Graham chosen to fill Lebby Jones’ vacant freeholder seat

Photo by Chris Sykes
Newly appointed at large Essex County Freeholder and Irvington Board of Education President Romaine Graham, center, stands with, from left, fellow IBOE member Jamilah Beasley-McCleod and her mother, Irvington Democratic Party Chairwoman Baseemah Beasley, on Saturday, Feb. 9, following the 34th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy of a Dream event in the Irvington High School auditorium.

IRVINGTON, NJ — Irvington Board of Education President Romaine Graham has been appointed to fill the seat left vacant on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders by former Freeholder Lebby Jones, who died of cancer Wednesday, Jan. 9.

“Romaine was elected today replacing one of the icons of this township, Lebby Jones, who also replaced another icon in this township, D. Bilal Beasley,” said Mayor Tony Vauss on Saturday, Feb. 9, hours after Graham’s appointment by a special vote of representatives from all 22 municipalities that comprise the Essex County Democratic Committee. “I have the honor of witnessing the internal election from the 22 municipalities Democratic Committee for Romaine Graham. It was just an exciting day, all around,” Vauss said.

Leroy Jones, chairman of both the East Orange and Essex County Democratic committees, said the vote to appoint Graham was unanimous.

“It was a Democratic Committee meeting,” said Jones on Tuesday, Feb. 12. “It was held in Irvington High School. It was a voice vote. She was the only nominee and it was unanimous. No opposition.”

Jones also credited Vauss for Graham’s appointment.

“That was the recommendation from the mayor of Irvington, because the seat was parked in Irvington, because of Bilal,” said Jones. “Somebody else could have been nominated, but what happened was she was nominated. This wasn’t a handpicked situation of me, but it was the recommendation of the mayor and agreement across the county.”

Vauss didn’t mind taking credit for Graham’s nomination and appointment.

“I think, even in the county, most of them know Romaine. They know her character and they know her hard work,” said Vauss. “She’s no stranger to the Democratic Committee (because of) her elected years on the school board, where she served with distinction. I just think that this was the proper and fitting time to have her elevated to such a prestigious position.”

Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin said the Essex County Democratic Committee meeting and the vote to appoint Graham were all done by the rule book.

“State statute mandates that, in the event of a vacancy in the Office of Freeholder, the county committee must be called to a meeting within 35 days of the vacancy occurring to elect a vacancy replacement,” said Durkin on Tuesday, Feb. 12. “On Saturday, Feb. 9, Romaine Graham of Irvington was the only nomination made and was elected by unanimous voice vote. There will be a primary election where the one year unexpired term for freeholder at large will appear on the ballot. The certified winner of the November general election for the one year unexpired term for freeholder at large will be sworn in and will serve until Dec. 31, 2020. This seat will appear on the ballot with the other eight freeholder seats in 2020 for three-year terms in office.”

Jones agreed with Durkin, saying, “She’ll be on the ballot in June and again in November. What happens now is the freeholders set a date, she’ll be sworn in, then she’ll go through the primary. At the end of the November contest, the winner will be sworn in for the full term again.”

Jones said 2020 is shaping up to be a big election year and that the county freeholder seat races will be important.

“They’re all up in 2020,” said Jones, adding that Graham will “be running in consecutive years, more than likely, if she wins, which is what we expect to be the case. We try to make it as seamless as possible. We’re guided by the statutes and the bylaws of the county committee. It’s worked pretty good for me since I’ve been there. That gives you the results that you get and we’ll see what we see.”

“I’m quite sure Lebby would be very pleased,” said Irvington Democratic Committee Chairwoman Baseemah Beasley on Saturday, Feb. 9. “It’s very big shoes to fill, but Romaine is a team player. She will work hard for all 22 municipalities and that’s all that I can say about Romaine.”

But Beasley did have more to say about Graham.

“She’s a jewel that we have here in Irvington,” said Beasley. “She’s not just brand new in this arena. She’s been in this since she was a teenager. She was a board president for I don’t know how many terms, but at least five or more. But she will do very good at her job and we all work together here in Irvington and Essex County.”

Beasley’s daughter, Irvington Board of Education member Jamilah Beasley, said Graham’s election and appointment is a great occasion. Graham agreed, adding that it feels good to continue the legacies of D. Bilal Beasley and Lebby Jones.

“We always have to remember to do that and we’re going to continue to do that from now until we’re no longer here,” said Graham on Saturday, Feb. 9. “I’m very excited. There’s big shoes that I’m stepping into, but I’m up for the challenge and I’m going to do a great job, because I have a lot of people supporting me. I’m part of Team Irvington Strong and I’ll be representing Irvington and all of Essex County.”