Sole black Democratic candidate for governor attends P.O.P. meeting

NEWARK, NJ — On Thursday, May 4, Jim Johnson of Montclair, a former U.S. Treasury official and the only black candidate for governor in the Democratic Party primary set for Tuesday, June 6, became the fourth candidate to appear at a meeting of the People’s Organization for Progress at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Newark.

During his visit to ask the grassroots social and economic justice activist group for its support, Johnson answered a variety of questions regarding police brutality, economic empowerment, criminal justice reform and more. Johnson’s opponents, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Assemblyman Raymond Lesniak and Phil Murphy, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany and Goldman Sachs executive, had done the same during their own appearances at P.O.P. meetings.

“I was surprised by how well he did when he came to speak to our group,” said P.O.P. Chairman Larry Hamm on Tuesday, May 9. “He even came prepared and specifically addressed several of the issues and items from our Black Agenda and I was impressed by that, too. He proved that he is a viable candidate running for governor, just like everybody else, not just some guy from Montclair that’s running for the state’s highest office, just because the law says he can run.”

Hamm said he also discovered a personal connection to Johnson, although he added it won’t have any influence over whether the group decides to endorse him.

“His mother is a very famous and accomplished pianist, who also taught piano lessons to students, and it turns out that my daughters, who took piano lessons, were once her students, but I didn’t know she was his mother,” Hamm said. “It just goes to show you how small the world really is. But the group hasn’t met yet to discuss who we are going to endorse for governor as an organization, even though I individually am supporting Wisniewski, because of his legislative record and the fact that he was the chairman of Sen. Bernie Sanders 2016 Presidential Campaign in New Jersey and I was a delegate for Sanders.”

According to Hamm, the P.O.P. Black Agenda for New Jersey is “the lists of things that we want our governor and our state legislators to do, once we send them to Trenton.” He said it’s not a formal party platform, because the People’s Organization for Progress is not a specific political party today, but it will be a platform the group can present to the political parties, because the political parties are fielding candidates that want their endorsement and their votes.

This is why several gubernatorial candidates have made a point of coming to meetings of the People’s Organization for Progress.

According to Ron Brown, the group’s vice chairman, it was good to have the one black gubernatorial candidate come to discuss the group’s Black Agenda.

“Johnson had a lot of good ideas, as did some of the other people who are running for governor,” said Brown on Monday, May 8, at the People’s Organization for Progress’s 67th consecutive Justice Monday outside the Peter Rodino federal building in downtown Newark. “I would say that Johnson was well taken by the group that was there. We haven’t voted on who we are going to endorse yet, but he has as good a chance as anybody else.”

Brown also said he was personally impressed by Johnson’s grasp of the group’s Black Agenda.

“When he gave us his history, a lot of the things that we were talking about, he had already addressed before he was even running for governor in other positions that he’s had, through the years,” said Brown. “Without a doubt, it’s an uphill battle for him. … anything could happen on primary day. Anything could happen. We’ll just have to see.”