NEWARK – He has a new office, been there for two months, up on Mount Prospect Avenue, where he’s settling in as the at-large councilman again after serving as interim mayor.
It was a tough eight months.
But veteran At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana insists on being positive.
He has numerous keepsakes on the walls: the portrait of his mother, the shoe shine box he used as an immigrant child on the streets of his beloved Newark, the bust of Abe Lincoln, the American Flag U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) presented to him when he became mayor, the photo of a girl suffering from cancer, the woman he proudly promoted to police chief, the picture of him with former Mayor Ken Gibson.
The city’s struggling.
He felt it when he was mayor.
“The greatest pain I felt as mayor was being told ‘you can’t,’” he said. “You’re at the mercy of the state.”
That’s where Newark is now, with Mayor Ras Baraka, and, in Quintana’s view, too much infighting, from the governor’s office to City Hall – as the average homeowner anticipates a tax increase from $5,082 last year to $5,333 as a consequence of the 2014 budget.
Gov. Chris Christie and Baraka have a stark difference of opinion on education, with the former committed to Superintendent Cami Anderson and her charter-heavy One Newark Plan, and Baraka entrenched in his opposition.
Quintana says the governor needs to come to Newark to sit down with Baraka and elected officials – similar to the way he went to Atlantic City.
“We need to have a summit,” said the councilman. “We need to get all the stakeholders together, identify the problem, and solve it.”
Right now, he said, people are nursing too much hurt tied up with the last mayoral election, and too often assessing others according to where they stood in that epic contest.
“It’s time to move on,” said Quintana. “We had the election. It’s over. If we don’t get past this politicis, it’s going to hurt us all. It cannot be about criticizing each other. We must all come together and say, ‘Governor, we need your help.’ We need more aid than what’s been proposed – $13 million. We need to look at our current problems in the context of 140 police officers getting laid off two or three years ago, and hundreds of employee positions eliminated. Let’s not blame each other. We gotta end it – and we gotta put a happy end to it.
“We need more rubber boots and rubber tires on the streets,” he added. “We don’t need to be caught up in ‘he didn’t support me, and he did support me.’”
PolitickerNJ asked Quintana if he foresees Baraka summoning a slate to challenge the imcumbent legislators next year.
“It’s too early to say,” he said. “I just hope everything that’s done is done in such a way as to help Newarkers. I will say this. I have run in primaries against the party. You can be the most popular person in the world, but partisan elections are very different from municipal elections. They’re a totally different tool. Line A is a brand. This is machine politics. You go to the supermarket and buy Gatorade, you don’t buy the supermarket brand. That’s Line A in a Democratic Primary. I see it as very difficult to beat the machine. I know. I ran for senate in 2007. People feel protected by the brand.
“I don’t see a contest primary happening,” added Quintana.
The councilman throughout this morning’s interview noted his pride in only holding one job.
PolitickerNJ asked him if he’s worried about his colleagues on the council holding jobs with Essex County.
He’s not, he said.
“Objectively what I’ve seen is those council people who work for the county do what they want to do,” he said. “I’ve always seen that. I can only say I hope they continue their independence.
“I bow to no man,” the councilman added, eyeing his Japanese fighting fish on the corner of his desk.
“If we were in there together, we would fight each other, but this way, he looks at me, and I look at him, and we’re not lonely,” Quintana added, with a smile. “We keep each other company.”