It comes down to this in the highly anticipated Ras Baraka versus Shavar Jeffries mayoral tilt: North versus South puts the Central Ward in play – in a dramatic way.
Below find a ward by ward breakdown of Newark’s five Election Day-primed wards with seven days to go before Election Day.
There was some debate within the Baraka campaign about what to do with the north. There were those who advanced the argument that it would be better to let it go to sleep, and there were those who argued that they needed to field a candidate and run head on at the fortress of power – the political schoolyard of North Ward leader Steve Adubato Sr. and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and their acolytes: Divincenzo Chief of Staff Phil Alagia; state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) and North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos. The Baraka camp ended up running candidate Luis Lopez, who’s run harder than he should have in the belly of the beast, say gleeful North Ward sources. Even a Baraka source concedes that “The North Ward is on fire right now.” Every little campaign wrinkle turns into a slight, every slight becomes an outrage: the fact that Baraka was audacious enough to field a candidate in the North; the challenge to the legitimacy on the Elections board of Fran Adubato; etc. Baraka is confident that the North cannot produce the 9,000-voter overdrive result it did in the heyday of North Ward darling Cory Booker, who had $1 million to spend to help achieve that result. Baraka sources say they’ve done sufficient organizing to lose 2-1 here, but if it moves to a 3-1 loss and they get a chunk taken out of them in the South, that’s trouble. North Ward sources say they are confident in a highly motivated North Ward incumbent Councilman Ramos, who knows the vaunted empire will look weak without a strong effort. He’s endorsed Jeffries. Even if it turns out to be a low turnout election, the Adubato organization feels very confident of a 4,000-vote plurality here.
It’s a little complicated, maybe a little more than it should be for the liking of Jeffries allies. Baraka has some allies who talk here in the Ironbound section of town, and he’s penetrated the black neighborhoods and the city senior citizen centers. Baraka forces can eat a 2-1 loss here in the ward run by Joe Parlavecchio and company who are aligned with Adubato – provided Baraka scores big elsewhere.
Almost everyone agrees that this will be the battleground ward. The north and south conceivably cancel each other out, making this sprawling no-man’s land the Stalingrad of Newark next Tuesday. Adubato’s acolytes have organized 13 northern Latino districts in the Central Ward, and feel confident of the work of Blonnie Watson, the retiring Freeholder Director and longtime party member. The problem for both sides is that few are convinced that either Central Ward Council candidate running with the rival mayoral candidates is the strongest person on the undercard, whether it be Andre Speight on Team Jeffries, or Gayle Cheneyfield Jenkins on Team Baraka. Most see incumbent Councilman Darrin Sharif as the strongman of the ward – and he’s unaffiliated. In a ward where the battle lines are so stark, Sharif going all in to one ticket or the other might have made the difference in this mayor’s race, but his public neutrality leaves open more dramatic possibilities. He’s not been a fan of Baraka in the past, but there’s also family trouble (his father is the chief campaign strategist for Jeffries). Team Baraka is confident in the GOTV energy of a handful of “monster” women who have the required senior citizen buildings on lockdown for the South Ward councilman. But a continuing air war leveled at Cheneyfield Jenkins could rattle Ras. Turnout models in both camps project 9,000 to 10,000 voters coming out on Election Day in this most-watched ward.
This will be a strong ward for Baraka for many reasons. The elected leadership of the ward is united behind Baraka (state Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28); Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-28), county Freeholder Rufus Johnson, ward county committeemen and women and West Ward councilman Ronald C. Rice). Even 70% or more of candidates running for the ward seat besides Team Baraka’s candidate Joe McCallum still support Baraka, according to the younger Rice. The councilman told PolitickerNj that a few of his West Ward community leadership team support Jeffries, but it is about 30% of those leaders, he said. Jeffries allies are banking, however, on low voter turnout in a ward where the Rices have routinely proved to have little coattail power and where the school board election results showed more apathy than the less populated East Ward.
Baraka won his council seat here and occupies a throne of grassroots political power. But there are complications for the candidate that suggest potential areas for Jeffries – also a South Ward resident – to make gains. The first is the engagement on behalf of Jeffries by U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10). After watching his late father absorb several punishing local political losses, Payne is engaged and has something to prove in his home ward. Running on the Baraka ticket as the South Ward Council candidate, the much sought-after John Sharpe James (son of former Mayor Sharpe James) has obvious name ID and the advantage of incumbency as the sitting At-Large Councilman. But popular coach Brian Logan is on the Jeffries ticket and – by all accounts – working hard – harder than Lopez in the North. With the exception of Jeffries’ North Ward ally, former mayoral candidate Ramos, no other candidate has created as much buzz as Logan, whom Team Jeffries see as their key secret weapon that will help prevent a Baraka overrun of the South. In a reversal of how North Ward operatives aligned with Jeffries see Lopez, however, Baraka allies see Logan simply putting their own troops in overdrive. The same rules apply as in the north: Baraka wins the south 2-1, he could lose with high voter turnout in the North; he wins 3-1 and he puts the contest away. Baraka sources project a big turnout here – 12,000 to 14,000 votes.