EAST ORANGE, NJ — Former Essex County Freeholder Carol Clark has joined forces with former code enforcement director Dwight Saunders to run for two countywide elected positions in the Democratic Party primary on Tuesday, June 4. Both formerly served as council members.
Clark intends to run for the office of county registrar and Saunders will run for Essex County freeholder at large in District 3.
“Carol picked up our nominating petitions already,” said Saunders on Monday, Feb. 18. Cynthia Brown, the city clerk, confirmed this.
Best known for transforming the city’s Code Enforcement Department into an efficient, revenue-generating entity during his four years as director for former Mayor Lester Taylor, Saunders added, “I’m running for District 3 freeholder at large. I will focus on the issues that have an impact on everyday lives of Essex County residents, including promote greater civic engagement; road safety and transportation infrastructure; improving transportation safety; more money for bridge rehabilitation and county roadways to ensure optimal accessibility and safety; supporting excellence and efficiency in law enforcement, schools, community colleges and regional infrastructure planning; lowering taxes through shared services with neighboring towns; being responsive to my constituents; supporting a 2 percent tax levy cap; focusing on parks, recreation and open space; supporting the county ban on unnecessary release of toxins into the air; and supporting legislation on federal revenue sharing policies to get more governmental aid to Essex County.”
Saunders also said he wants to “help make Essex County a great place to live, work and raise a family.”
On Monday, Feb. 18, Saunders said, “I did throw my hat into the ring for registrar of mortgages and deeds. That is an open seat. The current registrar is not going to be seeking re-election. I’m not expecting that the Democratic Party is going to come offering that seat to me. There’s no expectation and that’s fine.”
Former Newark Councilwoman Dana Rone is the current county registrar but, according to Clark, will not seek re-election.
“It’s a very small ballot this year,” Clark said. “There are really only five spots being contested. In East Orange, there are only five slots, including the unexpired freeholder at large, because of Lebby Jones’ death. The only reason there are six seats being contested in the 4th Ward is because Councilwoman (Tyshammie) Cooper was selected to fill Brittany Timberlake’s old freeholder seat.”
Clark said Jones’ death and Timberlake’s appointment to fill former Assemblywoman and current Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver’s vacant seat have led to a domino effect, when it comes to open seats in East Orange and Essex County.
“When the election for Timberlake’s seat was held and Tyshammie won,” said Clark, “They swore her in in January. Now Brittany is running in earnest for her Assembly seat.”
Clark said she and Saunders are heading up a full slate of candidates.
“We’re putting together a ticket,” Clark said. “Of course, Dwight and I will be running countywide, because the two county seats are up. In order for us to be bracketed in East Orange, we will need to have a banner to run under and a ticket, so that’s why we’re putting it together.”
Both Clark and Saunders said they are challenging the East Orange and Essex County Democratic committees and Chairman Leroy Jones because of their recent political dominance in elections.
“The main thing is people need to have a choice,” she said. “The seats for elected office have been being selected and there’s really not a whole lot of democratic process going on. What happens, when you play musical seats the way it’s been happening, you get to put people in place without an election and that person is able to function in that position until the election and it puts a chilling effect on would-be contenders.”
Clark said she and Saunders are running in 2019 to add some heat to the elections.
“We’re giving it a shot,” said Clark. “It’s tough when you have to run against party candidates like that. Running countywide is tough. It’s a tough race. But hey, if we can be of assistance and help some local candidates, that is good as well.”
“I’m actually excited about putting my name out there,” continued Clark. “I think I have a really good rapport with people in Orange, East Orange, Newark, Irvington and other parts of the county. The one thing that I’m excited about is, it’s not about being contentious.”
Clark said she is looking forward to running for an elected public office again. The last time did so was in 2013, when she ran a mayoral campaign against incumbent East Orange Mayor Robert Bowser in a crowded field of contenders, including local businessman Kevin Taylor.
Attorney Lester Taylor got the nod from Jones and ran for mayor at the top of the East Orange Democratic Committee ticket in 2013 and won. Four years later, Clark and Kevin Taylor united behind council Chairman and 3rd Ward Councilman Ted Green’s run for mayor and helped him get elected mayor in 2017.
Now Clark is teaming up with Saunders and other prospective East Orange City Council candidates, including Royston Allman, again challenging the regular city and county Democratic Party line. She said, regardless of the outcome, she plans to enjoy the race, which might be her last.
“We’re going to enjoy this campaign,” Clark said. “It’s important to enjoy talking to your neighbors and friends and everybody. The whole idea of giving people a choice is exciting. We need to bring some excitement back. This business of appointing people is undemocratic and we’re all Democrats and the process is in a primary election. That’s when you choose which candidate will represent the entire party. They want to make it seem like it’s a foregone conclusion, but it’s not. It’s not decided until we have an election and people get to cast their votes for their candidates of choice.”