Chairman re-elected at EO City Council’s annual reorganization

Photo by Chris Sykes
From left, East Orange Recreation Department Director Renee Muhammad and 2nd Ward Councilman Chris Awe direct visitor traffic inside the busy City Hall rotunda on Thursday, Dec. 6, during the annual Tree-Lighting and Toy Giveaway at City Hall. Awe was elected to council on Tuesday, Nov. 6, along with incumbent Chairman and 1st Ward Councilman Chris James and Tameika Garrett-Ward.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — At the East Orange City Council’s annual reorganization meeting in Council Chambers on Tuesday, Jan. 1, incumbent council Chairman and 1st Ward Councilman Chris James was re-elected chairman, although not with a co-leader yet, said city clerk Cynthia Brown.

“The vice chair was not elected,” said Brown on Tuesday, Jan. 2. “That will be done at a subsequent meeting.”

James could not be reached for comment about his re-election by press time this week.

“The vice chair won’t be determined until next council meeting on Jan. 14,” clarified Kaylan Jones, of the City Council Office, on Tuesday, Jan. 2.

The council also welcomed a new member at this year’s reorganization, as East Orange and Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones selected Tameika Garrett-Ward to replace incumbent 4th Ward Councilwoman Tyshammie Cooper, who stepped down from her council seat after winning a seat on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders in the November general election. According to Brown, Garrett-Ward will now have to “run at a special election at the June primary election.”

This is what 2nd Ward Councilman Chris Awe did after Jones chose him to replace former 2nd Ward Councilman Romal Bullock, who stepped down from his seat last year to take over as the city’s new tax assessor.

“The 4th Ward councilwoman is Tameika Garrett-Ward,” said Brown. “She was selected by the Democratic County Committee.”

Last year, Jones appointed Awe to replace Bullock after he won re-election to a second consecutive term as the 2nd Ward councilman in the 2017 municipal election, as part of Mayor Ted Green’s successful Team Green in 2017 ticket. Bullock was sworn into his second term at the reorganization on Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, and his council colleagues chose him to serve as council chairman.

But then Bullock decided to trade-in his 2nd Ward seat to become the city’s new tax assessor, resigning from both offices, effective Saturday, June 30. Shortly after that, Jones appointed Awe as the interim 2nd Ward councilman, with the stipulation that he would have to run in the special election Tuesday, Nov. 6, to fill the remaining three years of Bullock’s term. Awe won with 2,849 votes or 99.93 percent of the votes cast. There were also two write-in votes.

Awe is the East Orange’s first Nigerian-American elected official. And 3rd Ward Councilman Bergson Leneus is the city’s first Haitian-American elected official. Leneus won his seat by running on Green’s mayoral ticket, filling Green’s council seat when he became mayor.

Awe was officially sworn in as 2nd Ward councilman on Monday, Nov. 19, to finish the remaining three years of Bullock’s term. This was his first reorganization.

“I think, when you talk about the mayor’s remarks during the reorganization meeting, the principles of Kwanzaa is something that we embrace here and that’s why we’re here,” said Awe on Tuesday, Jan. 1, during the city’s official observance of the last day of Kwanzaa. “And so, that last principle of faith, we’re all here on faith and success, and that’s why we’re committed to this city. So it’s a beautiful thing.”

“It’s a pleasure. It’s always enlightening to be on this side of the rail, after all the years of being on the other side of the rail,” said Awe, whose name is pronounced “Ah-Way.” “But everyone that’s been on this side of the rail has been on the other side of the rail, so we know what it takes to be a resident here and the issues and we take it personal. So that’s how we legislate, that’s how we lead, that’s how we commit ourselves to the city.”

Garrett-Ward also had her first taste of representing the 4th Ward when she, Awe, and her 4th Ward council partner, Councilman Casim Gomez, represented the governing body at the Kwanzaa celebration, and formally welcomed everyone to the event.