Newark volatility: establishment pressures mount on mayoral candidate Ramos

By Max Pizarro | January 22nd, 2014


Newark politics continues under the siege of statewide headlines, and at the center of it stands North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos attempting to make a decision about his political future.

Mayoral candidate Ramos faces panicking donors who in an advantage African-American city do not think the Latino can defeat South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, but are convinced Ramos can be Newark’s kingmaker.

Allies this week continue to advise him to pull out of the May nonpartisan contest to back former state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries.

But the proud Ramos – who last year launched his 2014 mayoral bid with one of the most spectacular send-ups in Robert Treat Hotel history – continues to forge ahead, according to his campaign spokesman.

"He is in this," said Bruno Tedeschi. "Right now he is focused on getting his petitions signed and his slate pulled together. Nothing has changed in this campaign. He is working on strengthening his campaign team."

Political volatility abides, sources say.

Street polling consistently shows the North Ward councilman in second place, trailing Baraka by double digits – and leading Jeffries by double digits.

Ramos worries about abandoning the mayor’s race to join forces with a candidate he can beat, amid ongoing alarms in his camp that he cannot defeat Baraka in a runoff. Sources say Ramos dislikes yielding to the superficial reason of the advantage in numbers that Newark’s African-Americans possess over Latinos.

Powerful sources close to the councilman continue to attempt to coax him toward Jeffries with the promise of giving Ramos the lion’s share of council seats and the council presidential throne.

A strong fundraiser, Jeffries eagerly awaits a kick-start, and would be the beneficiary not only of Ramos – and Ramos’s North Ward organizational ties - but of Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif, who would likely fold into the Jeffries camp as part of a possible deal, sources say.

Sharif’s father, the venerable Carl Sharif, advises Jeffries.

The current scrambled field of Baraka-Ramos-Jeffries-Sharif would turn into a mano-a-mano between Jeffries and Baraka, with the Democratic Party establishment behind the former and the latter attempting the ultimate grassroots stand-off.

Insiders are giddy over the prospect of a straight-up showdown between Jeffries and Baraka.

Coming off a year in which Newark recorded 111 homicides, establishment sources continue to express very positive views of Jeffries, a Seton Hall Law School professor and native of the South Ward, a law and order candidate who lost his mother to violence.

Jeffries has hounded Baraka with a prosecutor’s thoroughness at debates but lacks Ramos’s campaign organization.  

Ramos’s allies tell him that his decision to back out of the mayor’s race would strengthen – not weaken – him.

A county administrator on leave from his job to run for mayor, Ramos has close ties to powerful Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who wants a winner – not a political crater – in Newark after the May nonpartisan election.

If Ramos gets behind Jeffries and helps checkmate Baraka, he helps the entire organization stamp out an anti-establishment opponent.

The reward?

Power, not as mayor but kingmaker.

Part of DiVincenzo’s additional trouble with Ramos stems from organizational worry about DiVincenzo nemesis state Sen. (and former Governor) Dick Codey (D-27) joining forces with Baraka. If Baraka wins, the wilderness-consigned Codey would have a strong ally in City Hall, a key county power projection platform, and a narrative to help build his own political revitalization.

A vocal opponent of embattled Gov. Chris Christie’s and long-standing critic of DiVincenzo’s alliance with Christie, Codey has already gained political traction from the Bridgegate fiasco.

But DiVincenzo and Ramos’s donors are not the only ones determinedly pulling him in one direction.

Sources say the candidate’s longtime cross-the-river urban ally, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, also has a stake in city politics.

Jersey City allies of Fulop's have sized up the field and see Baraka as the most lethal long haul candidate in the race.

Those who want Ramos to back Jeffries dispute Baraka’s dominance, and say he’s stalled in repeated polling well below 50%. But his opponents familiar with local impact politics fear his momentum fueled by the Newark schools superintendent's announcement of citywide schools closings.

A school principal on a leave of absence to run for mayor, Baraka opposes overhauls proposed by Superintendent Cami Anderson.

Based on their forward observations of the campaigns, Fulop allies fret that even the Jeffries-Ramos-Sharif triumvirate could get run over by Baraka at this point.

So Ramos’s other option, instead of throwing in with a single-digit ally and hoping for the best, would be to back Baraka, sources say.

In the coldest political terms in a turbulent political season, sources say a Baraka victory would eliminate a rising star competitor in Jeffries, who could, with a win, attempt to share North Jersey’s Democratic Party spotlight with the ambitious Fulop.

The mayor says it's hogwash.

"To be clear," Fulop told "As long as Anibal is a candidate, I am a staunch supporter of Anibal in this race. Anibal had the best fundraising quarter, maintains organizational strength and the most cash on hand. I certainly know what he is going through with rumors since I lived it this time last year."

Still, Jeffries has a statewide glow, according to sources close to the impressive donor lists that the former assistant attorney general has amassed. If he lacks an imposing organization on the ground in Newark, by the reckoning of most street experts, he has the compelling story and presence to catapult himself beyond Newark – a worrisome reality for anyone else eager to make a statewide jump.

Fairly or not and in part on his inability to date to fundraise with the likes of Ramos and Jeffries, Baraka is widely seen as a Newark-only brand name.   

But as welcome as Fulop and company could be to keeping Jeffries removed from a North Jersey nimbus now nearly wholly dominated by the Jersey City mayor, the JC mayor has to be careful of alienating DiVincenzo, who stands in a prime position to help give the Essex County Democratic line to Gov. Chris Christie’s successor.

Amid the cacophony, Ramos wants to put his head down and just run, according to Tedeschi.

Close friends and allies tell him that he needs to stay in the contest.

Criticized for not being more aggressive in the early going, sources in the Ramos camp argue that they would save their most nefarious attack plan for a runoff with Baraka.

Acknowledging a North Ward organization at less than full strength – and certainly far less strong than it was in 2007 when state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) ran for office – they plead for county forces to spend more time shoring up the once vaunted operation than urging surrender to Jeffries.

But with powerful players advising against him staying on, the danger is Ramos could wind up shorn from funding if he continues to run for mayor, as opposed to giving the anti-Baraka forces a shot – even still a long-shot - with Jeffries.

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