Candidates queue up for EO ward seats in primary

Photo by Chris Sykes
Orange Township Code Enforcement Director Khalfani Alleyne, center, is sandwiched by his sons on Thursday, Dec. 6, during the annual Tree-Lighting and Toy Giveaway at City Hall. Alleyne is officially in the race for the open 2nd Ward Council seat.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — The East Orange City Clerk’s Office is expecting a big turnout for nominating petitions this year.

“Folks started picking up petitions early January,” said East Orange city clerk Cynthia Brown on Monday, Feb. 18. “Setting the stage for 2020 is a political question, one I can’t answer. There will be a special election at the primary to fill the unexpired term of Tyshammie Cooper in the 4th Ward, now held by Tameika Garrett-Ward.”

A number of East Orange’s City Council seats will be contested in this year’s Democratic Primary on Tuesday, June 4, because, unlike other New Jersey municipalities, the city has two council seats per ward instead of one, and at large council seats that represent the entire city. This means one council seat from each of the city’s five wards is up for grabs.

“All five seats are up,” Brown said. “Amy Lewis in the 1st Ward. Open 2nd Ward seat, because Councilwoman Jacqueline Johnson is not running for re-election. Open 3rd Ward seat, because Councilwoman Quilla Talmadge not running. Councilman Casim Gomez in the 4th Ward and Councilman Mustafa Brent in the 5th Ward.”

“Sometimes petitions are picked up and not filed,” Brown added, “so we won’t know who the actual candidates are until petitions are filed April 1, at 4 p.m. and certified by me. With the exception of the unexpired terms, all others will have to run in the November general election.”

There are plenty of prospective City Council candidates willing to challenge the East Orange Democratic Committee party line this year.

“I am officially in the race for the open 2nd Ward council seat,” said city resident and Orange Code Enforcement Director Khalfani Alleyne, who ran unsuccessfully in 2017 for the 2nd Ward seat occupied by former Councilman and current city tax assessor Romal Bullock. “I picked up my petitions from East Orange City Hall on Feb. 4. I’m running for 2nd Ward council seat because I am part of six generations of family that have come up in and through East Orange.”

Royston Allman, a 2013 candidate for the 5th Ward City Council seat who is  a member of the Ampere Parkway Civic Association, said he picked up petitions to run in the primary and was out campaigning in the 5th Ward on Presidents Day.

On Monday, Feb. 18, Allman, the “Change Makers” radio show host, said, “We need a change, and not just any change, but a change for the better in East Orange. Right now, there’s one man and one political organization running East Orange, and we need to change that. We need to open the electoral and election process back up to the people and the voters in the community. People need to have a choice, to be able to choose who they want to elect to represent them and their interests, and that’s why I’m running for the 5th Ward city council seat.”

Neither Gomez nor Brent could be reached for comment about their bids for council re-election but Talmadge this week officially announced that, after more than 20 years of representing her 3rd Ward constituents, she will not seek re-election.

“I am not running for re-election,” said Talmadge on Monday, Feb. 18. “I’m supporting Vernon Pullins.”

Pullins, a member of the East Orange Board of Education, could not be reached for comment by press time this week.

“This is my 20th year serving the city and I’ve been involved long before that,” said Johnson on Monday, Feb. 18. “I’m not going out of the picture. I’ll be there to help Chris James and … Chris Awe. I’m getting toward that age, Social Security is right around the corner. I’m retiring this year. City Council is something that you learn something new every day.”

Johnson said she knows who she wants to succeed her as the 2nd Ward council representative, along with 2nd Ward Councilman Chris Awe.

“I’m supporting Brittany Claybrooks. She’s not in it for the title. She’s got some skills the city needs,” Johnson said. “I was Jackie Johnson long before I got the councilwoman’s title. I can hope that I served and did my council justice. I’m not turning my seat over to just any old person. I’m still going to be involved and it’s going to be an exciting time. I told the chairman I’ll mentor them as much as I can.”

Johnson said she has plenty of experience mentoring new council members and helping them become acclimated to life on the council and representing their constituents. In the last five years, she has broken in two new council partners — first Bullock, then Awe — and now she will focus on helping Claybrooks’ campaign.

“Romal, we talk almost every day,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t end, because you have a life before this and a life after this. I’m not your partner, just because we got to some meetings. If it’s going to work, then that’s how it should work. I’m going to work as hard as I can for the person that I think can and will serve this ward well.”

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