After lopsided results, voters to get another say in Newark’s South Ward runoff -

After lopsided results, voters to get another say in Newark’s South Ward runoff

Voters in Newark’s South Ward will get a second chance on Tuesday to elect a councilman after May’s initial balloting didn’t result in a candidate winning more than 50 percent of the vote.

The runoff election, which will pit the two top vote-getters against each other, is unlike the ones also happening in the East and West wards which will follow a close finish between the dominant pair of candidates, with the rest of the field far behind in Brick City’s non-partisan municipal election.

The South Ward’s top vote-getter last month, Patrick Council, bested his nearest rival, Terrance Bankston, by a nearly 3-1 margin last month. Even so, with a field of six candidates dividing up the vote, Council fell short of the 50%-plus-one tally needed to win on the first ballot, setting up the one-on-one with Bankston on June 14. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Council, whose name is a quirky coincidence with the ruling body he hopes to join, ran on a slate topped by Mayor Ras Baraka, who is extraordinarily popular among Newark voters, winning his third four-year term last month with 82.5% of the vote, improving by 5 points on his first re-election landslide in 2018.

Council received 1,941 votes in the May 10 race, or 45.6%, of the 4,255 cast by South Ward voters, compared to 761 votes, or 17.9%, for Bankston.

Bankston’s performance was much closer to the third-place finisher, Trenton Jones, whose 679 votes, or 16%, left him out of the running. Christina Cherry, Douglas Freeman and Cynthia Truitt-Rease divvied up the remaining 20.5% percent, in that order.

Council, 51, who works in the Baraka administration as Newark’s director of recreation, cultural affairs and senior services, attributed at least some of his margin to the mayor’s support.

But he insisted that he has built a reputation and a following all his own. He noted that he has served on the Newark Board of Education, has been active in the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, and has been active in the local Pop Warner youth football organization and the Jackson Robinson South Ward Instructional Baseball League.

“I believe the people spoke on May 10 on who they hope and believe can lead them,” Council said. “The mayor has done a sensational job of moving the city forward, but we shouldn’t take for granted the amount of work that I put into the South Ward for years.”

But Bankston said his opponent’s initial showing by no means guaranteed a similar result, or victory at all, in the follow-up.

For one thing, Bankston noted that Council would not have the mayor’s coattails to ride on this time. Despite Council’s leading vote total on May 10, most people who cast ballots didn’t vote for him. And, Bankston insisted, even some voters he met during the runoff campaign who did vote for Council weren’t sure they would again.

“I am meeting and being introduced to voters who just voted the line,” Bankson said, referring to Team Baraka slate members grouped in a single row on the May 10 ballot. “And they’re saying, ‘We’re not committed to the other guy. We want change.’”

Like Council, Bankston is a veteran of public sector and non-profit work, having worked at the South Ward Cultural Center at the local Boys & Girls Club, and now serving as statewide director for environmental justice at the non-profit Clean Water Action.

But despite several attempts, Bankston has never been elected to office, having lost races for the Newark Board of Education in 2003 while still an undergraduate at Bloomfield College, followed by a run for Essex County freeholder (now known as commissioner) in 2009, and then for Newark councilman at-large in 2014. He ran for the South Ward seat in 2018 but lost to its current occupant, Councilman John Sharpe James, who is not seeking re-election this year.

If Bankston is elected, he said one focus would be on literally cleaning up the South Ward, which includes the vast green oasis of Weequahic Park, but also some of the city’s poorest, most blighted neighborhoods, where he said residents have complained of rat infestation.

Council emphasized the need to improve the quality of life in the South Ward, and to encourage equitable growth that benefits residents as well as developers and other outside investors.

Right next to Weequahic’s public golf course, the Newark Housing Authority is partnering with private residential and commercial developers to replace what for years had been one of the South Ward’s worst eyesores, the recently demolished Seth Boyden Terrace apartments, with hundreds of new units and an adjacent film & television studio.

Council and Bankston both said they would work to ensure that their constituents received a fair share of the new affordable housing units and jobs created there.

Both men also vowed to use their positions to minimize the aircraft noise, truck traffic and pollution impact on the South Ward of a proposed Amazon air freight hub at the northern end of Newark Liberty International Airport, which straddles the city’s southern border with Elizabeth.

“This is why the people elected you,” said Council.

Or so he and Bankston hope.

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Steve Strunsky may be reached at [email protected]

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