Newark makes up 40% of the Democratic county committee seats in the 28th legislatve district, which means Mayor Ras Baraka won’t have much say over who succeeds Ronald Rice (D-Newark) when the party chooses a new state senator next month.
The power to pick Rice’s successor is mostly in the hands of LeRoy Jones, Jr., the Essex County Democratic Chairman and New Jersey Democratic State Chairman, who has a history of consensus building.
Jones will undoubtedly seek to find an agreement between the key players – Mayors Tony Vauss of Irvington, Michael Venezia of Bloomfield and Baraka – before settling on the next senator.
Newark has 111 filled county committee seats — 56 in the West Ward, 43 in the South Ward, and six each in the North and Central Wards – which represents the largest block in the district.
Bloomfield has 67 filled seats and Irvington has 60. Both towns are closely allied with Jones and the combined 127 votes outnumber Newark. Glen Ridge (14 seats) and Nutley (27 seats) are more likely to be part of the Bloomfield/Irvington coalition, bringing that number to 168 – 60%.
Of the 314 county committee seats in the 28th, 279 (89%) are currently filled. That gives some municipal chairs a couple of weeks to recruit and appoint up to 35 new members if they want to expand their own influence in the first open Senate seat in the district in 36 years.
Nutley, where Commissioner Thomas Evans is municipal chairman, has the most vacancies: thirteen (32.5%). Just three of the 70 seats in Bloomfield are vacant – Venezia is the municipal chair – and eight out of 68 in Irvington, where the municipal chair is Vauss ally Baseemah Beasley.
Beasley’s late husband, Bilal, served as an Essex County Freeholder and Irvington Council President – he came within 475 votes of ousting Rice in the 2007 Democratic State Senate primary (52%-48%) – and her daughter, Jamillah, is an Irvington councilwoman and potential Senate candidate.
Rice is the West Ward Democratic co-chairman (along with Jeanette Seabrooks) and has not said if he plans to remain in that post after leaving the Senate. All 56 of his county committee seats are filled and it’s not immediately clear how many votes are influenced by Rice and how many by Seabrooks, a Jones ally.
South Ward Democratic Chairman Patrick Council has eleven vacancies out 54 seats, with all seats in the Central and North Wards full.
Rice’s resignation is effective on August 31. Jones must hold a special election convention to fill the vacancy between September 7 and October 5, but must file his candidate for the November special election by September 15. Independents must file by September 6.