There’s a lot going on politically in Newark these days.
Newark’s mayoral election is well underway, with the candidates in full-on campaign mode. And of course, Newark’s current mayor, Cory Booker, is getting lots of local and national attention as he squares off against Steve Lonegan ahead of next month’s U.S. Senate special election here in New Jersey.
But there’s another special election on the horizon. It’s the contest for the municipal council at-large seat vacated by Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. when he ascended to the U.S. Congress to take the seat formerly held by his father, the late Rep. Donald Payne, Sr. It’s the same seat that caused controversy when some members of the current council – Ras Baraka, Mildred Crump, Ronald Rice, and Darrin Sharif – contested the appointment of Shanique Davis Speight to it late last year (a judge later sided with those members and overturned the appointment).
Enter Lynda Lloyd, the Newark native who has served on the congressional staff of Donald Payne, Sr., and on the municipal staff of south ward councilman and current mayoral candidate Baraka. She’s now vying for the seat (along with John Sharpe James, the son of former Newark mayor Sharpe James). The Howard University graduate sat down with me for a couple hours last week to discuss her ideas for Newark, and how she intends to execute them as a member of the council.
In a nutshell, Lloyd says she’s committed to helping reanimate the council – to making it a real factor in pushing the people’s agenda – by more aggressively using its powers on behalf of Newark residents. Read on for her thoughts about how she intends to do that with Newarkers’ help, what it’s like to run for office in Newark as a young person and a woman, and more.
Andaiye Taylor: How long have you known you wanted to hold political office?
Lynda Lloyd: I’ve always wanted to run for office. I fell in love with civics at Camden Middle [middle school in Newark] — that’s where I started to become civically engaged. I also started attending council meetings at a young age, so involvement in that world started early on.
I was interested in the council because they deal with who can build what where, and who can do what where. I knew at an early age that I wanted to run for office, write laws, and make the votes and decisions that increased the quality of life in the city.
How did you pursue that in terms of your education?
Because of my activism, I wanted to study law. I went to Howard [University], and was excited to be in the nation’s capital, because the world comes to DC for politics. Although state and local government had been my focus, I really appreciated that about DC. I was one of those weird young people who just loved government. I was the girl who watched C-Span. And I wanted to be part of the legacy at Howard.
When I was in DC, the late congressman [Donald] Payne [Sr.] was in office. I wanted to work for him, because I wanted to know what he did at the federal level. I cold called his office for three years. Even though I knew people who knew him, I didn’t think of calling home to get an internship — no connections got me there. The third year, a young lady who worked in his office said, “Just send me your resume”. Once I started working there, I realized just how many people we knew in common.
My first semester working there I did well, and his office called and said the congressman wanted me to stay. I started as an intern, and left as a staff assistant. Congressman Payne had a lot of institutional knowledge. He worked on education, housing, healthcare, and appropriations, and being there gave me insight into what role Congress really plays. At the end of the day, they fight for dollars for their districts.
I worked in the Newark and the DC offices. While I was still at Howard, I would come home and work on campaigns – not like spring breaks for a lot of other people my age. And I would always speak to students at my old school.
I also worked with Quest Youth Services, and helped organize programs through that organization with Ms. Joyce Smith Carter, who we’ve since lost to cancer. Anyone who was having something that was impacting the community – I was there. Because of that, it was easy to come home after school and connect.
What do you think you can accomplish on the council?
I look at Newark city council the way I look at Congress. There are some things that the city council can do like subpoena for information, call in officers from companies we give contracts to, and hold public hearings for certain subjects. I haven’t seen us work aggressively enough to use those powers, be transparent, and share information.
When did you decide to run?
When councilman [Donald] Payne [Jr.] decided to run for Congress, I started to research all the options. A friend of mine told me that if Payne wins, I should do it. You have to understand, they used to call me “Councilwoman Lloyd” when I was still going to school in Newark. I’ve always wanted to be on the council.
I’d spent two years with a close-up view of the council when I was working for councilman Baraka, and because of that, I was a little disenchanted and unsure. I said “no” at first. But I still believe in the system, and believe we can get things done. Because of some of my experiences in City Hall, I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue the dream. But a friend of mine reignited the fire, so I prayed about it, and we researched the options.
Do you think the controversy about the seat adds a negative element to your run?
Based upon me engaging residents from all over the city, most people don’t even know it’s a “special election”. I’ve had a handful of people say, “Is that the seat they had the big ruckus over?” But only a handful of people, and only a small number of people have totally made up their minds.
Most people I’ve talked to are engaged, and are ready for a new face, fresh voice, and for more women representing them. You have more people like that than people who are completely behind a certain candidate.
I feel that I’m the best candidate, and here’s why: I’m literally everywhere possible engaging residents. Since I first came out, I’ve given people a whole background on me. I say to them, “If I hadn’t been a community person or been engaged in the past, what makes you think I’m going to do that now?” And I explain the process: why having elections is important, and what the roles and responsibilities of the council are.
Why do you think you’d have enough impact on the council to make a difference?
I know I would be only be one out of nine votes. What I want to do is empower the community through information. As citizens, you shouldn’t elect a person and then walk away. An elected official is only as powerful as who they’re able to mobilize. That may sound very idealistic, but it has to happen. A representative needs to be able to place a call and get hundreds of people to show up.
Votes talk. If I’m a councilperson and get a hundred people to show up, other council members are going to take notice, and that’s going to impact their vote. If they know they can make any decision, and only a handful of people will show up, they don’t have that healthy fear of the people. It should be fear like, “I have this grave responsibility to make decisions about hundreds of thousands of residents, and I need to take this seriously.” I know councilman [and current mayoral candidate] Baraka has tried it, and I think he’s been the most effective at doing that.
In sum, I want to be in constant communication with constituents. We’re not going to agree on everything, but I should be able to explain my votes. And when people are in the loop on a consistent basis, they feel better than when they think everything’s ok, and something big happens out of nowhere.
What are your plans for the city?
I have a community-driven platform that talks about community development, empowerment, and health. The community has to be involved in what’s taking place in the city.
Public safety is the most important issue outside of education, and I have some ideas around how to address public safety, as well as get cleaner neighborhoods. There are sections of Newark that are very filthy where they don’t have to be.
What do you say to people on public safety specifically? Especially when we have a spate of killings like we’ve had over the past week and a half.
People get overwhelmed, and they think there’s nothing they can do. For example, you look at some areas that are extremely dark at night. Community members should feel empowered to call the business administrator and inquire about getting lights put in those places. It’s just important for people to know where to go to get things done. If people are educated on how things go, that’s one small way of helping them take action that can have some impact.
Crime is not something that can be addressed by just policing. There has to be a multi-level plan to address crime. Jobs are an issue, and having more of them would definitely bring the crime down significantly. There are institutions in our city that can impact what’s taking place. If those institutions are being silent, or not being aggressive where they need to be, you can pick up the phone and call people to get them moving quicker.
There really should be a state of emergency. If we were in another community, this type of thing wouldn’t be able to happen. The question is: how do we put a plan in place for what’s going on right now? What can we do right now? And I think institutions can lend resources that can protect our community. And I’m talking about protections, not a police state. I’m talking about public safety and the delivery of social services.
Again, I’m a civics person. I look at who’s paying who, and who’s responsible for what. Why can’t we have more troopers here to cover dangerous areas, if we’re paying to register our cars, and that money is technically supposed to be for [state] trooper hiring? A partnership like that will help alleviate the burden on the NPD [Newark Police Department]. There needs to an emergency plan until we can stabilize the area.
When you have people terrorizing the community, they feel like they can do anything they want to. I definitely know that the state can come in and help alleviate some of what we’re seeing. We have to be aggressive, but we can’t address crime by just beefing up police.
You’ve been into civics since you were a child. What special insight did that give you into how politics works?
Your office is a bully pulpit that can be used to advocate on people’s behalf. We need to be looking at what’s happening in every other major city, and figure out how we can get in front of some of the problems they’re having. And we need to be paying attention to what’s going on in the New Jersey [state] legislature.
Why aren’t we going to Trenton as a delegation more often? We have to be there advocating for Newark needs, making sure there’s legislation and budget items impacting Newark. Once you physically start to see your neighborhood change, you start to appreciate how your city is getting better.
The only thing that the council is technically responsible for is the city clerk. What your councilperson is doing is making calls, and using a little bit of muscle on behalf of residents to get things done. So it really doesn’t matter if all nine [council members] get along – they should go as a delegation to advocate for what we need.
The last time I saw you before you announced, I stumbled into a conversation you were having with a few other people about the lack of women in politics in Newark. What are your insights in light of your run?
The funny thing is, if every woman were to pull out of political structures in this city, I promise you those structures wouldn’t stand. Why is it that we don’t use the bargaining power that we have? It seems like we’re just happy to be at the table, but we don’t understand the strength that we have.
There are some women in our city who could’ve been greater in terms of their voice, but if we don’t mobilize our own power, we can only go so far. Women are 61% of registered voters in Newark. I think it’s important to highlight that fact about our city.
I also saw you recently at a Lean [Startup Machine] Newark networking event. You were the only politician or candidate present there. Why is it important for politicians to engage with the startup community in Newark?
The thing about Lean Newark is when I see them, I see an organization that can come into the south ward, into the west ward – all over Newark. As politicians, we have to challenge ourselves to think about business. The world is at our fingertips, but if you have an organization like Lean at your disposal, they can really help people here take their ideas to another level. We need the physical infrastructure here to create change, but we also need a strong social infrastructure. I think organizations like that can be a part of it.
Anthony [Frasier, founder of the BrickCity Tech meetup], invited me to the event on Twitter, and I’m so glad I was able to come and learn more about what they do. Now, I’m thinking about how to connect more people to that type of initiative; I immediately started thinking about how to get Lean in front of more people. Because as a young person, if you have an idea that you want to get off the ground, they provide another way to think about it. I want to do whatever I can to get the entire city on board with those types of opportunities.
Legislators have their role, and the private sector has theirs. How do you understand the relationship between the two?
We need to know how things happen. Take the port for example: it’s important to know that the governors [of New Jersey and New York] negotiate what can happen there. If you don’t understand that basic fact, you’re not going to lobby the right person to get what you want done. And if you don’t like the way the governor is negotiating, you change him.
It’s kind of like Plato’s theory of the cave. Those of us who know how things work – we’re the ones who made it outside. It’s our responsibility to try to bring everybody else along. We should be helping to give access, provide information, and be excellent brokers on behalf of our constituents.
It’s not our job to give out jobs. It is our job to learn how to use our legislative powers to make more jobs possible. It’s our job to conduct oversight of the administration. To have hearings and expose what’s happening to our constituents.
I’m all about civics – it’s a real passion of mine. The council could become a bigger force if we use our power on behalf of the people of Newark. We need to work together within that domain.
You’re a young woman – is it your goal to grow the electorate in Newark, particularly among younger voters?
All politics are local – people need to understand how important these local offices are. And we take for granted that seniors vote, but young people got Obama elected. A lot of that is because he was a fresh face and a historic candidate, but the fact is it proved that young people do vote in some circumstances.
The question for me is how do we get people to see that all politics are local? If you look at what happens at the federal level, Obama can have all the great ideas he wants, but with no House [of Representatives] support, he can’t get a lot of things he wants done. If we support what he wants to do, we have to vote for our [congressional] representative, not just for him.
I’m all about giving teeth to civics, and putting legislative powers to real use. Change in this city is going to happen, so you need to make sure you have the leaders at the table who are going to remember you. The question is, with new challenges before us, how do we govern? Mobilizing for change is not for the faint of heart.
I asked you about being a woman in politics in Newark. What’s it like being a young political candidate in this town?
Newark is very political, and you’re not really encouraged to participate unless you’re up under someone. Independent thinking is not encouraged politically. You have a bunch of older people trying to hold on. It’s like the older eat the young.
It would be my dream to have a movement where people realized and actualized the power they have. The conversation in this city is one that is full of blame and hopelessness. I want to change it to one of empowerment and action.
Change is fearful. Some people don’t want what they have now, but they’re fearful about the future. And they might have good reasons to be fearful. You have people who complain a lot about the changes they see, but then when you ask them what they want, their voices go down to mute. When you ask, “What do you want the city to look like?” they kind of fall back.
Advancement in this city in terms of economics, business development, institutions, and social infrastructure is wonderful, but we need to make sure what happens here is good for the residents.
Brick City Live also interviewed at-large candidate John Sharpe James.