NJ Mayor Races Nonpartisan but Contentious

Voters in New Jersey's biggest city and capital city are set to elect new mayors this week to replace caretakers who stepped in after the previously elected mayors left office.

The races in Newark and Trenton are technically nonpartisan, with none of the candidates running as members of a party, but they're certainly contentious.

In Newark, campaign workers for candidate Shavar Jeffries are accused of setting opponent Ras Baraka's campaign bus afire. They have since been fired.

In Trenton, posters advertising the six candidates are posted, often atop one another, on walls all over the city.

The cities are among several municipalities across the state holding nonpartisan elections Tuesday. In some places, one party is dominant. In others, it's local custom to appear above partisan fray for local offices.

In Newark, Baraka and Jeffries are running to fill the seat previously held by Cory Booker, who won a special election last year to succeed U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died in office. Former Councilman Luis Quintana is interim mayor.

The election has been heated. Both candidates oppose a threatened state financial takeover and favor a return to local control of the city's school district.

But education issues have been a major part of the campaign, as have outside funders.

Baraka, 44, a City Council member and high school principal who is the son of the late poet Amiri Baraka, has the support of the labor-connected New Jersey Working Families organization, which has paid for anti-Jeffries ads. Under law, those expenditures cannot be coordinated with the campaign.

Jeffries, 39, a former state assistant attorney general and Newark school board president who is now a law professor at Seton Hall University, has the support of the independent Newark First.

On Thursday, the two men performed an awkward pas de deux as they maneuvered to greet seniors outside an ostensibly nonpolitical event at a Newark hotel.

Baraka has accused Jeffries of being beholden to Wall Street and other shadowy outside interests that are funding attack ads that blame him for Newark's current troubles.

"Newarkers can't be bought," Baraka said. "Newark isn't for sale."

Anti-Jeffries ads have implied he is connected to Republican Gov. Chris Christie. When asked Thursday to describe the extent of his relationship with Christie, Jeffries replied: "None."

On Friday, the Star-Ledger of Newark, the state's largest newspaper, endorsed Jeffries, calling him "the real reformer in this race."

In Trenton, the mayoral seat is open for a different reason: Previous Mayor Tony Mack was convicted at a federal corruption trial and removed from office before he could complete his first term.

Acting Mayor George Muschal isn't running for a full term and instead hopes to return to the City Council.

The six candidates seeking the mayoral seat are James Golden, a former Philadelphia police officer who has also worked in high-ranking security posts for the federal Transportation Security Administration and Philadelphia public schools; Eric Jackson, a former Trenton director of public works; Oliver "Bucky" Leggett, a former deputy mayor in Philadelphia who later served as head of the Philadelphia Port Corp., Kathy McBride, a City Council member and founder of the group Mothers Against Violence; Paul Perez, an Army veteran who worked at the Pentagon before becoming a security consultant; and Walker Worthy, the Mercer County deputy clerk.

All the candidates say they would return integrity to the office after the corruption scandal.

Like in Newark, crime, economic development and the city's relationship with the state government are major issues.

And like in Newark, independent expenditures have cropped up. Better Education for Kids, an advocacy group that pushes for school choice and often draws the ire of teachers unions, has paid for a billboard that links Jackson to Mack, under whom he worked for a time. The group is supporting Golden.

If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the top two will enter a runoff.

Paterson, the state's third-largest city, has a crowded mayoral field of eight and could be headed for a runoff. Ocean City and Long Branch are also holding mayoral elections.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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