EAST ORANGE, NJ — The race to fill the East Orange City Council seat of retiring 2nd Ward Councilwoman Jacqueline Johnson in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, June 4, is between Brittany Claybrooks and Khalfani Alleyne, two members of the Young Professionals of East Orange group.
Claybrooks and Alleyne, who are Lines 5A and 5B on the ballot, respectively, are both members of the group founded by Casim Gomez Jr., East Orange firefighters Akeem Cunningham and Marquis Salley, Ajah Baldwin and Kaylan Jones. Prior to this year, the group was best known for pooling its finances to purchase a building; renting a storefront on Main Street to serve as its headquarters for community service and outreach efforts; and hosting Women’s History Month and networking mixers.
“While the Young Professionals of East Orange is not a political organization, we are community service-based,” said Kaylan Jones on Tuesday, May 7. “It’s a beautiful thing that some of our members are stepping up to run for public office. It lends a voice that speaks to our demographic, which is encouraging to our future generations! I’m so excited.”
Claybrooks is running on the Team Green in 2019 ticket with the backing of the East Orange Democratic Committee and the Essex County Democratic Committee and Chairman Leroy Jones. Alleyne is running 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.
Johnson has already endorsed Claybrooks to succeed her.
“I’m not turning my seat over to just any old person,” said Johnson on Monday, Feb. 18. “I’m supporting Brittany Claybrooks. She’s not in it for the title. She’s got some skills that this city needs.”
Additionally, 2nd Ward Councilman Chris Awe has endorsed Claybrooks’ candidacy.
“Brittany Claybrooks is one of the most dedicated, most devoted, has the biggest amount of potential. This is a rising star. Stay tuned,” said Awe on Thursday, Feb. 21.
Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake also endorsed Claybrooks.
“Britany has a long history fighting for social justice and she has a particular interest in the areas of solving the parking issues in East Orange,” said Timberlake on Thursday, Feb. 21. She’s absolutely amazing. She has the ability to take a look at socio-economic issues and problems, come up with solutions and then execute that plan. That’s the type of leader that I’m looking for, because that’s the type of leader we need in every single elected official.”
Unlike other municipal governments in the state, East Orange doesn’t utilize the Faulkner Act, which requires elections for mayoral and city council seats in alternate years, with at large candidates running in the same wards two years later. East Orange’s 10-member City Council is 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 meant to represent the interests of the entire city in the same manner as the mayor.
Because there are no at large seats in East Orange, the mayor’s seat and five ward seats are available at the same time, meaning five City Council ward seats will be open for the primary on Tuesday, June 4.
“I have big shoes to fill of Miss Jacquie Johnson, who served so diligently for 20 years,” said Claybrooks on Thursday, Feb. 21. “I am working toward my goal. I work and I walk every single day. I’ve talked to every single resident, not only on my block but in my district, and I’m working and working and working.”
Alleyne said he’s been working hard, too. As Orange’s code enforcement director, he originally ran against incumbent 2nd Ward Councilman Romal Bullock for his seat in 2017. Although he lost, he didn’t stop organizing community events, such as his annual “Snacksgiving” event, for which he donates healthy snacks to select schools in the East Orange School District.
Alleyne maintains his YPEO membership and participates in all the charitable activities Cunningham said were designed to demonstrate the group is committed to investing in the community. He has also participated in the East Orange and Essex County Democratic committees and remains active in both organizations, even though Chairman Jones supports Claybrooks bid for the 2nd Ward seat.
According to city clerk Cynthia Brown and Essex County clerk Chris Durkin, East Orange is overwhelmingly Democratic, so whoever wins the primary is almost guaranteed to win the general election in November.
Alleyne said that sounds good to him.
“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, from my great-grandmother to my young sons that we’re raising here in this city. My great aunt and great uncle, who live in the senior buildings; my grandparents, aunt and brother, who all live here; and my kids in the public elementary schools,” said Alleyne on Monday, Feb. 18, and again on Monday, April 22, at the Presidential Heights Community Association’s 5th Ward Debate. “The decisions made by our City Council are critical, not just to my family, but all families citywide. This isn’t a game for me; this is my life. This is my family’s life. And it’s the lives of so many other families throughout our city that are at stake.”