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Calvin West. Photo courtesy of Vimeo.

Trailblazer: Councilman Calvin West

First Black to win a citywide election in Newark

By David Wildstein, January 16 2023 12:01 am

Calvin D. West (1932-2019) was a legendary and beloved Newark political figure for parts of seven decades and the first African American to win citywide office.

West was elected to an at-large seat on the Newark City Council in 1966, running on a slate with Mayor Hugh Addonizio.

While Addonizio faced a runoff with former Mayor Leo Carlin – future mayor Kenneth Gibson came in third – West and his running mates won outright.

His sister, Larrie West Stalks, worked as a top political operative to Addonizio, where her job was to help the mayor with the Black vote.  She later spent twenty years as the Essex County Register of Deeds and Mortgages.

West’s career as a councilman lasted just four years.

He ran again on Addonizio’s slate in 1970, but lost his seat to former Essex County Freeholder Earl Harris, who ran on a ticket headed by Gibson.

Gibson became the first African American mayor of a major northeastern city, but three of the four Addonizio-backed candidates for at-large council seats won.

Gibson allies won council seats in the South and Central wards, with Turner losing his bid for a third term to Rev. Dennis Westbrooks.

West later served as an aide and political advisor to Mayor Sharpe James, and worked in the Newark office of Governors James E. McGreevey, Richard Codey and Jon Corzine.  He was an early supporter of Phil Murphy’s campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2017.

West first became involved in politics in 1954 as the founder of the Central Ward Young Democrats.  He led that group for seven years and spent four years as the treasurer of the Essex County Young Democrats.

He worked as a correspondent for the Newark Evening News and the New Jersey Afro-American newspapers.

West was the vice chairman of the Newark Municipal Utilities Authority, a member of the Newark Senior Citizens Commission, and a member of the Newark Insurance Fund before running for city councilman at age 33.

He became the second African American to serve on the City council, following the re-election of Central Ward Councilman Irvine Turner.

In his early career, West was an auditor for the state Division of Local Government Services and the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and as director of the Carlton B. Norris Youth Association.

He later served as chief of staff to Orange mayor Joel Shain.

West attended Bloomfield College and Cooper Union College and later served in the U.S. Army.

He died on December 2, 2019.  He was 87.

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