Roll the dice, baby: Newark plot lines and the would-be Rat Pack

By Mark Bonamo | November 21st, 2013


ATLANTIC CITY - Elvis Costello might have sung "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea" in 1978, but on Wednesday night at the 2013 New Jersey League of Municipalities conference, everyone wanted to go to the Chelsea. More than 1,400 wristbands, a new private event record, were handed out as the Garden State's political glitterati swarmed to the hotel on the Boardwalk.

At an event co-hosted by Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Newark councilman and mayoral candidate Anibal Ramos (pictured, above left), Roselle Mayor Jamel Holley and state Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-7), party-goers tried to re-enact Atlantic City's 1950s Rat Pack-era glory.  

The evening began in high style at the Chelsea, with Fulop taking on the Sinatra role as his star continues to rise in statewide Democratic circles. For many, the evening would end in the morning at Harrah's in a haze of chlorine, vodka and vomit, with certain sights permanently seared onto their eyeballs.  

But for two politicians, the night was a living lyric of the Sinatra classic song "That's Life" - right now, Fulop is riding high in April, while Ramos is trying to make sure he's not shot down in May.  

During the past several days in Atlantic City, politicos have seen the emergence of two nascent campaign boardwalk empires - Fulop, the prince of North Jersey, appears to be preparing to take on State Senate President Steve Sweeney, the duke of South Jersey, for the next Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  

Fulop executed a deft bob-and-weave move around ginned-up revelers to talk to about the situation with Sweeney.  

"I went to Steve Sweeney's event [on Tuesday night] - I'm not worried about what Steve Sweeney is doing," Fulop said. "Today, we're good. I hope he would say the same thing. There is no race today. It is in the best interest of everybody to have a good working relationship."  

On the other side of the room, Ramos eyed a scene that on first glance would appear to be in his favor. One by one, each of the other candidates in the Newark mayoral race - South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif and former state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries - walked in to the party that Ramos co-sponsored, a phenomena one observer jokingly called "a tacit endorsement" of the North Ward councilman's mayoral candidacy.  

But Democratic sources, whispering over their gin and tonics at the same party, asserted that a Shavar shift was in effect, with at least one member of the prominent Payne political family landing in Camp Jeffries. 

Ramos, flanked by campaign spokesman Bruno Tedeschi (pictured, above right), the man who helped elect Fulop in Jersey City last May, pushed back when asked by if he was getting pushed out of the Newark mayoral race. 

"The only people excited about me getting out of the race are my opposition," Ramos said. "To date, we've raised more than $400,000, more than any other candidate in this race. We have the most organizational support. I've got three out of the five Democratic municipal ward chairmen in Newark supporting my candidacy. I think our campaign is stronger than it has ever been. 

"The only thing the opposition has going for themselves is the hope that I get out of this race, which I'm not," Ramos added. "I'm in, baby. We're going to win."

It likely won't be without a few more episodes getting under the campaign's skin.

While his nephew, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-10), is neutral, Bill Payne, deputy chief of staff to County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, in recent days joined Jeffries, sources say.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two prominent allies of Ramos' called the North Ward candidate's campaign troubled, and questioned the candidate's tactics.

Both sources said Ramos has not been adequately aggressive; one of them making the case that as Fulop did a year ago, Ramos needs to go on the attack early and often against perceived front-runner Baraka.

A good government guy, it's not in his nature to throw political punches.

If Ramos has trouble, he's assisted somewhat by Baraka's internal challenges.

Harkening to a Black Elders meeting earlier this year, South Ward operatives assumed former Mayor Sharpe James would be true to his word in support of Baraka as the best African American mayoral candidate.

But James has since been coy about his support, and buzz at the League included a frequently cited scenario in which the former mayor could throw his support behind Jeffries.

While Ramos partied with Fulop and company, SEIU workers grooved a few blocks away in a basement club at Caesar's.

They awaited their version of the chairman of the board: Baraka, as Jeffries operatives searched for that elusive tempo change from "Mood Indigo."

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