East Orange’s 4th Ward City Council race heats up

EAST ORANGE, NJ — The race for East Orange City Council’s 4th Ward between Councilman Casim Gomez Sr., Councilwoman Tameika Garrett-Ward and challenger Patrick Reid, who is president of the East Orange Chamber of Commerce and the Jamaican Organization of New Jersey, is shaping up to be the most competitive contest in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, June 4.

East Orange is unlike most municipal governments in New Jersey that follow the Faulkner Act, in which the mayor and city council seats use a ward and at-large system, with the mayor and at-large candidates running for election and then the ward candidates running two years later. In East Orange, however, there is a 10-member City Council composed of two representatives from each of the city’s five wards, instead of a system of single ward members and an odd number of at large members that represent the interests of the entire city, not just ward constituents’ concerns.

Without the at-large seats, both the East Orange mayorship and five ward seats were contested in 2017, with six City Council ward seats up for grabs in the June primary.

According to city clerk Cynthia Brown and Essex County clerk Chris Durkin, East Orange overwhelmingly supports the Democratic Party, meaning whichever candidates win the primary and are endorsed by the East Orange Democratic Committee and Essex County Democratic Committee, both led by Chairman Leroy Jones, and they will almost assuredly win the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

The members of the Green Team in 2019, all of which are backed by Mayor Ted Green, Jones and both the East Orange and Essex County Democratic committees, are: 1st Ward Councilwoman Amy Lewis, the 4th Ward’s Gomez and Garrett-Ward, and 5th Ward Councilman Mustafa Brent, along with challengers 2nd Ward candidate Brittany Claybrooks and 3rd Ward candidate Vernon Pullins, who is still serving on the East Orange Board of Education, pending the outcome of the primary.

Brown said the sixth seat being contested is Garrett-Ward’s 4th Ward seat, because both 4th Ward council seats are in play. Gomez is running for re-election to his second consecutive four-year term in office and Garrett-Ward is running to finish out the remainder of former 4th Ward Councilman Tyshammie Cooper’s term.

Last year, Jones appointed Cooper to fill the seat of former Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders President Britnee Timberlake, who had been asked to fill Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver’s seat after she was elected lieutenant governor under Gov. Phil Murphy. Garret-Ward was sworn in New Year’s Day this year.

“The 4th Ward Councilwoman is Tameika Garrett-Ward,” said Brown on Wednesday, Jan. 2. “She was selected by the Democratic County Committee. Yes, she will have to run at a special election at the June primary election.”

Reid said that because Gomez and Garrett-Ward are both running for re-election to their separate 4th Ward seats at the same time, this improves the chances that one will win the primary. He is running against Gomez and Garrett-Ward alone as part of the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket, organized by Dwight Saunders, a former East Orange Councilman and city Code Enforcement Director and Carol Clark, a former East Orange Councilwoman and Essex County Freeholder.

Saunders said he is running for former Essex County Freeholder Lebby Jones’ seat on the Board of Chosen Freeholders, which is currently filled by former Irvington Board of Education President Romaine Graham, at the top of the Progressive Democrats ticket. Clark is running on the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket for the position of county register of deeds.

The other East Orange Progressive Democrat candidates are: Mia Williamson in the 1st Ward, Kalfani Alleyne in the 2nd Ward, Chijike Ndukwun in the 3rd Ward and Royston Allman in the 5th Ward.

Reid is running alone against both Gomez and Garrett Ward because Naimah Hall dropped out of the 4th Ward race on Friday, March 29. Hall’s son, Rashawn Y. Simmons, 19, was shot and killed on Main Street on Sunday, March 17. Prior to dropping out of the race, Hall was supposed to run against Garrett-Ward, while Reid ran against Gomez.

Saunders initially said that the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket had found a replacement to run for the 4th Ward seat, but later retracted that statement, meaning Hall’s departure from the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket left Reid against Gomez and Garrett-Ward.

“I’m not pleased with what the councilman has done in his tenure. I think the Progressive Democrats team has a better plan, a smarter plan as it pertains to business growth,” said Reid on Monday, April 22, at the Presidential Heights Community Association’s 5th Ward Debate at New Vision Full Gospel Baptist Church. “I’m the president of the Chamber of Commerce and, over the last two years, there’s been an open invitation to all the council members to come to the chamber, so we can talk about business development and how we encourage entrepreneurs in this city and how we can find programs to assist struggling business to become more stable and to expand and grow.

“I have yet to see this councilman there. In fact, even my own councilman in the 4th Ward has not come to a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce. You would think that you know you represent all aspects of business in the community, all aspects of the community, so you should take an interest in how our business community is doing.”