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.