may not fully agree with Councilman Baraka- I can say he fought for the development of Central High School. He activated his base, went to Trenton and and protested for Central High School.”

The School Development Authority (SDA) wrote in a March 23, 2011 report ( that the construction of a new of a 260k sf  West Side High School, along with all of the accoutrement enjoyed in suburban schools, was approved for development by the SDA Board of Directors.  

In anticipation of the proposed development, a number of homeowners were displaced and properties razed, all in an effort to prepare the site for the development.

The SDA has yet to start construction, the SDOE noted budget cuts as a factor for the delay in development.

Well spoken and idealistic, ivy leaguer Rashawn Davis has armed himself with an aggregate of energetic, tech savvy millennials, who he says are committed to Newark and the West Ward.  Davis and his team subscribe to the Obama campaign methodology, a healthy mix of social media and pressing of the flesh. Since the launch of his campaign in January, his Twitter handle @davis4west2014 has grown to about 300, and continues to grow.

When asked “why the West Ward in 2014,” the Vailsburg native said, “Firstly, I didn’t get in this race to appease people, I got in it as a result of what was requested of me. While a student at University High School, I was asked to go out into the world, get a world-class education and come back and serve. My intent is to do just that.  Secondly, millennials account for approximately 33% of West Ward’s population and unfortunately are impacted more severely then any other demographic; namely, in the areas of crime and education. Yet-(we) are not engaged in any meaningful way or represented in any form in the political landscape.”

As for the possibility of joining a mayoral ticker, Davis says while he respects all three candidates, for now, he is running independent. He says the autonomy of his campaign is affording both he and his team the proclivity to develop messaging and strengthen his brand.




The Way West: Rice, Davis and the future of the Newark Ward