Freeholder’s primary is turning into fashion forward event

Photo Courtesy of Jeffrey Cora
From left, Romaine Graham stands with Judge Chandra Cole at Graham’s swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

IRVINGTON, NJ — Newly sworn-in Essex County Freeholder Romaine Graham’s campaign to win the Democratic Party primary on Tuesday, June 4, is shaping up to be a fashion forward campaign, thanks to the custom-designed hooded sweatshirts Mayor Tony Vauss and the rest of her Team Irvington Strong social and political organization teammates have been wearing, which are now the face of her campaign.

The hoodies have Graham’s blond likeness and the words, “I’m with Ro,” on the front, turning her supporters into walking, talking billboards.

“I am with Ro,” said Irvington Board of Education member Jamilah Beasley-McCleod, daughter of D. Bilal Beasley, the deceased council president, county freeholder and Team Irvington social and political organization co-founder, on Monday, March 18. “I’m looking forward to working with her, too. I don’t know if the hoodies are going to be on sale.”

Team Irvington was the forerunner of the Team Irvington Strong organization that counts both Jamilah and Graham as members, as well as Irvington Board of Education member and East Orange employee Melody Scott. Scott said she has her hoodie and that they are on sale to the general public.

“Yes, I have a hoodie,” said Scott on Monday, March 18. “I believe people can purchase them.”

Mayor Tony Vauss, known for his innovative use of social media and traditional media during his successful mayoral run in 2014, understands the concept of marketing and has demonstrated this with the hoodies, saying he’s not done just yet.

“We will be giving out ‘I’m with Ro’ T-shirts next month in April,” said Vauss on Tuesday, March 19.

According to Vauss, Graham was appointed to fill former Essex County Freeholder Lebby Jones Leroy Jones’ seat on the Board of Chosen Freeholders, which had been vacant since her death Wednesday, Jan. 9. Graham was appointed at the Essex County Democratic Committee meeting on Saturday, Feb. 9, during a special vote of representatives from the 22 municipalities that comprise the organization.

Vauss and Graham’s Team Irvington Strong teammates and supporters said they first wore the hoodies to her official swearing-in ceremony at the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

“We came with over 50 people,” said Vauss on Thursday, Feb. 21, at East Orange Mayor Ted Green’s second annual State of the City Address in Cicely Tyson School of the Performing and Fine Arts. “Everybody represented, had their hoodies on that read: ‘I’m with Ro.’ It was just a great evening.”

Freeholder President Brendan Gill agreed with Vauss that the board meeting was a great evening and praised the show of support for Graham.

“I posted my remarks on the freeholder website,” said Gill on Monday, Feb. 25. “I made a joke that I had never seen the sweatshirts before. That was some serious business. They raised the bar. I’m going to have to figure out how to match that or do even better.”

Beasley, Scott and Vauss said they are looking forward to Gill’s efforts to match their support for Graham.

“I’ve got to help Romaine get elected, because they’re supposed to have somebody running against her in the primary election,” said Beasley on Monday, March 18. “I’m going to assist where I can assist.”

Former East Orange Councilman and Code Enforcement Director Dwight Saunders is currently trying to collect enough signatures on nominating petitions to get onto the primary election ballot on Tuesday, June 4, to run against Graham as part of the Essex County Progressive Democrats ticket.

“I’m running for District 3 freeholder at large,” said Saunders on Day Monday, Feb. 18. “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.” Graham said she’s running in the primary to help improve the county and to carry on the legacies of Lebby Jones and D. Bilal Beasley.

“It’s exciting,” said Graham on Thursday, Feb. 21. “Everybody’s on board. Everybody’s excited. I don’t have enough hoodies for everybody, but they’re all ‘With Ro,’ so that’s good.”