Saturday, June 4, 2005
First-term Essex County Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley faces a fight in Tuesday's Democratic primary from a political newcomer out of Maplewood looking to spark economic development in Freeholder District 2.
The race pits the 59-year-old Beasley, a longtime Irvington councilman and stalwart in the Essex County Democratic Party, against 37-year-old Lester Lewis-Powder, a solo candidate who has never held political office and is not associated with any ticket.
It is the only countywide race in which there will be no Republican challenge in the fall, meaning the primary winner will be almost assured the seat for the next three years. District 2 encompasses Irvington, Maplewood and parts of Newark's west and south wards.
Though he faces long odds running against a well-known incumbent, Lewis-Powder hopes his educational background and experience in the nonprofit sector will counter Beasley's popularity. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics and finance and a master's in public administration.
He is also executive director of Let's Celebrate Inc., a Jersey City- based nonprofit that provides food, develops affordable housing and offers financial planning to the poor.
"The freeholders are the first line of defense for voters because they evaluate the things being presented by the administration," Lewis-Powder said, "and unless you have people there who are capable of evaluating the things being presented and advocating for services for their district, you're not going to get the best services or programs."
Beasley, on the other hand, carries 18 years as a councilman in Irvington and the full backing of the powerful Essex County Democratic Party. In his campaign, Beasley touts his record, noting that while he was on the freeholder board a new county jail was completed in Newark, ground was broken on a new psychiatric hospital in Cedar Grove and reforms were made in the county's implementation of WorkFirst NJ, a state program that requires welfare recipients to participate in job training or search activities.
He also hails the park upgrades that have been a hallmark of County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr.'s administration and improvements to such county roads as Stuyvesant Avenue.
"Education, recreation, maintaining our roads, those are things that affect people everyday," Beasley said.
In his second term, Beasley says he would like to see more park improvements, especially to Vailsburg Park, and more road upgrades, with a focus on Springfield and Clinton avenues. He also pledges to maintain funding for Essex County College and the county's vocational schools, institutions that could face deep cuts this year at the federal level.
"When you look at the society ... you need people who deal with trades, the industrial arts," Beasley said. "The vocational schools we have in different parts of the county, it's key we maintain the level of service and I wouldn't want to see it cut back for any reason."
Lewis-Powder, on the other hand, says his primary focus would be economic development, especially along the Springfield Avenue corridor, which runs through the heart of District 2. Of particular importance, he says, would be improved housing along that road.
"Springfield Avenue runs from Newark to Route 78. It's an excellent corridor that could use more support and strategic development to capitalize on its location," Lewis- Powder said.
Like Beasley, Lewis-Powder also wants to continue the park projects, but would like to see more recreational opportunities to go along with the improved facilities.
Ultimately, though, Lewis-Powder said the race comes down to qualifications and he feels his are better than Beasley's.
"He's a career politician who isn't qualified to do one job and especially not two," Lewis-Powder said. "It's been three years and no one knows who he is, and he's our freeholder. I think that's a testament to his lack of leadership."
Beasley rebuts Lewis-Powder's allegations, insisting that his nearly two decades in government should not be taken for granted.
"People always want to try and criticize what people aren't doing, and if they are doing things, they want to say they're not doing enough," Beasley said. "But I think I can compare my record of leadership in this district, and I think you'd need a magnifying glass to see what he's done."
The primary race will be held on Tuesday.