EAST ORANGE, NJ — Councilman Chris Awe was able to remove the word “interim” before his title when he was officially sworn in as the new 2nd Ward councilman on Monday, Nov. 19, in Council Chambers. He had won the local special election on Tuesday, Nov. 6, to finish the remaining three years of the term of his predecessor, former 2nd Ward Councilman Romal Bullock.
Bullock won re-election to a second term as part of Mayor Ted Green’s successful Team Green in 2017 ticket. When he was sworn in Monday, Jan. 1, he was named council chairman.
But Bullock decided to take on the role of city tax assessor, so he resigned from the council, effective Saturday, June 30. Shortly after that, East Orange Democratic Committee and Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones appointed Awe as the interim 2nd Ward councilman, with the stipulation that he would run in the special election this month to fill out the remaining three years of Bullock’s second term.
Awe won the election with 2,849 votes or 99.93 percent of the votes cast. There were also two write-in votes.
Awe said he’s proud to be representing his 2nd Ward constituents on the City Council and humbled to be the first Nigerian-American elected official in East Orange history. He also had to go right to work, since he was sworn in at 3 p.m. and had to participate in his first post-election council meeting at 5 p.m. that same day.
“I’m humbled, I’m excited, I’m ready. Let’s work,” said Awe, whose name is pronounced ah-way, Monday, Nov. 19. “There’s no lapse and no downtime. We’ve got a lot of work to do, so let’s get to work.”
Awe’s council colleagues said that’s the work ethic they have come to expect from their “junior” member. In fact, 3rd Ward Councilwoman Quilla Talmadge, who previously served multiple consecutive terms as council chairman, said Awe has already earned a distinction even her longtime 3rd Ward council partner, Green, never achieved prior to becoming mayor.
“This is my next door neighbor, in terms of our council seating. He’s my snack partner,” said Talmadge on Monday, Nov. 19. “I’m happy to be able to pass my wisdom along to the younger group, so anytime he needs me, as I said, I’m there to try to answer questions and do whatever I can do. But Chris is very capable. He’s going to hit the ground running, because he knows government, because he’s been around. He’s been working on the county committee for years.”
“I’ve known him most of his life,” said Awe’s 2nd Ward council partner, Councilwoman Jacqueline Johnson, on Monday, Nov. 19. “It doesn’t make any difference now. It’s not more of the same; it’s all better. Chris is capable. He knows, he’s been there and we have a unique kind of a relationship. We know each other so it’s not going to be hard.”
According to 5th Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman, Awe has already proven he has what it takes to be a successful councilman in the short time he served in an interim capacity.
“Whenever I can help lend assistance, I do,” said Holman on Monday, Nov. 19. “It’s nothing new to Councilman Awe. He’s already been a public servant as a county committee person, so he’s just going on to the next level to serve his community, as he does. Any assistance that I can lend, then I’m willing to do that. And the roles reverse sometimes, because I may need some information from him. We have a good relationship, so I can receive it. So it works, hand in hand.”
“It’s the demographics of who we are and what we’ve always been,” said Johnson. “It’s not new. It’s always been this way.”
Councilman Awe’s father, Evangelist Emmanuel Awe, agreed and said he is very proud to be the father of East Orange’s first Nigerian-American elected official. He said his son is “a chip from the old tree,” and proof that the old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is true. He added that much of his son’s success and many of his accomplishments in life to date are due to the efforts of their East Orange extended family.
“I’m very, very proud of him and we thank God for helping us this far,” said Evangelist on Monday, Nov. 19. “By the grace of God, he’s going to continue to make progress politically and in leadership and education and helping the people of East Orange. He grew up in this city and he loves this city and he’s promised to continue to do his best, so that the city can continue to rebound and continue to progress economically and in all other facets.”
Awe said he’s humbled to have made history in the city, but he’s focused on doing the job his 2nd Ward constituents elected him to do.
“We want to make sure that all the entities and government keep us in mind, keep our people in mind, keep the youth in mind, young professionals in mind, keep the seniors in mind,” said Awe. “We want to try to alleviate some quality-of-life stuff, like our parking issues. We’re doing a big push to bring public art into all our public spaces here and have some more activities for our kids. So we’re off and running.”