All eyes in Newark will be on Ras Baraka as the former councilman steps into the top elected post at City Hall on July 1.
Baraka’s decisive mayoral victory in May marked a sea change in the city for political observers but many Newark residents say they hope that shift will bring about tangible progress in their communities.
“There’s so many things that have to be done that (were) promised but haven’t been done,” said Teodoro Rivera, a resident of NCC Roseville Senior who has lived in Newark since 1986. Rivera, 74, said he wants to see more affordable and safe housing offered and social services to support single mothers.
New Community, with its decades of experience in developing low income housing for families and seniors, has already begun lending its expertise to the new mayor. NCC CEO Richard Rohrman and Richard Cammarieri, Director of Special Projects, were tapped to serve on the Housing and Economic Development committee of Baraka’s transition team last month.
“New Community looks forward to working with Mayor Baraka and his administration to bring new investment and growth to all parts of Newark, particularly our distressed neighborhoods,” Rohrman said.
Cammarieri said he hopes that Baraka will prioritize plugging the budget gap and improving public safety during his administration. “We can’t ignore material conditions,” Cammarieri said.
Baraka takes over the reins from Luis Quintana, who had filled the unexpired term of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker. Quintana won re-election and returned as an At-large council member.
A South Ward councilman since 2010, Baraka, 45, built credibility as principal of Central High School and crafted his campaign around the slogan, “When I become mayor, ‘we’ become mayor.” His win over opponent Shavar Jeffries was seen by many observers as a referendum on the Booker administration. Well-known as Newark’s celebrity mayor, Booker was often criticized for using his time at the helm of New Jersey’s largest city as a stepping stone, cozying up to big money interests on Wall Street and Silicon Valley types.
Michelle Gittens, 41, said her top priority is improving Newark Public Schools. The controversy over the state-controlled school district and Superintendent Cami Anderson’s overhaul plan dubbed “One Newark” sparked heated debates throughout the campaign. “In our areas we don’t tend to get the best” education compared to the suburbs, Gittens said. “It’s very critical.”
“I hope he don’t do like Booker,” Carther Mills, 71, a resident of NCC Commons Senior, said of the new mayor.
Newark resident Wilma Green, 77, said she voted for Baraka and added, “No disrespect to (Jeffries) but I think Baraka is the right choice,” she said. “He’s been active from a little guy,” she added, referring to Baraka’s activist roots as the son of the late poet Amiri Baraka.
Leroy Gallisaw, 72, said that Baraka should address the needs of seniors. “Old people—take care of them. They paid their dues over these years,” said Gallisaw, a resident of NCC Commons Senior.
In a message to his supporters shortly after declaring victory, Baraka thanked them for their votes and acknowledged that “The real work begins today.” He added, “No matter what ward we live in or what language we speak, we all want the same things for our city; safer streets, economic development, job creation and quality neighborhood schools.”