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Mayor Baraka: A city to hold up and a legacy to uphold

5/15/2014, 2:49 p.m.
Ras Baraka

The Barakas—Amiri, Amina, Ras, et al—were not to the manor born, but to the ramparts. Now with Ras Baraka’s mayoral victory in Newark, N.J., yesterday, the family secures unprecedented electoral authority. But as Ras Baraka repeatedly stated during the nonpartisan campaign, “When I become mayor, we all become mayor.” This amounts to a collective victory, and now that he’s over the first hurdle, the race becomes even more challenging.

No, we didn’t endorse him in this race against Shavar Jeffries, who, after a rather fractious contest, bowed out gracefully, believing that both candidates possessed redeeming qualities, but now that the race is over, we wholeheartedly want Baraka to step up and deal with a pile of troubling issues in his precious city.

Most daunting is the pervasive violence in Newark, with a murder rate that is the highest in a quarter of a century. It seems not a day passes that the media isn’t covering another senseless shooting. This situation is exacerbated by an unemployment picture that is persistently glum and currently at 13 percent, and we know that African-Americans are disproportionately disadvantaged in this misery index.

The city’s budget deficit at $93 million will certainly keep Baraka scratching his head for remedies, and it could mean, most distressingly, the arrival of Trenton lawmakers as caretakers in the same way they control the education system.

And any discussion of education in the nation is unavoidably one about the yea and nay of charter schools, where it is reported that a fifth of the children in the city attend charter schools. This issue, as it remains in so many communities across the country, is one that only time will solve, and Baraka at least has some wiggle room to consider the best options.

With a daily assault of ads on television, a brace of Wall Street backers and an endorsement from the Star-Ledger, Jeffries appeared to be making some headway during the last weeks of the campaign, but early indicators suggest that Baraka was able to hold his base in the South Ward and enjoy strong union support in his dash to the victory line.

Baraka’s first actions should be devoted to the South Ward, where the crime and murder rate gave him many a sleepless night as councilman of the ward. He is now in the driver’s seat with a lot more clout to get the resources needed to turn that beleaguered enclave around.

During the campaign, he demonstrated that he has the political moxie to win. Now he must show he has the political muscle to bring about the changes he promised. If indeed, as he boomed, “we all become mayor,” then he will have to find creative ways to empower his constituents in what has to be a joint enterprise toward a better Newark.

Mayor Baraka, you have a city to hold up and a legacy to uphold.