The Payne-Baraka Back Story

By PolitickerNJ Staff | May 5th, 2014

NEWARK - As the Newark mayor's race intensifies, it's worth noting a critical point in the twisting and divided political paths of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr., (D-10) of Newark and South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, a candidate for mayor.

When then-mayoral candidate Cory Booker formulated his game plan for taking over City Hall, he did so in part by making an argument to the younger generation of Newark leaders that the elders had dominated the halls of power for too long.

The charismatic Booker assembled a team of next-generation Newark names, including Ronald C. Rice, the son of state Sen. Ronald L. Rice, who was with Booker going back to his original 2002 campaign for mayor.

He also appealed directly to educator Baraka - son of the poet and Newark political leader Amiri Baraka - and to Payne, Jr., son of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne.

Both South warders were reluctant to saddle up with Booker.

Baraka said no outright. Distrustful of the Central Ward councilman and his big dollar ties, he didn't want to be part of the Booker Team and defined himself right away as a Booker opponent.

Payne initially for an at-large council seat unsupported by Booker in 2006; but in the runoff, with Booker dominant over Rice Sr. in the mayoral election and his council candidates surging, Payne allied himself with Team Booker.

He won the runoff and an at-large seat.

Baraka, running against the Booker Team, lost.

The Booker/Payne relationship was not always rosy over the course of the next six plus years. The Paynes and Booker fought over turf in the South Ward, and the old political family unsuccessfully supported Bill Payne for senate against the Booker-backed state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) in 2007.

But Booker and Payne were back together in time for 2010, when the at-large councilman ran on the Booker ticket.

Running against the Booker Team, Baraka won that year, defeating the only member of the Booker Team who did not survive re-election: the South Ward's Oscar James, Jr., another political family scion who had aligned with the young mayor.

As soon as the election was over, Payne sided with the Baraka forces against Booker's plan to monetize the local waterworks, infuriating the mayor and his allies.

But the Payne/Baraka alliance would not last long.

Emergent politically each in his own way, with Baraka a firebrand like his father before him and Payne, like his father, more willing to work within the framework of the Democratic Party establishment, both men lost their fathers within two years.

The congressman died in 2012 and the poet died last year.

Now the younger Payne - no longer a councilman but a congressman, the replacement for his father - backs Shavar Jeffries against Baraka, lending a strong citywide family name to the Jeffries cause - going so far as to anchor Jeffries' first television ad as the two men attempt to stop Baraka.

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