EAST ORANGE, NJ — The race to fill the soon-to-be-vacant East Orange 3rd Ward City Council seat currently occupied by City Council Chairman Ted Green — who is running for the post of mayor next week — has heated up in the final days before the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
On Thursday, Oct. 5, the local National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees union endorsed Mayme Robinson, a registered Democrat and the wife of former 3rd Ward Councilman Cliff Robinson. She is running as an independent candidate against Green’s handpicked successor, Board of Education President and fellow Team Green in 2017 and Line A Democratic slate member Bergson Leneus. On Tuesday, Oct. 24, Leneus was endorsed by Local 108 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
On Thursday, Oct. 26, Robinson held her own official 3rd Ward meet-and-greet event at Ephesus Baptist Church on Brookwood Street. Leneus was not invited.
“This forum on Oct. 26 is not a debate,” said Robinson on Tuesday, Oct. 10. “My opponent will not be there. This is my forum to give 3rd Ward residents the opportunity to meet me and ask me questions.”
Although Robinson is a Democrat, her decision to invite only residents in her party who are supporting her may explain why the turnout for her event was low — about a dozen people. That it took place after the RWDSU Local 108 union had already endorsed Leneus and Green could have also contributed to the low turnout.
“The East Orange City Council passes critical legislation that helps our members and we know Bergson Leneus will work with our members to write bills that will help our members live, work and thrive in East Orange,” said the union’s president, Charles N. Hall Jr., on Tuesday, Oct. 24. “We’re ready to get to work on Bergson’s campaign and hit the doors.”
In addition to endorsing Leneus and Green, the union has backed state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Elliot Isibor for state senator and Anthony Romano for mayor of Hoboken. Hall announced the union would “put the full force of our 10,000 members across New Jersey behind these campaigns, to ensure their victories on Nov. 7.”
The RWDSU previously endorsed Phil Murphy for governor and Sheila Oliver for lieutenant governor, both of whom are at the top of the New Jersey Democratic Party’s Line A slate. Line A also includes Green, Leneus and the other Green Team in 2017 members, including: 1st Ward Councilman Chris James, 2nd Ward Councilman Romal Bullock, 4th Ward Councilwoman Tyshammie Cooper and 5th Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman, as well as Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders President Britnee Timberlake, Assemblyman Tom Giblin, Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, Assemblyman Ralph Caputo and the other Democrats in the state running for election or re-election on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
“This slate of endorsed candidates represents the change we need in New Jersey,” Hall said. “As City Council Chairman Ted Green has been serving his community for over 25 years, today we are proud to stand behind him in his bid for mayor of East Orange. Ted has led the fight for legislation and programs that protect homeowners from foreclosure, create job training and apprenticeship programming, and promote criminal justice reform. His work has had a direct impact on our members and now we will have a direct impact on his campaign.”
Robinson agreed with Hall’s assessment of Green and she said as much at her event.
“I don’t have any problem with Ted. I’m going to vote for Ted for mayor on Nov. 7 too, just like everybody else in East Orange,” Robinson said Thursday, Oct. 26. “But I’m going to vote for myself for 3rd Ward councilwoman, because the powers that be said, ‘We could run Mickey Mouse on the line and Mickey Mouse would win.’ So are we Pluto and Minnie? Because what they’re saying is we don’t pay attention, but we’re going to show them. Mickey Mouse is going to learn how to be humble.”
That kind of rhetoric may have endeared Robinson to the local Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees union members who endorsed her. According to Robinson, there are more than 3,000 members of the local 1199J union residing in East Orange and union officials have pledged to have most of them working the phones on her behalf in the final days of the campaign.
“Our union, District 1199J and our Political Action COPE Committee, is pleased to inform you that we have endorsed you candidacy to the East Orange City Council,” said 1199J President Susan Cleary in a letter to Robinson dated Thursday, Oct. 5. “We in District 1199J have pledged our support to you and your campaign to bring about a successful victory and wish you well in your fight.”
According to Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, there are 38,627 registered voters in the city, with 24,996 Democrats, 13,107 unaffiliated and 524 Republicans.
When Green won the Democratic Party primary on Tuesday, June 6, he received more than 90 percent of the vote against challengers John Thompson Jr. and Kenwyn Williams, with 6,215 votes, compared to 661 and 76, respectively, and 10 write-in votes. Leneus received 93.2 percent of the votes cast in the primary for 3rd Ward councilman, getting 1,533 votes cast, with two write-ins.
If Leneus wins, he will be the city’s first-ever Haitian-American councilman. He had no opposition in the primary, as Robinson, a longtime Democrat, is running as an independent.
“I’m excited, yet humbled, to be the first-ever Haitian-American Democratic Party nominee in the great city of East Orange. I owe a lot of gratitude to my parents, who, as immigrants, migrated to East Orange. My parents taught me the value of hard work, Democratic values and seizing opportunity when the moment is available,” said Leneus on Tuesday, Oct. 17. “As someone who was born and raised in East Orange and am raising a family here, I know too well the struggles our families face trying to make ends meet. That is why I am running for council, to lessen the hardships on working people.”