The torching of Ras Baraka’s campaign bus is yet even more evidence of how ugly the mayoralty race will be in Newark for the next three months. Stories planted in main-stream media about Baraka’s alleged support for a gang member were just the beginning of what promises to be a bare-knuckles fight for City Hall in New Jersey’s largest city.
A lot is at stake. Throughout the country, real estate developers are turning back to the cities and seeing value in properties that were once written off as valueless ghettoes. Look at Jersey City. Look at Hoboken. Baltimore. Washington. There is gold in those ghettoes—and Newark is no different.
Some observers point out that three of the scandals threatening the political career of Gov. Chris Christie involve major real estate development projects—in Fort Lee, Hoboken, and New Brunswick. It’s as if the feverish fantasies created by Christie’s people in the US Attorney’s office to snare local Democratic politicians with phony development projects have suddenly become realities–and real opportunities to make Christie’s pals a lot of money.
Real estate developers with ties to charter school companies are buying up property in the city. Plans by Cami Anderson, the state-appointed schools superintendent, has virtually unlimited power to sell of school-owned property, as she did when she sold the 18th Avenue School to the Pink Hula Hoop, a for-profit corporation with close ties to TEAM Charter Schools. The same organization is about to receive more property from Anderson’s “One Newark” plan–a plan based on Christie’s support for the privatization of public education.
Here’s the problem. Greedy people don’t mess around. They try to get what they want and if some overly idealistic and uncooperative politician—someone, say, like Ras Baraka—tries to get in the way, people could get hurt.
Just a few days before his bus was set afire, I spoke with Baraka on a variety of topics. I’ve already written about his attitude toward the 20-year, failed state regime controlling Newark schools. It would be a good time now to talk about the nature of the campaign.
Baraka predicted the county Democratic organization and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo would be his biggest enemies. He said his rivals would come after him, not just for who he is but for his name. His late father, Amiri Baraka, was a controversial community activist as well as an internationally known poet and playwright.
“I’ve lived with that all my life,” said Baraka. “And, of course, they”—his political enemies—“have tried to use that against me.”
DiVincenzo backed Christie in last year’s gubernatorial campaign and helped re-elect a governor who, like DiVincenzo himself, is embroiled in controversies over possible corruption. DiVincenzo helped defeat Demcratic candidate Barbara Buono, betraying the first woman ever to run for governor on that party’s ticket.
Now DiVincenzo will try to help Christie keep control of Newark schools–and the valuable real estate on which those schools sit– by backing Shavar Jeffries for mayor. Jeffries supports Cami Anderson, Christie’s choice for school superintendent.
Baraka said that, no matter how ugly the opposition gets, he will not respond the same way.
“This will not be a street fight,” he said, referring to the title of a movie depicting the campaign fought between Cory Booker and Sharpe James. “I’m not going to have a street fight. I am not interested in that and the people of Newark deserve better than that.
“You want to battle? Well, battle with ideas. We’re not going to take bullying—and the people won’t take bullying. “
He said the residents of Newark “are looking for new and creative ideas” that will create a “new energy” around Newark politics.
“The people of Newark are tired of the old politics. They are tired of the old bosses. They are tired of people in campaigns who want to bloody and bludgeon other people, who build their campaigns on beating up other people.”
Baraka doesn’t want a street fight. But it still remains to be seen whether his rivals doesn’t want one.