In Battered West Ward, Onyema wants to “deepen democracy”

NEWARK – The contest is taking place on the shoulder of South Orange Avenue in the form of large dynamic billboards – many featuring Mayor Ras Baraka and his West Ward candidate DoItAll Kelly, but not the one located significantly on the corner of Halstead Street above Chigozie Onyema’s campaign headquarters.

In this tightly watched developing race, Mayor Baraka’s former Newark Parking Authority general counsel and former deputy commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs with Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, Onyema wants the recently filled seat by West Ward Councilman Joe McCallum.

Last week, McCallum pleaded guilty to bribery charges while 32BJ SEIU, a leading labor organization, backed seven of the nine Baraka team candidates, giving up on picking someone in the West Ward.

Onyema said 32BJ’s decision was important. The organization is a key ally of Baraka, and yet they did not support Baraka’s choice of West Ward, Kelly.

“It reinforces everything we’ve seen at the gates of the West Ward, which is that people support Mayor Baraka, but when it comes to the West Ward, people are ready to make a different choice,” said the candidate. “32BJ supported Ras Baraka in the 2014 race and partnered with him on many issues, but I think there’s something special going on here. I think they have huge respect for the guy campaign we are running.

A slew of contenders seek the seat dishonored by McCallum, making Kelly – by virtue of his position on Team Baraka – the favorite.

But Onyema is working and organizing hard.

His efforts included early outdoor campaign conversations with voters, as he advocated for more creative ways to use Newark’s $150 million police budget to reduce the city’s violent crime index. . The lawyer said he wanted to provide residents here with a more robust assessment of budget priorities.

“The city spends more in three months on police overtime than the entire economic development budget,” he said.

He credits Mayor Baraka with establishing a violence and crime prevention office and other positive steps, but wants the city to focus more on affordable housing, job creation and services municipalities in the specific context of the fight against crime.

“The other day a resident described his area as the four corners of hell because of the shooting there, and when you look at it you can tell the code enforcement hasn’t been there for a while. public works are lacking at the moment,” Onyema said. . “It underscores the fact that communities that experience the most violence have the fewest resources. as a city councilor, i want to think about crime holistically.

Chigozie Onyema

32BJ SEIU also decided not to support a candidate in the East Ward, where Baraka’s choice, former police officer Louis Weber, left behind a PD history that included numerous complaints of excessive force. Baraka led marches in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and was one of the state’s most vocal advocates — and New Jersey’s leading elected voice — of police reform.

“It was surprising to me,” Onyema said of Baraka picking Weber for his ticket. “I didn’t know much about Louis Weber. But it is surprising, given the history of [Team Baraka’s] language around criminal justice reforms. These are contradictions that the mayor and Luis Weber must resolve.

32BJ’s decision there, as in his own neighborhood, reflects “the challenges in both places,” the candidate said.

Baraka’s overall effort, however, reflects a city policy priority not too far off from Onyema, including the mayor’s inclusive zoning ordinance, which compels builders – regardless of the type of project they are looking for – to dedicate a percentage to affordable housing or a city affordable housing fund. .

How would Onyema ensure that these dollars go to the West?

“I think you’re making the case for that,” the candidate said. “City-wide, we’re short 16,000 affordable units; approximately 4,500 of these units are in the West Ward.

“We’re going to fight like hell for this,” he added.

As the campaign season heats up ahead of the May election, Onyema said he knocked on 10,000 doors in the west.

“We need to deepen democracy here,” he said. “We try to organize different meetings. We receive messages on how to refine our political positions. Speed ​​calming measures are something we heard about from residents. All aisles could benefit from a refresh, and part of what we’re doing is bringing businesses together to ask people, ‘Where would you like the resources to be targeted?’ »

McCallum’s guilty plea last week underscored missed opportunities in the neighborhood, argued Onyema, who said he was praying for the councilman and his family but adamantly wanted better for the west. “I think there’s a lot of catching up to do,” he said. “People here, over the years, haven’t seen enough of McCallum, ‘No-show Joe,’ as some call him, and that’s partly true. It reflects the look of our parish. We don’t “We don’t have a grocery store and in some ways we’re a food desert. ShopRite is close, but not close enough.”

On a drive through the West, including the Ivy Hill neighborhood of Onyema, his friend, Al-Tariq Ibn Shabazz of Irvington, praised the candidate’s strengths. “He has good positions in terms of housing and living wages, but the difference with him is that he is motivated to do research to get the job done. He takes it seriously. »

In the broadest sense, Onyema said he knew what he was up against.

“Wealth and power are concentrated in too few hands,” he said. “We need to democratize, not just the world at large, but our own world as well, and continue to develop those progressive measures – land trusts and urban cooperatives – that include people in the process; and to achieve this, people must participate. [Political] the machines benefit a handful of people, and it is up to us in this campaign to organize people.

It shot on Sanford Avenue under the offices of State Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-28), who supports Team Baraka but has a history of political independence.

“People like that – like Senator Rice – he was ready to stand up to Mayor Sharpe James [when he served on the Newark City Council as the West Ward Councilman, and we offer that more than any other candidate in this race,” Onyema said. “I’m looking forward to partnering with Senator Rice when we win this thing, and you win this thing by talking to people.”

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