When Newark’s “Booker Era” ended in 2013, with Cory Booker transitioning from Newark’s mayor to New Jersey’s junior senator, some big shoes were left to fill, not just those of Booker, who in 2012 enjoyed a 70% approval rating, but those of his advisers and staff. Deputy mayors, for example, may lack the day-to-day visibility of the mayor, but they can be significant players in a city’s administration, exerting influence in areas like economic policy and education. They also play a role in community outreach and development, connecting with demographic groups that the mayor may not reach as easily on his own.
Such was the case when Ras Baraka was inaugurated as Newark’s mayor in July 2014. Baraka, who was well-connected within the city’s African-American communities, tapped Jacqueline Quiles, of Puerto Rican descent, as one of his deputy mayors, hopeful that she would be his primary liaison to Newark’s Latino groups. It was a logical choice: Quiles, who is a native of Newark, has deep roots and extensive experience working with Newark’s Latinos. Her most visible, long-term position was with the New Jersey State Puerto Rican Parade, of which she was president for six years. During her tenure, she increased attendance exponentially. One reason was certainly the enormous talent she attracted including reggaetón superstar Daddy Yankee and renowned Puerto Rican musicians El Gran Combo, Victor Manuelle, and Gilberto Santa Rosa.
Much of the work of a deputy mayor is the kind of work Quiles has been involved in for more than a decade: advocating, in large and small ways, for the needs and desires of a community. While president of the Puerto Rican Parade, Quiles wrote scripts—in Spanish—to run on Cablevision, bringing the parade into the living rooms of New Jerseyans who couldn’t attend in person. Often, the outcomes of such advocacy seem nominal, but for the communities in question, they mean recognition and honor that are all too frequently denied to them. Among the initiatives spearheaded by Quiles are the naming of a part of Newark’s Broadway as “Avenida Puerto Rico.” She led a similar effort in Perth Amboy, where a part of Hall Avenue was also named “Avenida Puerto Rico.”
Her ability to represent the Puerto Rican community in New Jersey has been recognized by many political and civic leaders, both in Puerto Rico and here in Newark and Perth Amboy. The administrations of two former Puerto Rican governors (who, it should be mentioned, were political rivals) both honored her work as a promoter of Puerto Rican culture, and New Jersey governors Corzine and Christie have similarly named her among the recipients of the state’s Hispanic Leadership Awards.
As Deputy Mayor of Community Engagement, Quiles hasn’t only liaised with the Puerto Rican community, however. Her responsibilities extend to all Newark residents.
“The Deputy Mayor’s role is to represent the Mayor by attending some engagements at which the Mayor feels he should be represented but which he is unable to attend personally,” says Quiles, whose typical work day might begin with a press conference announcing the next Dominican Day Parade or an upcoming community soccer tournament. That’s likely followed by a half-dozen appearances at Newark events. It’s a schedule that can be exhausting, to be sure, but one on which Quiles thrives.
“What good is power,” she says, “if you don’t use it for your community?”
It’s a philosophy reminiscent of the previous administration, proving that Quiles’ mandate is as big as the shoes left for her to fill.