East Orange candidates square off in primary

EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange voters will have several choices in their respective wards for the Democratic primary election on Tuesday, June 4. The contest is primarily between the City Council incumbents and newcomers running for re-election on the Green Team in 2019 ticket, with the backing of the East Orange Democratic Committee and Chairman Leroy Jones, and the challengers running either independently or on the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket, organized by former Councilwoman and Essex County Freeholder Carol Clark and former Councilman and Code Enforcement Director Dwight Saunders.

According to Essex County clerk Durkin and East Orange city clerk Cynthia Brown, the ballot positions for the nine candidates running for the five East Orange City Council seats on Tuesday, June 4, are as follows: 1st Ward Councilwoman Amy Lewis and Mia Williamson; 2nd Ward candidates Brittany Claybrooks, Khalfani Alleyne and Gerard Georges; 3rd Ward candidates Vernon Pullins Jr. and Chijike Ndukwu; 4th Ward Councilman Casim Gomez, 4th Ward Councilwoman Tameika Garrett-Ward and Patrick Reid; and 5th Ward Councilman Mustafa Brent and Royston Allman.

3rd Ward Councilwoman Quilla Talmadge and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Jacqueline Johnson will not be running for re-election.

“There will be a special election at the primary to fill the unexpired term of Tyshammie Cooper in the 4th Ward, now held by Tameika Garrett-Ward,” said Brown on Monday, Feb. 18.

The Green Team in 2019 ticket is comprised of all the incumbents, plus newcomers Claybrooks and East Orange Board of Education member Pullins, all of whom Mayor Ted Green has endorsed.

“This team put up record-breaking numbers and it shows how serious we are about getting things done. Our goal for this city is progress,” said Green on Monday, March 25. “I am looking forward to working with the Green Team candidates to obtain that goal.”

The East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket was organized by Clark and Saunders, who are both seeking elected positions in the county level of government. Clark is running for the county register of deeds post now held by former Newark Councilwoman Dana Rone, while Saunders is running for the seat on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders formerly occupied by Freeholder Lebby Jones and held by Romaine Graham after Jones’ death in January. According to Durkin, Clark is running against Juan M. Rivera Jr. of the Essex County Democratic Committee. Saunders is running against Graham.

Republicans Kristina Christoforou and Adam Kraemer are running for county register and Jones’ old Freeholder seat, respectively, on the Essex Republican Party Organization ticket.

Unlike other municipal governments in the state, East Orange doesn’t utilize the Faulkner Act, which requires elections for mayor 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.

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 up for grabs in the primary on Tuesday, June 4. According to Durkin, East Orange is overwhelmingly Democratic, so whoever wins the primary is almost guaranteed to win the general election in November.

Pullins, Claybrooks and the incumbent members of the East Orange City Council are running with the slogan “Line A all the way” and are backed by Jones and the East Orange Democratic Committee and the Essex County Democratic Committee.

According to Durkin, the majority of the challengers are running on the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket on Line B. Candidates running in the Republican primary, also on Tuesday, June 4, are on Line D.

In the 2nd Ward, Georges is running with the Democrats for Progress against Claybrooks and Alleyne, who are both members of the Young Professionals of East Orange, a local community service organization.

1st Ward

In the 1st Ward, Lewis was running uncontested for re-election until Williamson stepped up to oppose her on the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket. But Lewis said she’s ready to face any challenger.

“I did have someone hit me up on Facebook and say they were running against me. So I figured since he extended a courtesy to let me know I told someone to give him my number,” said Lewis on Tuesday, March 12. “When I spoke to him, he told me he didn’t know who I was. So I said: ‘Well, when I came on council, I started having three community meetings a year, which never happened in my ward, prior to me coming aboard. I told him I did that so that I could hear from the people in the 1st Ward. After I got finished speaking with him, he said he wasn’t gonna run against me, but I told him it was his right to do so, if he felt that way.”

2nd Ward

Outgoing 2nd Ward Councilwoman Johnson has 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.”

Johnson said she’s working hard to make sure Claybrooks is elected in the primary.

“We’re working, and I am there, Councilman Awe is there, former Councilman Bullock is there and we’re out there, walking and knocking on doors,” said Johnson on Tuesday, May 21, referring to 2nd Ward Councilman Chris Awe and former Councilman Romal Bullock. “We’re not ceding anything to anybody.”

“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. Timberlake is also on the ballot on Tuesday, June 4, running to fill the Assembly seat of Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who was elected last year alongside Gov. Phil Murphy.

“Brittany 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.”

Claybrooks thanked everyone for their support.

“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 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 also maintains his YPEO membership and participates in that group’s charitable activities and programs. He also participated in the East Orange and Essex County Democratic committees and remains active in both organizations, although Chairman Jones supports Claybrooks’ bid for the 2nd Ward seat.

“I’m excited about this year’s election,” said Alleyne on Wednesday, May 8. “As far as the YPEO organization’s role in this election, honestly, it’s bittersweet. It’s great because young professionals are now a huge part of this 2019 council conversation, which has been my goal from day one. The only part that’s disappointing is the YPEO organization has allowed itself to become divided by outside influences.”

3rd Ward

Earlier this year, Talmadge officially announced she would not seek re-election, after more than 20 years representing the 3rd Ward, and announced she wanted Pullins to be her successor.

In addition to Talmadge’s endorsement, Pullins has also been endorsed by the East Orange and Essex County Democratic committees. This is his first campaign for elected public office. He said he’s running to help the mayor, his potential 3rd Ward council partner, Councilman Bergson Leneus, and the rest of the governing body continue the progress under way in East Orange.

“I want to thank the residents of the 3rd Ward for signing my petitions to get me on the ballot,” said Pullins on Tuesday, May 14. “I’m running because I’m passionate about economic growth, wanting to assist with stabilizing and maintaining our tax base and provide continued responsible legislation to support the mayor’s initiatives, and also recreation services for our youth. I also want to continue to support positive legislation, to support good government and good corporate citizenship.”

Ndukwu said he’s running on the East Orange Progressive Democrats ticket to bring real progress and visionary leadership to the 3rd ward and entire city.

“I’m an architect and a teacher,” said Ndukwu on Monday, April 22, at the Presidential Heights Civic Association 5th Ward debate. “I have been saying this for a long time, that we need a cap on our property taxes. In 2015, I designed, as part of my master’s degree program in community development … a project that could cap property taxes and find another stream of income that would replace the percentage of property taxes that go to schools and the library. I think that program could still be sampled in East Orange. I think it can be successful.”

4th Ward

In the 4th Ward, both council seats are up for grabs in the primary and Gomez is running uncontested; his opponent, Passion for Purpose founder Naimah Hall dropped out before filing her nominating petitions, following the shooting death of her son on Sunday, March 17. This will be Gomez’s second four-year term of office.

Garrett-Ward, who is defending her seat against Reid, is running to finish out the remainder of Cooper’s term. Last year, Chairman Jones selected Garret-Ward to fill Cooper’s 4th Ward seat and she was officially sworn in Tuesday, Jan. 1.

“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.”

5th Ward

Brent and Allman are squaring off against each other in the 5th Ward.

“We, as a community, have to continue the progression to move forward. We don’t have time to reinvent or introduce a new idea,” said Brent on Monday, April 22, at the Presidential Heights Community Association’s 5th Ward debate. “The ideas and the legislation that my council colleagues and I, in tandem with the administration, have put into place have been successful and the momentum is present, when we have been recognized by major, major news organizations as a city on the rise. The people are investing in our city, not because we’re giving the city away, because they see opportunities in the city by which they can grow their business. With me sitting as the chair of Public Works, we brought our street sweeping and our snow removal in-house and we created jobs for our community and, if you vote for me this coming June and November, we will continue that progress.”

“It’s about a vision for the future. Dealing with the facts at hand is not fear-mongering. Deal with the facts as they are,” said Allman on Monday, April 22, at the debate. “The fact is, you will get a tax bill later on. When the assessed values go up in the communities, it’s because you have buildings that are only paying a portion of their taxes. So that goes up and then it’s distributed, because they’re not paying their fair share. I’ll leave it at that. So what the future holds is smart planning, representation that hears your needs.”