Photos: Nigel Thompson/Al DÍA News
The Camden leader is running for City Council again. Photos: Nigel Thompson/Al DÍA News

Camden’s own Falio Leyba-Martinez is running for City Council

Advocate and Camden City School Board Member, Leyba-Martinez is out to lead Ward 3 in 2023.


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Falio Leyba-Martinez, an Afro-Dominican advocate, youth baseball coach, and current Board Member of the Camden City School Advisory, is running for City Council in Camden, New Jersey, vying for the Ward 3 seat.

This is Leyba-Marinez’s second run at a City Council seat after an unsuccessful 2017 bid for an at-large Camden City Council seat. A win would make him the first Afro-Dominican to hold that post. 

A Camden resident for over 25 years, and originally from North Jersey, his parents bought a small store in Centerville, Leyba Grocery, that is still operating to this day. Leyba-Martinez himself is a small business owner who understands the nuances specific to the large Black and Latino population he’d be serving. 

“I'm running because we also need to bring more small business minded folks to the table. The owners that are in my particular ward, they need representation,” he said. “They need to be able to know what grants and opportunities they have, what things are there to help them.” 

“I believe in two things, unifying our community, and also strengthening our small businesses that the Mayor is already doing,” he added. 

Despite a losing effort for an at-large seat in 2017 — amassing 585 votes to come in sixth of nine candidates running that year — the longtime resident enters this new battle for a ward seat five years later as a stronger candidate and a team player. 

“I'm running with a team of people who are committed to the city because that's the only thing that I think anybody who's getting into an elected position has to have as a number one is love for what you're doing,” he said. 

Instead of sulking in defeat, the longtime baseball player went back to the cages to strengthen his game. He took both the positives and negatives from his loss and looks to utilize it to lead a better campaign this go-round. 

“When you lose, people kind of pack up and close shop. For me, my commitment to the city was going to be there no matter if I won or lost the election,” he said. 

Leyba-Martinez reflected on his 2017 defeat with AL DÍA, saying that a lot of people called his efforts to run a “mistake” or an “error.” Those criticisms came because he ran as an independent. 

“People don't normally run independent, against the wave,” he said. “2017 was the jumpstart to this, me wanting to represent my community, the same people that I ran for in 2017.” 

He is now seeking the seat for Ward 3, which has around 15,000 registered voters, and expressed excitement at the prospect of working with the current crop of Camden government leaders. 

“There's a great team assembled in the city of Camden right now. Our mayor Vic Carstarphen, he is a mentor for me. Since he's taken the position, he's kind of guided me on different things. I also have support from our school board president, Wasim Muhammad,” Leyba-Martinez said. 

But he also emphasized the necessity for action, with current representatives no longer engaging the community, according to him. 

“The folks that have represented this particular ward, have lost touch with our community,” Leyba-Martinez said. “We need to reestablish that. The number one word of this campaign is communication. If we're not communicating with the people we represent, what are we there for?” 

“We need to start understanding who we are, so that we can unify our community. I believe I'm the only candidate who's going to be able to do that in my ward,” he added. 

His running mates on his ticket include Arthur Barclay in Ward One, a member of the New Jersey General Assembly from the 5th district; Chris Christopher Collins in Ward Two, the incumbent, and also the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of the Anointed News Journal (ANJ); and Jeanette Ramos in Ward Four, founder and CEO of It Takes a Village Housing, a nonprofit dedicated to providing drug and alcohol treatment services. 

From left to right Mayor Victor Carstarphen , council candidate Arthur Barclay , council candidate Falio Leyba Martinez , council candidate Jeanette Ramos, and Councilman, Christopher Collins. Courtesy of Falio Leyba-Martinez
From left to right Mayor Victor Carstarphen, council candidate Arthur Barclay, council candidate Falio Leyba-Martinez, council candidate Jeanette Ramos, and Councilman Christopher Collins.

“Every single one of my colleagues running has that connection directly with our community, and all want to serve and communicate better with our residents,” he said. 

What piqued his interest in politics was when he began to work at his father’s store, Leyba Grocery, at a young age. It led him to pursue student government posts in school. 

“I was seeing things that weren't right. That was happening to my father in the store with different inspectors or the language barrier,” he said. “What gave me the motivation is that I've been involved with student government since I was in seventh grade. I think it's something that runs in my blood.”

Leyba-Martinez moved on to Camden County College and fought for representation and got on their board. He’d later be the commencement speaker for the college in 2010, one of one of very few people of color, and people from Camden City to actually do so. 

As Board Member of the Camden City School Advisory, he’s supported several district initiatives, including a safe zone resolution to assure immigrant parents it’s safe to send their kids to school, and that their personal information won’t be shared with ICE. Leyba-Martinez also supported the Spanish translation of all school board meetings — making Camden City the only school board the only to do so in New Jersey. Outside of the school board, he also restarted Little League baseball in East Camden in 2019. 

And as someone who’s lived and participated in East Camden for more than two decades, Leyba-Martinez spoke to what is keeping the community from improving. 

“There hasn't been a lot of development. The last big investments into East Camden were maybe 15 years ago, or more, which is another reason why I'm running. I have a background in small business, but I also have a background in real estate. It's about capitalizing on the real estate that we have and thinking outside the box,” he said. 

“What would make me feel the best about all of this is motivating more people to do the same,” he continued. “When they feel that they want to be the person leading their city, they step up and do it. The most important chapter of my life right now is winning the seat and taking these next four years once we win that seat to work on these things that I love the most.”

As for the grind that city-wide races such as City Council can be, Leyba-Martinez is not interested in the theatrics of the job. 

“If I get into a back and forth, how does that help my residents? It takes energy away from me helping those residents,” he said. “My goal is to meet as many of the voters and even the people that are not registered, registering more folks to vote. The community needs to step up. Because every member of the community is a leader. It's just about everybody stepping up to the plate.”


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