Credit: Risasi Dais

“I will march when I need to, protest when I have to. I will your be ‘radical mayor,’” declared newly installed Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

At his huge inauguration on Tuesday, July 1, Baraka reminded everyone that he would fully represent the people of Newark. During his campaign, the former councilman said his mission was to mobilize the people and businesses of Newark and take the city from a local view to a global view. His vision for Newark’s future would call for more self-reliance, ingenuity and independence, eventually leading to less dependence on state and federal subsidies.

Baraka was officially sworn on Tuesday as Newark’s 40th mayor outside the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in the heart of the city’s downtown. He now has a chance to make good on his campaign promises.

As he spoke to hundreds of Newark residents, community leaders and peers in government in the 90-degree heat, he reiterated his mantra and campaign slogan, “We are the mayor.”

“We believe in hope not fear. We believe in unity over division. We believe Newark belongs to all of us, not just a few of us,” said Baraka. “We were not content with the way the city is. We believe that we were in this together, not every man for himself. Just as we are sure the sun will shine in the morning, we believe our city could change, it would change, and this day begins that change.”

Baraka won the election in May over former Deputy State Attorney General Shavar Jeffries, replacing Luis Quintana, the councilman who served out the last six months of Cory Booker’s term when Booker stepped down last year to successfully run for U.S. Senate.

Baraka inherits a city in crisis on several fronts: Intractable violent crime and unemployment remain high; a budget gap led the state to threaten to take over the city’s finances; a struggling school district challenged by charter schools; and a dilemma to attract further development and create jobs.

“I am mindful of the gravity of the difficulties that lie ahead. We have a budget crisis that gets bigger as the cost of living increases. Our children have chosen violence as a language and turned their backs on their imaginations and have committed themselves to death instead of life,” said Newark’s native son. “We have a bitter struggle over our schools and a battle over who should lead them. Some have chosen dogma over families, expediency over democracy and even real estate over education.”

Some say that Baraka is the mayor who will unify a city that is racially divided. “We are either going forward or backward. The rich folk have decided to invest in Newark,” Black studies professor Leonard Jeffries told the AmNews. “The question was, would the African-American and Latin people share the wealth that is planned for Newark? If Ras had not gotten elected, they would not be sharing that wealth.”

The activist, teacher and founder of the Last Poets told the AmNews that Baraka is following the legacy of his father, Amiri Baraka, the late poet, author and activist.

“This is the beginning of what Amiri Baraka would call ‘New-Ark.’ This is a New-Ark day,” he said, making reference to Amiri Baraka’s commitment and work to the self-determination of the African-American community and to the global struggle of oppressed peoples everywhere. “This is a chance for the people to regain power in a place that has been totally kicked to the curb. Although former Mayors Shape James and Ken Gibson made efforts, I believe Ras Baraka is truly going to be the people’s mayor.”

Baraka also understands the importance of family. On the same day he was inaugurated, he named his brother Amiri “Middy” Baraka Jr. as his chief of staff. “I’ve got my brother’s back, 120 percent,” Amiri Baraka Jr. said. “He’s the mayor, and I’m going to treat him as the mayor, and from that point of view, we keep everything professional. But he’s still my brother. So absolutely, I have his back under every circumstance.”

After the inaugural address, the newly elected City Council members, including Council President Mildred Crump, West Ward Councilman Joe McCallum, Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield-Jenkins, East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador, South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos and At-large Councilmen Carlos Gonzalez, Luis Quintana and Eddie Osborne were sworn in for four-year terms.