Vice President Kamala Harris toured Montclair and Newark, New Jersey facilities last week Friday, Oct. 8, to promote COVID-19 vaccinations and the importance of child care. The highlight of her trip was arguably a small stopover with colleagues Gov. Phil Murphy and Sen. Cory Booker at an impeccable bakery shop called Tonnie’s Minis, whose owner used to call Harlem home before making the move to Newark.
Tonnie’s Minis was located on 264 Lenox Avenue in Harlem when the Amsterdam News did a write-up on the bakery in 2012, said shop owner Tonnie Rozier.
A baker since the age of 7, Rozier’s first store was a display case in a cheesesteak shop in Manhattan before moving uptown to the Harlem location. His original recipes come from his family with his signature carrot cake being his mother’s. The shop’s topseller is its pineapple coconut cake, said Rozier. The minis come in three sizes—the shot, California and Hollywood.
Rozier, and his head chef Chaely Rodriguez, eagerly awaited the arrival of Harris, Booker, and Murphy from behind the cramped counter and glass cake display with a host of press and cameras.
The smell of absurdly delicious baked goods greeted the elected officials as they entered the shop, and was the first thing they commented on. “It does smell the best of any shop in New Jersey, nevermind Newark,” said Murphy.
Rozier explained that he had connected with Booker over the radio about 7 years ago, which prompted him to consider the move to Newark. “I was on the phone chat on the radio show, and his words were, ‘How great it would be to have a cupcake shop in Newark.’ Who knew?” said Rozier to the crowd in the shop.
Harris stopped to speak to a young girl, Ulani, who does her homework in the shop everyday afterschool until her mom gets off work before ordering a slew of cakes to take home for her family.
“The smell is just ridiculous, it’s so good,” said Harris, picking out her goodies.
Of course, the tour wasn’t all cupcakes and cream.
Harris and Murphy spent most of the morning with Congressmember Mikie Sherrill, Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller, and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, greeting students and classrooms of children.
They thanked various teachers and vaccination workers for their efforts during the pandemic. Concerns about serious child care staff shortages have arisen since Murphy announced that all child care center workers in New Jersey must be fully vaccinated after Nov. 1. Chalkbeat reported that advocates are saying that many smaller daycare centers just don’t have the funds to remain open and staffed if people choose not to get vaccinated.
At a private roundtable conversation with parents and leaders at Ben Samuels Children’s Center at Montclair State University, Harris spoke about the importance of federal investment in child care through the Biden administration’s “Build Back Better” plan.
“And I know, first hand, how difficult child care is in this country. But I can also tell you that it’s just gotten worse after the pandemic,” said Harris. “So right now, we’re fighting to build an economic recovery and invest in access to affordable, high quality child care.”
Harris said she has been working to address challenges that women in the workforce face, many of whom had to drop out of their jobs as a direct result of childcare issues and school closures.
Harris also toured a vaccination site at Essex County College in Newark.
Newark was named among the 16 least vaccinated cities in New Jersey back in May with 38% of residents having at least one dose, reported Chalkbeat. Now it has made strides in fully vaccinating adults, with about 56% having both shots by July, and has “nearly doubled” its youth vaccinations rates in the past two months.
Press members were allowed in the room briefly for photos and introductions during the tours. There were no questions taken from the press before, during, or after the tours by Harris.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w