NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—For the first time in the history of the city, the Mayor has hired a Chief of Staff.
Keith Jones II, a staffer in the Office of Mayor James Cahill, has made comments suggesting that he will begin his new job as Chief of Staff on July 1.
Jones has worked for the city since 2014, when the administration hired him as New Brunswick's "community organization specialist." He was the first person in city history to hold that title as well.
Now, after five years as a key player in the Cahill administration, he will become the eight-term Mayor's first Chief of Staff.
"Tomorrow, I start my new chapter as Chief of Staff," wrote Jones in an inspirational post on Facebook. "To Mayor Jim Cahill, thank you for your confidence in me."
Jones has become a leader in the Black community, as well as within Democratic Party circles, and he was one of the most vocal backers of the Mayor's 2018 re-election run against this reporter.
He has been the President of the county's "Young Dems" organization, and in 2017, he was appointed to lead the New Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus.
Jones received a bump in his annual salary, which rose to $70,000, according to the city's Finance Department. It's not immediately clear if the administration will fill the community organizer position that Jones previously held.
He earned a $60,000 salary in his old city job as of January 1, and also collected $7,183.60 in overtime pay during 2018.
Jones' LinkedIn profile lists the following bullet points under the position:
- Becoming aware of new community groups.
- Evaluating Community Groups & Determining most active.
- Developing connections between City Departments and programs and community groups.
- Recommending liaisons among community groups.
- Evaluating roles City government can assist community groups.
- Evaluating services community groups can provide to City residents.
- Maintaining a calendar of activities of community groups.
- Providing information and recommendations regarding city actions in relation to community groups.
- Increasing Citizen Participation within the city
He comes from a political family with an interesting history in the city.
His uncle, Kevin Jones, has been an aide to Cahill since 1996, and still serves on the city's Housing Authority Board of Commissioners to this day.
Kevin has twice been accused of losing his cool and getting violent during local elections. In 2010, an incident in Recreation Park also led to a finding of probable cause for charge of that he violated election law, a charge that was quietly dismissed by authorities later that year.
Almost a decade, Keith's father of the same name, Kevin's twin brother, prominently accused the city's former superindent of schools–during the time period when Cahill appointed the entire school board–of shouting a racial slur at him.
In December 2011, the elder Keith Jones presented his case to thew New Brunswick City Council at length, and unsuccessfully asked the Council to help him get his job back.
The younger Keith Jones joined the city government in October 2014, five months after he went to bat for Robert Rawls, Cahill's Fire Director who was heavily criticized after he crashed his city-owned sport utility vehicle into three children crossing Livingston Avenue in a crosswalk.
Jones led a group of people that attended a City Council meeting and he spoke in Rawls defense and criticized news media for their coverage of the crash.
After joining the government, Jones quickly developed a reputation as a hard-working staff member, taking the lead on many community initiatives and programs including "Code Blue," where the Henry Guest House is opened up as an overnight shelter during extremely cold weather.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Jones studied Business and Management at Alabama State University before attending Centenary College, where he studied fashion design.
Before he joined the city payroll, Jones served in many volunteer roles, including as Chairman of the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance, and in 2015, he became Chairman of another new city initative: the New Brunswick Fatherhood Council.
His power grew over time as he has made a name for himself well beyond New Brunswick, the city where he grew up and still lives today.
The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders voted unanimously to put Jones on the county's powerful Vo-Tech School Board in 2017. Last year, he joined the Board of Trustees at Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County.
But, on the occasion of his recent promotion, Jones focused in on a paying job he held five summers ago, stopping people on the streets to raise money for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as an employee of an organization called Grassroots Campaigns, Incorporated.
"I was done with music. My fashion line was bootlegged. All the money gone, office closed, dog died. Couldn’t afford a cup of coffee," wrote Jones. But he did have some experience with political campaigns, having volunteered on President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.
"I ended up taking a soliciting job raising money for marriage equality, for the ACLU. Catching a train or carpooling across the state 6 deep in a Civic. Standing downtown asking people for money, in 100 degree weather, in a funky work shirt that we weren’t allowed to take home & wash," he continued.
"My quota was $200 a day. If I didn’t hit that mark by the second day, I would be fired. The amount of pride I had to swallow… Being managed by High School Seniors, who didn’t have a clue I will never forget. All for $300 a week."
In the end, Jones wrote the experience was "a tough chapter in my life" but also "one that was needed."
The reaction to the post was overwhelmingly positive, including kudos from key officials in local and county politics.
"Congratulations! The Mayor is very smart for choosing you for this important position," said Dale Caldwell, an elected school board member who also chairs the city's Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.
"I love you my brotha!" wrote Kenneth Armwood, the Middlesex County Freeholder from Piscataway.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.