Baraka for Newark mayor


Ras Baraka
Ras Baraka

                If a city can be a victim, Newark is one. For decades, it has been the victim of an unfair tax system, cynical politicians, suburban dominance of the state Legislature, racism, greed, and a sense that it should be grateful for the pitifully small handouts it gets from the rest of New Jersey.  Most other states—granted, not all—take pride in a dominant city. Not New Jersey and not Newark. That is why Ras Baraka should be elected the city’s mayor. With Baraka as its chief executive, Newark won’t be a victim.

          Let me first say  I don’t believe the billionaires who are pouring money  into the campaign of his opponent, Shavar Jeffries, will allow Baraka to become mayor.  Not willingly.  At my age, I have mourned too many missed chances to believe the rich will allow a champion of the poor to become chief executive of the state’s largest city. If the race is close, the political machine at Essex County—the machine counting the votes– will ensure the appropriate number of votes will go to Jeffries.  Makes me wish that former President Jimmy Carter would come to Newark to supervise the election.

        So,  Baraka has only one chance. The vote for him has to be big. So big that the election thieves on Wall Street and the county machine cannot take it away from him without provoking a national embarrassment.  I write this and I feel a surge of hope and enthusiasm I need to suppress. Not because I am so enamored of Ras Baraka—I hardly know the man—but because, if he wins, if he beats the billionaires and George Norcross and Joe D. and Cami Anderson and Chris Christie, then he will truly raise not just the city from its status as victim, but he will give hope to all communities in the nation that are demanding someone listen, that someone pay attention. To the poor. To the exploited. To the other.

        I changed my mind about endorsing Baraka–I wasn’t going to endorse anyone because, after all, why should anyone care what I think? But then someone sent me the full videotape of Baraka’s street corner speech about gangs and bloodshed and violence. The person who sent it to me apparently believed I would be offended by its harsh tone. I am, after all, white. But I saw and heard no racism in the words of a man heart-broken by the violence in his city. I saw courage in the eyes of a man that weren’t diverted when he stared into the face of street punks and dealers.

I saw a leader, one that Newark desperately needs so it can stop being a victim.

        In my 50 years as a journalist, I have covered four Newark mayors. Hugh Addonizio was a crook. Ken Gibson’s message of hope turned to dust. Sharpe James was taken down by a cynical US Attorney who used the mayor as one of the steps on his way to the White House.  Cory Booker was just passing through, the candidate of people we probably don’t even know on his way to bigger things. The candidate of Oprah Winfrey and Ray Chambers and Mark Zuckerberg and only God knows who else.

       I remember this moment talking to Booker:  It was in Trenton, shortly after Christie became governor. Booker was at a committee hearing, publicly  testifying for the voucher schools endorsed by Christie. He used the now well-worn  and trite phrase that school choice was the “civil rights issue” of our times.  But Christie had just cut aid to Newark, a cut that would force the layoffs of many police officers. Booker said not a word about it in is testimony. He didn’t want to talk about it to me. I asked him how he could be so passionate about vouchers and not a say a word about cops. Oh, he said, he was passionate. He let Christie know—in private—how he felt.

     Right.  Now, Booker sold out his city for Christie’s patronage. Blood flowed in the streets while Booker was mayor. He offered clownish diversions—like supposedly saving a grandmother from a fire in a neighborhood where he was rarely seen. Instead of a city, the residents of Newark got a stage where Booker could perform and project his “rock star” status—Winfrey’s words—on a national screen.

       Jeffries is the second coming of Cory Booker. The people know it. Wall Street knows it.  Cami Anderson, a political operative for Booker’s campaign,  knows it. Ras Baraka is the opposite of Cory Booker. He is man of substance, with a  real career and a real, traceable past—a teacher and principal who, in fact, turned around an inner-city high school without much help from downtown or Trenton.  Unlike his opponent, Baraka doesn’t pretend to be what he is not.

      If he doesn’t smile for the camera and look like a rock-star, then that’s all to the good.  There is little to smile about in Newark. Work, hard work, needs to be done. Baraka doesn’t have time to sip Cabernet Suavignon with the folks with offices high on Broad Street. He will be on Hawthorne Avenue trying to save the fastest growing school in the city—a school the  billionaires and Jeffries want to see closed and given to private corporations. I can’t promise Baraka will be the best mayor the city has had in decades. I can say he will be a mayor who owes nothing to the rich and politically powerful who are manipulating this election.

    I can say I believe  he will work to ensure Newark—and its residents—are no longer victims.

  1. This is the only media endorsement that should matter to the people of the city of Newark (and those that truly care about them). Mr. Braun, if you keep writing with passion and conviction and Mr. Baraka keeps speaking with the same liberties, then maybe Newark has a chance to survive this assault.

  2. No longer a resident of my native city, no longer connected to its life except at a distance, I’m reluctant to stick my nose back into its politics. But this reluctance is seldom shared, in my experience, by the legion of outsiders who think they know exactly how to “fix” Newark. Most of them share an unstated premise, again, in my experience: The people of Newark are so benighted and victimized, etc., that they’re incapable of self-governance. I’ve never believed that, and I don’t believe it now. I do not know whether Ras Baraka represents the way forward to a better future for Newark, but your argument, that he “owes nothing to the rich and politically powerful,” is compelling. Democracy is always an act of faith, and often a roll of the dice. If I were still a Newark voter, I would be inclined to go all in. Nothing else has been working, not for the people in Newark’s tapestry of neighborhoods, that’s for sure.

    Bob Braun: Thanks for your wisdom.

  3. Amen.

    Newark is lucky to have Bob Braun still writing about it. The cynical endorsement of Jeffries by the Star-Ledger is part of this pattern of victimization of the city. Any local newspaper’s editorial board that heaps as much scorn and derision on its hometown — and the people who fight for it — as the S-L’s does on Newark should not be heeded.

  4. Yes. Thanks Bob for nicely summarizing the reason Ras must be Newark’s next Mayor. Hopefully your many readers will not just vote for Ras, but also talk to their family members, neighbors, and friends about the importance of this election…

  5. Bob,

    Yes Addonizio was a CROOK! I was living in Newark during his tenure as mayor and I really feel his administration’s policies or lack thereof sparked the Newark riots. The city never recovered.

  6. I agree with what you have said here but I see another outcome – one that became apparent with the early threats of the fiscal take over of Newark. Writing on the wall is that Ras Baraka is likely to win, so the state and all those billionaires are preparing to go to battle with him as soon as he does. A Mayor focused on fiscal crisis will be handicapped to carry out his plans and vision. And certainly unable to focus on the school district.

    I hope he has a plan – because winning will be the easy battle in this war.

    Someone needs to ask why Newark never applied for transitional aid this year…..

    1. I see the possibility of Ras winning but Christie has already set the stage for a State takeover of finance. If Ras should win, Christie will take over Newark and attempt to make him powerless!

  7. Thanks Bob for being so honest. I just hope the people of Newark wake-up and see the big picture behind this election. If they didn’t learn anything from the Booker election then we are in real trouble.

  8. walk around the ironbound in The morning, and you can see all the Jeffrey posters in the garbage. This has been ongoing for weeks. The jeffries campain has resorted to stapling their posters so high that people need latters to take them down. i have to say though that This campaign is well funded though. i get mail daily and they have kids walking with shirts and posters. The appearance of grassroots mivement but these kids are waking for $11 per hour. Most kids could care less for the campaign. It is interesting that the rich are willing to pay big bucks for the election but can’t fork over the money for education or rec programs. It is tough living in newark while millionaires dictate to us!!!!

  9. To Jefferies,Newark is a monopoly board,they buy and sell our children’s future without a care in the world.Ras wants Newark to step up to the plate and take responsibility and be stakeholders in the growth of our city.Get a vote out for Ras,please help,we all owe Newark a great deal.

  10. Bob, democracy is an act of faith and the Star-Ledger has broken faith with its home city, time and time again. I live in Orange and I seem to have a truer sense of Newark than the paper’s editorial board. (That’s why I’ve donated to the Baraka campaign.) But then, Orange has a lot more in common with Newark than with, say, Montclair or Bedminster.

  11. As a 40-year Newark resident, retired veteran of 30 years’ service in city government, and long-time student of urban politics, I add my endorsement of Ras Baraka to Bob Braun’s. Mr. Jeffries represents the interests of the “neo-liberals” whose priorities are to use the city and its residents to make money. Mr. Baraka sees Newark as a place where people can organize to develop not only financial but also human, social and physical capital. If his electoral coalition prevails, the challenge of building a governing coalition will be the greatest a new mayor has faced since 1970.

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