Special to the AmNews
After only eight months since being sworn in as mayor of Newark, New Jersey’s largest urban city, Ras Baraka recently expressed several strong demands to executives of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and to the governor of New Jersey during his first State of the City address.
Boldly speaking to a packed room in the Newark Municipal Council chambers, Baraka said to Gov. Chris Christie, who was not present, “I’m standing here representing 300,000 people in the city of Newark, asking for your help to approve new sources of revenue.”
Baraka has had differences on various political issues with Christie, such as the governor maintaining and recently renewing Cami Anderson’s contract as superintendent of the Newark Board of Education. However, in the interest of representing Newark residents, Baraka indicated he’s willing to meet with the governor to move Newark forward.
Asking for the governor’s financial assistance is important because Baraka’s administration inherited a $93 million deficit from Mayor Cory Booker’s administration. Booker is currently a U.S. senator.
To rectify this enormous deficit, Baraka has implemented many innovative programs without laying off any employees or increasing property taxes.
One of the top priorities of Baraka’s administration has been the public safety of all Newark residents. During his 2015 State of the City speech, Baraka cited some of the accomplishments of the Police Department, such as increasing the number of police officers on the street from 60 percent to 72 percent, opening a new precinct building in the Central Ward for additional protection and service for a total of five precincts and creating the Civilian Complaint Review Board, giving it full investigative powers to review resident complaints against police brutality. Baraka has also proposed legislation to require that all new officers live in the city for at least five years after being hired. He also indicated that an additional 150 police officers are expected to be hired during 2015, along with an investment in body cameras for officers.
Expressing concerns over the Port Authority’s increased efforts to expand the seaport and airport to accommodate larger ships and greater air traffic around land owned by the city of Newark, Baraka said, “You cannot be in our home and cook on our stove, even if you did bring the food, and eat, while we sit in the living room and starve. We want to eat too.”
In a strong, confident tone, Baraka expressed a stern message to the executives of the Port Authority, calling them out for not doing more to alleviate the environmental impact of the seaport. In a stunning revelation, Baraka stated that if the Port Authority does not cooperate, he was prepared to start accepting bids from interested parties to purchase the seaport.
In the first year of Baraka’s administration, there was $1 billion in active real estate development throughout Newark. This development includes residential, commercial, mixed-used, entertainment and cultural opportunities, which in turn create opportunities for housing, employment and excitement citywide.
To attract more major businesses to Newark, Baraka has provided tax abatement to various corporations that will provide more employment opportunities for Newark residents. However, agreements with developers have been changed to require that 51 percent of subcontracts must go to minority- and women-owned businesses, and 30 percent must go to Newark-based businesses.
During Baraka’s administration, the Live Newark Program has been implemented to attract public sector workers, especially police, firemen and school teachers, to live in Newark as homeowners with incentives of a $5,000 forgivable loan for closing costs and $25,000 forgivable loan for the rehabilitation and construction of homes.
The city of Newark and Baraka have joined forces with the White House with the launch of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder have acknowledged Newark’s leadership in this national movement to inspire and uplift young men of color. As a former educator and school principal, Baraka has been deeply involved in closely working with all the young men in Newark’s My Brother’s Keeper program. During Baraka’s State of the City address, he stated that the city will see to it that every member of My Brother’s Keeper in Newark will be sponsored to go to college.
“We are Newark,” Baraka said. “We are proud to be residents of Newark.”