Newark Election 2014: South Ward natives vie for city council seat

By Naomi Nix/The Star-Ledger
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on April 27, 2014

At-large Newark city councilman John Sharpe James is competing for the South Ward council seat against popular football coach Brian Logan.


NEWARK — When voters in Newark’s South Ward head to the polls next month, they won’t find their current city councilman, Ras Baraka up for re-election, but there will be at least one name that is just as recognizable.

John Sharpe James, a decorated veteran and son of former Mayor Sharpe James, is running against Brian Logan, a police detective and popular football coach.

Riding on the coattails of Baraka’s support on his own turf and his family legacy, experts said, it’s James’ election to lose. But few rule out that Logan, who is backed by Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries, could galvanize enough grassroots support among South Warders to churn out a win.

At stake in the May 13 election, the candidates said, are Newark’s seemingly insurmountable challenges: high unemployment, persistent crime, the lack of economic development and an ailing school system.

“It’s important,” said Yvonne Garrett Moore, a public relations consultant who is also running for the seat. “I grieve when I see the potential of our community not realized.”

South Ward council candidates Uju Chiemelu,Joanne Miller and Jarmar Bass could not be reached for comment.

James’ and Baraka have some common ground.

Both have been critical of U.S. Sen Cory Booker's record in Newark. James lost an attempt for South Ward council seat against Oscar S. James II in 2006, when candidates supported by Booker, then then-mayor, swept up council seats.

Baraka would go on to defeat James II in 2010, campaigning on a platform that was, in part, defined by his opposition to Booker.

“The good thing about Ras Baraka is he is very well-known,” said Jonathan Wharton, author of A Post-Racial Change Is Gonna Come: Newark, Cory Booker, and the Transformation of Urban America. “That leveraging of support is critical.”

But James, 45, hardly needs an introduction to the South Ward.

Raised in Weequahic, he was two years old when his father was elected South Ward councilman. James graduated from St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, before heading to Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1986.

While at Morehouse, he joined the Army National Reserve and later the R.O.T.C. He served six months as a sergeant in Desert Storm in 1990, and later did a one-year tour in Afghanistan.

“I joined the military for the defense of the country, and I ran in 2006 for the defense of the community,” James said.

Between tours, he graduated from Rutgers Law School in 1995.

While serving in Afghanistan, a federal jury convicted James' father of five counts of fraud, and he was sentenced to 27 months in prison.

James was victorious in a November special election to serve the remainder of Rep. Donald Payne Jr.'s (D-10th Dist.) term after Payne was elected to Congress.

Among some some of the issues James hopes to tackle if he remains a councilman are rising taxes, crime, unemployment and social services for seniors.

But while Logan, 50, may lack the incumbent advantage and political legacy of James, he has a network of supporters and a positive public image that he has built during the past two decades through his work as a police officer and football coach.

Key for Logan will be making sure he shares his background with enough people to make a difference at the polls, experts said.

“He’s got to get in front of people,” said Andra Gillespie, author of The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark and Post-Racial America. “He’s also going to have to say that John James has done a horrible job.”

Among some of Logan's hoped-for goals are creating a better bridge between religious leaders and the police department to serve at-risk teens, and expanding job skills training for youth and adults.

“I’m all about public safety,” the third-generation Newark police officer said.

After graduating from Weequahic High School, Logan began working for the Essex County Sheriff’s Office. He became a Newark police officer in 1991, and started off patrolling the Seth Boyden public housing development.

He graduated in 1996 from Kean University, where he also coached football.

As a police officer, Logan began to teach drug and gang resistance programming in Newark schools. He also coached high school football, taking jobs at West Side High School and later Weequahic High School.

By the mid-2000s, Logan started letting some of his players stay with him when they had nowhere else to go -- stories that earned him media recognition.

“That blows (voters) away,” said Terrance Bankston, an at-large council candidate who has gone canvassing with Logan. “They have been very receptive.”

About 600 people attended Logan's campaign kick-off event last June. Several of his former players, including NFL linebacker Tahir Whitehead, spoke about Logan's influence in their lives as a coach and mentor.

“It made me feel proud,” Logan said. “All that hard work and sacrifice paid off.”

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