Fonseca holds court as Latino PAC looks to help pick new Newark king

By Mark Bonamo | January 27th, 2014


NEWARK - Amidst clouds of cigar smoke at a Thursday night fundraiser, Pablo Fonseca, former chief of staff to then Newark mayor and now U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, denied he'd ever been gone from the Brick City political scene.

"I've been in a foxhole," said Fonseca, now a campaign consultant, who worked on winning campaigns for Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson, state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20), Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage and West New York Mayor Felix Roque in recent years. "But I've never left Newark."

Fonseca was certainly in evidence at the Latino Political Action Committee fundraiser held at Jimenez Tobacco, close to the Prudential Center. As women in tight black dresses kept everyone's cigar lit, Fonseca emceed an event attended by Newark councilman and mayoral candidate Ras Baraka and attorney Elnardo Webster, a close friend, political ally and former law partner of Booker.

State Sen. Ron Rice (D - 28) was also present, along with Newark Councilman-at-Large Carlos Gonzalez, former North Ward Councilman Hector Corchado and State Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia (D-33). Newark Mayor Luis Quintana was scheduled to attend but was invited to go to the White House as part of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' winter meeting.

While Fonseca told that the Latino PAC originally organized the event to honor Quintana, Mauricio Canto, president of the PAC, said that the organization has wider goals beyond just one politician.

"Historically, Latinos have failed to unite for the greater good. That's why we can never really achieve all the leadership positions we want in government," said Canto, 34, of Union City. "We're trying to unite the Latino community, and show Latinos how to put their egos aside for the greater good. That's what we're trying to do here in Newark. We want to support candidates that are representative of their community and empower people around them. Race does not matter to us."

"There is a lot of power in here and a lot of commitment in this room. I think having a Latino PAC is something that is absolutely, positively necessary," Baraka said. "It's important for all people to begin to organize and be a part of what's happening in the city as a whole. We represent the world right here in Newark. The future of this country, and the future of the world, looks like the people in Newark."

The future of Newark is now up for grabs, with Baraka, former Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries, and council members Darrin Sharif and Anibal Ramos, Jr. all in contention for the mayor's chair. asked Fonseca why both he and apparently the Latino PAC are not behind Ramos, a Latino.

"I have incredible respect for Anibal Ramos - I was his first campaign manager when he ran for school board," Fonseca said. "But I think that Ras Baraka will be the best leader for the city. My commitment is to him. I don't look at Ras as a black candidate, but as someone who can make a difference."

Fonseca has not avoided controversy in the hurly-burly of Newark politics. A key advisor in Booker's unsuccessful 2002 mayoral campaign against Sharpe James, immortalized in the Oscar-dominated documentary "Street Fight," Fonseca was there when Booker took power in 2006.

According to Former Deputy Mayor Ronald Salahuddin's indictment and to officials familiar with the probe, Salahuddin, who was convicted in 2011 on corruption charges, bragged that he enlisted Fonseca to help funnel demolition contracts that included work at the Prudential Center. Designated in the federal indictment as a “Newark official,” Fonseca was not directly implicated, nor was he charged.

Fonseca was also not quoted in the indictment and was not in the room at any of the meetings mentioned by authorities involving Salahuddin.

At the fundraiser, Fonseca told why he is still in Newark's political game, a contest with twists and turns that has tripped up many others.

"I'm just a worker. I made a decision to leave government after serving as New Jersey political director for President Obama in 2008, but I never really left politics," Fonseca said. "I supported Cory Booker when nobody else did in 2002. This business is about supporting leaders who empower your vision. It's about doing the right thing."

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