Fulop-Baraka alliance, built on shared interests, changes Newark mayoral race

By Mark Bonamo | February 18th, 2014


NEWARK - Sitting across from Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka in the back of his parents' immigration services and income tax preparation operation on Broad Street, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop explained why the leader of New Jersey's second largest city jumped directly into the race to run the state's largest city with his endorsement of Baraka on Tuesday.

"We're endorsing. We're going to be involved financially, we're going to be involved with volunteers, we're going to be involved on a lot of fronts," Fulop said. "I don't think today that I can deliver one vote for Ras, but I think I give some credibility [to Baraka] in a lot of different environments where they try to portray him as something that he's not."

Fulop elaborated on how he feels he can help Baraka on both microeconomic and macroeconomic levels.

"The other side tries to portray Ras as anti-business. Look, we're sitting in my parents' store that's been here 45 years," Fulop said. "My parents are investors in Newark, and they're believers in Newark. I'm certainly conscious of not only who my neighbor is from a mayor's standpoint, but I've got to think about what's best from my family's standpoint, who is invested here. I'm fully engaged."

Democratic sources have told PolitickerNJ.com that Fulop is also putting his money where his mouth is, contributing $200,000 from his campaign coffers to the Baraka campaign.

"I'm going to be able to communicate to every supporter of mine that this is a relationship that I think is in the region's best interest," Fulop said. "If you believe in Jersey City, you should be believing in Ras Baraka. If you believe in Ras Baraka, you should be believing in what that partnership means for Jersey City."

The fallout from Fulop's decision will also radiate throughout the state, as powerful political forces line up behind Baraka and the other major Newark mayoral candidate, former Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries.

While an axis of Fulop, former Governor and current State Senator Richard Codey (D-27) and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono have recently lined up behind Baraka, other political players are reportedly moving to back Jeffries.

PolitickerNJ.com reported in December that several Democratic sources indicated that Jeffries met with Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and conversed with allies of South Jersey power broker George Norcross III regarding his political future. These sit-downs suggest an alliance between North and South Jersey to ensure Jeffries' victory in
the May 2014 Newark mayoral election.

Norcross is also a close ally of State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), the potential South Jersey blocker of the gubernatorial ambitions of North Jersey's Fulop.

The Jeffries campaign declined comment about Fulop's endorsement of Baraka, while Sweeney could not immediately be reached.

DiVincenzo endorsed North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Jr. in May 2013, and was present to show support last week when Ramos dropped out of the Newark mayoral race to focus on retaining his council seat.

The Essex county executive, facing his own re-election campaign this year, has yet to endorse either Baraka or Jeffries, and chose to stay the course on Tuesday.

"People from the outside, they come in, that's fine. Everybody has the right to do what they want to do. I'm not supporting anyone. I believe that Newarkers should make that decision themselves," DiVincenzo told PolitickerNJ.com. "This is a non-partisan race. Whoever wins, I've got to work with to move this county forward."

Fulop, who originally supported Ramos in the Newark mayoral race, noted that he does not agree with Baraka on every issue. Jersey City's mayor has generally been more in favor of charter schools than Baraka, a Newark public school principal currently on leave. But on issues such as paid sick leave, increasing the minimum wage, public safety and local control of schools, Fulop feels a sense of common purpose with Baraka.

"People say that it's easier to be neutral, or do nothing. That doesn't really help ultimately to build a relationship," said Fulop, remembering his tough fight to oust Jerramiah Healy in Jersey City last year. "[Baraka] has something that you cannot buy with money, that you cannot buy with resources. When you have 200 people that show up on a Saturday that want to work for free [on a political campaign], you cannot buy that energy. Those people are going to come out because they believe. Like I said, I'm not moving one vote [in Newark], but what I am moving is perception."

"I don't know what Norcross and those guys are doing up here in Newark, but I'm just glad to have Mayor Fulop's support here today. I'm excited about it," Baraka said. "He's been doing some progressive things in terms of policy, and we want to be able to do some of the things that are going on in Jersey City, and hopefully vice versa, and grow this into a regional relationship."

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