In hard political terms, can Ras Baraka wield influence as Sharpe James did?

By Max Pizarro | June 17th, 2014

 

Coming off last week’s Essex County Democratic reorganization meeting, sources continue to speculate about the political role Ras Baraka plans to undertake within the Democratic Party.

What it comes down to, they say, is simply this: in terms of political influence as the mayor of the state’s biggest city: can Baraka be another Sharpe James?

“We don’t know that right now,” a source told PolitickerNJ, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Sharpe James may have been unique.”

The allies of at least one person trust that Baraka will be, and they belong to the inner circle of Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

Fulop wants to parlay his support for Baraka into Baraka’s support for a future Fulop gubernatorial run.

In 1997, then-Essex County Democratic Party Chairman Tom Giblin was prepared to back Rob Andrews for the Democratic nomination for governor over Jim McGreevey.

In 24 hours, James turned that around and prevailed on Giblin to back McGreevey over Andrews for the Democratic nomination.

Not accidentally, McGreevey now advises Fulop as the young mayor eyeballs a statewide run.

But one source said different political dynamics in the county over a decade ago empowered James within the party, starting with the fact that it was a Republican, Jim Treffinger, who served as Essex County executive at the time, not Democrat Joe DiVIncenzo.

“It was easier for Sharpe to rule the roost,” the source said.

The power sharing dynamic in Essex at the time was similar to GOP Mayor Bret Schundler in Jersey City and Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski.

Another source said the comparison is unfair given the building blocks James put in place over a long career to get to the point where he could influence power politics at that level.

“I think it’s going to take a while for Ras to get there,” a source told PolitickerNJ. “What you have to remember is Sharpe served in city government as an elected official for years. He was a vital part of Teddy Kennedy’s presidential campaign and he was close to [then-Senator] Bill Bradley. It will take a while for him to get that kind of power.”

So far, Baraka has not at least publicly shown signs of a Sharpe James-like presence in the Democratic Party power county.

Coming off last week’s local kneecapping of bow-tied U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10) in the South Ward, Baraka stayed away from the county party re-organization meeting, sending shivers of dismay through the ranks of some of his allies.

“If you want to be in politics, you have to be political,” the source said. “That means you go and congratulate the re-elected chairman [Leroy Jones]. To have influence, you have to be there. You can’t do it from the outside looking in.”

But it’s still early, the source added.

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