Last night I visited Newark, NJ for the first time. I’d been through Newark on buses and trains between NYC and Philly or DC, but I had never bothered to stop. I’d become mildly obsessed with the city as my previous posts on Mayor Cory Booker and the Brick City documentary made clear. However, last night, I had good reason to exit the train station and stay a while.

I had been invited, along with comedians Leighann Lord and Scott Blakeman, to donate my time to a re-election fundraiser for the city councilman for the West Ward. Ron Rice Jr, I was told, was s true progressive. He was the first New Jersey candidate nationally endorsed by Democracy For America. He supports marriage equality, believes in evolution and was part of the largest turnover in Newark city government when he, along with Mayor Booker and five other council members, were elected in 2006.

These are all nice boxes one can check off on a list defining a “good progressive candidate,” but these are not the things that convinced me to jump on a commuter rail and tell jokes to strangers. What stood out to me was that Rice helped start the West Ward Collective whose stated mission is:

To finish the business of the 1969 Black and Puerto Rican Convention by decentralizing the decision-making process of the city of Newark by example in the West Ward and to empower West Ward stakeholders to create a holistically stable ward for all of its residents.

The West Ward Collective is organized and run by workgroups and ward based organizations and non-profits… Each workgroup is made up of West Ward residents, community based organization leaders, ward business owners, etc. that have expertise and/or interest in working on these issues directly for the benefit of the West Ward. It is ward based.

The WWC is organized into a series of workgroups such as education, arts and culture, housing, etc and meets twice a month. It helps raise awareness of city resources within the community, and operates in the opposite direction, influencing city policy based on community involvement.

I was impressed with Rice’s commitment to sharing and distributing power deeper within the community. Elected officials often use their positions to consolidate power for themselves, to make themselves indispensable to the extreme and create something that looks more like a kingdom than a democracy. Rice appears to be doing the opposite, and I was proud to support that effort in a small way last night.

Side note: I also learned that making Sharpe James jokes in Newark is still a bit risky. He has some vocal supporters who let me know my jibes and Marion Barry comparisons were unwelcome. As we often say in the business: too soon.

You can find out more about Ron Rice Jr on his website. (Incidentally, his father is State Senator Ron Rice, whom Booker defeated for mayor in 2006).

Related Posts with Thumbnails