Black minister calls on Democrats to refrain from slinging mud during gubernatorial campaign

The influential pastor of the largest AME church in New Jersey called on candidates running for governor – those announced and those still considering – to refrain from personal attacks during the campaign.

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The Rev. Ronald Slaughter speaks at a rally at Saint Michael's Medical Center. (NewarkInc.com file photo)

The Rev. Ronald Slaughter, the pastor of Saint James AME Church in Newark, issued the challenge after a meeting between former Mayor Sharpe James and Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat who is considering a gubernatorial run.

Slaughter organized the high-powered pow wow after remarks Sweeney made to Politico in July that “all but accused James of selling his endorsement to the highest bidder.” The pastor described the meeting at his church on Martin Luther King Blvd. in the city’s Central Ward as productive.

“Senator Sweeney is a dear friend of mine and Mayor Sharpe James is a mentor of mine,” Slaughter said. “I wanted to make sure the relationship between both men remained in tact and cordial. And it is.”

James and Sweeney could not be reached for comment.

Slaughter said Democrats cannot engage in character assassination, especially of political leaders who are held in high regard in the African-American community. James has thrown his support behind Philip Murphy, the former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and the only declared Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

“There are a variety of issues we could be using our energy to fight against such as poverty, crime, jobs, community development and education, rather than using our energy to fight one another,” Slaughter said. “We're stronger together than apart.”

Slaughter said he understands that the eventual Democratic candidates running for governor in the June 2017 primary will have to find ways to differentiate themselves from each other.

“But slandering and throwing dirt on the opponent or their supporters will no longer work,” Slaughter said. “It'll only make voters wonder why one is going to that length to attack someone.”

Slaughter has emerged as one of the most influential black ministers in New Jersey and has become a leading voice in the social justice movement.

In the last year, he fought to keep Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark from closing and has taken on what he calls institutional racism at Kean University and has demanded the resignation of Kean President Dawood Farahi.

Slaughter said that Sweeney has been a strong ally in an effort to have an independent investigation of Kean University’s hiring practices and treatment of minorities.

“We will still need each other after the election is over and relationships don't need to be severed over foolishness,” Slaugher said. “We're not going to act like the Republicans did during this last presidential primary and tear each other apart. Nor will we allow leaders of our community to be demonized.”

Slaughter has not endorsed a gubernatorial candidate yet, but says he plans to meet with other candidates in the near future. Candidates often seek out the endorsement of ministers like Slaughter because of their ability to sway voters from the pulpit.

“My congregation is a well-informed one socially and politically because I preach it and live it before them,” Slaughter said. “At the end of the day, I'll vote and endorse someone that's not only good for me but good for the community that I serve.”

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