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Amiri Baraka’s son becomes mayor of Newark by earning it: An election analysis

By TODD STEVEN BURROUGHS | 6/5/2014, 4:21 p.m.

Ras Baraka, one of the sons of the late poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, handily beat rival Shavar Jeffries to become the next mayor of his father’s city, Newark, N.J. How he did it was no mystery to those paying attention.

The mayor-elect paid tribute to his father, who died in January, and his mother, Amina Baraka, who was nearby offstage at the Robert Treat Hotel here.

“I know that my father’s spirit is in this room today, that he is here with us, and I want to say ‘Thank you’ to him for believing in me up into his last days of his life, and him passing out flyers even on his hospital bed. He fought all the way to the end,” he said to his jubilant supporters.

To Amina Baraka, he said, “Happy Mother’s Day, Ma. You deserve this more than me. My mother’s whole life has been Newark. She has struggled and fought, and even [fought] with all of us to make sure we go right and do right by the city of Newark.”

Using unofficial Essex County Clerk’s Office results available at deadline, Baraka’s vote total was 23,416 (53.73 percent of the vote) to Jeffries’ 20,062 (46.03 percent).

“Today we told them, all over the state of New Jersey, the people of Newark are not for sale,” he said, referring to the estimated $2 million that Jeffries’ financial supporters, many of them anonymous donors, poured into his rival’s campaign.

Baraka threw shirts to his supporters that read, “I am the mayor.” His slogan was, “When I become mayor, we become mayor.” He told the crowd to celebrate and then get ready to “roll their sleeves up and get ready to be the mayor.”

The mayor and the hundreds of supporters then left the hotel and marched to Newark City Hall.

Baraka, 44, will become Newark’s 39th mayor at his July 1 inauguration.

ANALYSIS

Newark, an overwhelmingly Democratic city, has no party primary, with officials instead elected on citywide tickets. This situation allowed Jeffries and Baraka, both Democrats, to slug it out over who was best qualified to reduce crime, spur the city’s economic development and fight to repair the city’s struggling school system, the latter controlled by the state for the past 19 years.

The election is seen as important because Newark is the heart of predominantly Democratic Essex County, an important collection of votes for anyone running for New Jersey governor.

Since Newark elections have now been populated by candidates relatively new to the city, the prickly question of “authenticity” has become a real one here in the last 20 years. A mayoral candidate now has to prove himself sufficiently Black (and soon, sufficiently Latino), urban and progressive. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, the previous mayor, promised new energy and new investments, but he still had to earn his way from Yale Law School to the Newark City Council and eventually the mayor’s chair, vote by brick.

When the mayoral race narrowed to two, Baraka kept jackhammering at the main fault line of the Jeffries campaign: its open hubris.