EAST ORANGE, NJ — The Presidential Heights Community Association will host a debate on Monday, April 22, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the New Vision Full Gospel Baptist Church, 209 4th Ave., East Orange, for the candidates vying for the 5th Ward seat on the East Orange City Council in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, June 4.
“We’re waiting for the filings to be made on April 1, before we send out notifications, but I wanted to give the community a heads up on this,” Geoffrey Burbage, the Presidential Heights Community Association secretary and executive board member, said Tuesday, March 19. “This is something we’ve always done to give the community an opportunity to hear the candidates speak on the issues important to them. We do not endorse any candidates through this organization.”
According to city clerk Cynthia Brown, 5th Ward Councilman Mustafa Brent and Royston Allman, an Ampere Civic Improvement Association member and “Change Makers” radio show host, filed petitions in her office before the deadline of Monday, April 1, to run for the seat Brent currently occupies.
Brent is running for re-election as part of the Green Team in 2019 ticket, with support from the East Orange Democratic Committee and the Essex County Democratic Committee, both led by Chairman Leroy Jones. The other members of the Green Team in 2019 slate are: 1st Ward Councilwoman Amy Lewis, 4th Ward Councilman Casim Gomez and 4th Ward Councilwoman Tameika Garrett-Ward, and challengers Brittany Claybrooks in the 2nd Ward and East Orange Board of Education member Vernon Pullins in the 3rd Ward.
According to Rasheida Smith, the Green Team in 2019 campaign manager, the candidates all filed petitions with Brown’s office on Monday, March 25.
“The Green Team in ‘19 candidates for East Orange City Council are excited to have collectively filed almost 4,000 petition signatures,” said Smith on Monday, March 25. “Each signature represents a resident that has expressed their issues, concerns and hopes for East Orange.”
Allman is trying to unseat Brent as part of the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket organized by former East Orange Councilwoman and Essex County Freeholder Carol Clark and former East Orange Councilman and city Code Enforcement Director Dwight Saunders, who are both seeking elected positions in the county level of government. Clark is running for the county register of deeds post currently occupied by former Newark Councilwoman Dana Rone, while Saunders is running for the Lebby Jones’ former seat on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, currently occupied by former Irvington Board of Education President Romaine Graham.
“I got my petitions in last week,” said Allman on Thursday, March 28. “We will send in additional petitions on Monday, April 1, as a team.”
On Wednesday, April 3, Allman announced that the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket had received an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ national political organization. Sanders unsuccessfully challenged former U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the national Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2016 and is currently seeking the 2020 nomination.
“We have been endorsed by ‘Our Revolution’ of Essex County, which is a national organization of progressives,” said Allman on Wednesday, April 3. “The organization was born from Bernie Sanders’ movement.”
Burbage also said the Presidential Heights Community Association members organized the debate because they are East Orange stakeholders with a vested interest in the city. East Orange votes overwhelmingly Democratic in partisan elections, like much of Essex County and New Jersey, so the winner of the party’s primary usually wins the general election in November.
This is why Burbage, as well as John English and Tom Puryear, the president and vice president, respectively, of the Presidential Heights Community Association, said it was important for the group to host a debate for the 2019 Democratic Party primary. They said now is the time for East Orange stakeholders in the 5th Ward — and throughout the city — to voice their concerns.
Puryear is also the current president of the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP and will serve as the moderator of the Presidential Heights Community Association debate on Monday, April 22.
“Taxes, redevelopment, crime are some of the issues that we’re looking at,” said Burbage. “Debate questions are provided through us and we take some audience questions as well. The PHCA usually has representatives at the community meetings. Nothing else to contribute at this time. Additional topics for questions are being developed as we speak.”
“The block association has a desire to make sure the public has a chance to meet the candidates and get as much information about them and from them as we can,” said Puryear on Tuesday, April 9. “This is the 5th Ward and we need to know about the incumbent and also the challenger, so that we can make an informed decision about who should represent us for the next four years. We are a community organization and we’re concerned about the current development and future development of our community and our city.”
“We will be developing questions for submission over the next few days,” continued Puryear. “The only criteria we will use is no ‘gotcha questions’ from members of the audience that are specifically tailored and targeted to one particular candidate. Questions will be able to be answered by both candidates. The questions from the audience will be screened, to make sure they meet our requirements.”