By Saeed Shabazz-Staff Writer-
His motto: ‘Believe in Newark’
NEWARK (FinalCall.com) – South Ward Councilman and principal at Central High School, Ras Baraka, 45, wants to become Newark, New Jersey’s 39th mayor; explaining his reasoning to The Final Call: “It is the time that dictates what must be done!”
“I would have been comfortable staying in the City Council–a lot can be accomplished there–Mayor [Corey] Booker is making a run for the Senate; and our city is at a crossroads. The plan is for me to run for mayor,” Mr. Baraka said.
In 1994, at the age of 24 and fresh out of Howard University where he studied Political Science and History, the son of poet/activists Amina & Imamu Amiri Baraka ran unsuccessfully for the office of mayor. In 2002, Mr. Baraka served as a deputy mayor under former Mayor Sharpe James. He defeated Mayor Booker’s candidate for City Council in 2010 to represent the South Ward.
“People do not look at Newark as a whole city–they see it in parts–downtown and the neighborhoods away from downtown,” Mr. Baraka said. The state gave Newark $100 million in subsidies for downtown development; so downtown gets stronger but Newark’s neighborhoods are forgotten–left out of the economic growth we are witnessing, he argues.
On March 5, Mayor Booker announced during his ‘state of the city’ address that Newark would wean itself off of most state aid in 2013 thanks to robust economic development projections of $1.5 billion over the next few years, according to reports.
The mayoral hopeful cringes at the mention of Newark and a shrinking pool of financial resources, saying: “It is our shrinking ability to get our hands on the resources that affects the quality of life for all of Newark.”
According to the U.S. Census for 2010, the median household income for Newark’s 277,540 residents is $35,696 annually, with 26.1 percent of the population living below the poverty line. The percentage of the population under 18 is 25.6, while 69 percent of Newark residents graduated from high school, and 12.5 percent have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. Home ownership stands at 24.9 percent.
Mr. Baraka insists that “50 percent” of Newark residents live below the poverty line, citing high unemployment (29 percent), and the large number of families headed by one parent
The City Journal magazine published by the ultra-conservative think tank, Manhattan Institute in a 2007 story entitled “City Without Fathers” stated that U.S. Census figures showed only 32 percent of Newark children were being raised in two-adult households.
“Sixty-percent of our single mothers are earning a minimum wage,” Mr. Baraka said, adding, “We have to get them better wages.” He insists that the best way forward is to “transfer the city’s resources to benefit” everyday working people.
Newark has the nation’s fourth largest seaport bringing in $100 billion in goods; Newark Liberty International Airport that brings in $36 billion a year in business; one of the largest insurance companies in Prudential Financial with $34.4 billion in earnings–the resources are here, according to Mr. Baraka.
People across the city want their lives to be better; they want development in their neighborhoods — an end to the [political] deals that don’t benefit them, Mr. Baraka noted. An example is the agreement that gives the Panasonic Corporation $100 million in tax incentives to add 800 employees, according to a 2011 story in The Record, a local newspaper. Mr. Baraka says that there is no guarantee these jobs go to people in Newark’s inner city.
During a recent speech concerning his run for mayor, Mr. Baraka talked about his campaign: “We want a grassroots campaign and the same alliance that elected the president of the United States for the second term — we need that same force; that same force of African Americans, Latinos, women, labor and progressives of all nationalities, all religions, and of every language.”
Posted on his campaign website are some of the achievements of the South Ward council member: opening a “mini” police precinct in the district; directing $1.2 million in funding to South Ward not-for-profit organizations; opening a new Key Food supermarket. He continues to push for a “homestead ordinance” which makes it easier for residents to move into abandoned properties and move them back onto the city’s tax rolls.
Mr. Baraka spoke candidly to The Final Call concerning the issue of whether or not he would be the mayor of all of the people in Newark. “There are those who have begun to push an argument that I cannot be the mayor of all of the people; and I answer by saying that we have a message that brings a healing to the city,” he said.
“I have the best understanding of what people’s lives are like in this city,” stressed Mr. Baraka.