Ras Baraka wins

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Mayor-elect Ras Baraka
Mayor-elect Ras Baraka

                Ras Baraka, a high school principal and the son of a poet, yesterday easily defeated a Wall Street-backed promoter of school privatization to become the next mayor of Newark. Baraka’s victory repudiated the policies not just of his rival, Shavar Jeffries, but  those of Gov. Chris Christie,   former Mayor Cory Booker, and state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson  who is trying to close neighborhood public schools and replace them with privately run charter schools.

“We are the mayor!” declared Baraka, 45.  A constant theme of his campaign was that, if he wins, all Newark residents become mayor. Jeffries, 39, a faculty member at Seton Hall Law School and a founding trustee of the TEAM Academy charter schools,  conceded shortly afterward.

              Baraka’s victory celebration at the downtown Robert Treat Hotel erupted into cheers shortly after 10 pm when it became obvious the son of the late poet and playwright Amiri Baraka had won with strong backing from his home South Ward—which he serves as a councilman—and the predominantly African-American  Central and West Wards. His rival, also an African-American, was strongest in the predominantly white and Latino North and East Wards. Baraka won 54 percent of the vote.

           Baraka, an often tough-talking champion of the poorest residents of the city, had been the front runner for most of the race. But, in the last few days, Wall Street financiers and hedge-fund managers—strong supporters of former Mayor Cory Booker—poured $3 million into the Jeffries campaign, including $300,000 in street money that went to young men and women in the city, many of whom apparently took the money and then urged voters to vote for Baraka.

He also won despite an extraordinarily harsh depiction of his campaign by the local newspaper, The Star-Ledger, that tried to paint Baraka as a follower of his father’s black nationalist views. The newspaper’s editorial board also had tried to describe him as soft on gangs in the city. The state’s largest newspaper is planning on leaving the city soon, after nearly a century in the state’s largest city. Its endorsement of Jeffries–based primarily on his support of Anderson’s school plans–proved irrelevant to the campaign and, possibly, hurt Jeffries. The newspaper clearly failed to appreciate the depth of anger in the city caused by Anderson’s  “One Newark ”  school reorganization plan, even dismissing parental concerns about the loss of their  neighborhood schools as “nostalgia.”

          “I have to admit, I was scared,” said Frank Baraff, one of Baraka’s campaign aides, who was aware of recent polls that showed Baraka trailing Jeffries by three points. He attributed Baraka’s victory to the widespread unpopularity of the  “One Newark” plan, a state-imposed effort to close neighborhood public schools and replace them with privately-operated charter schools. He also said Jeffries, while popular among  some rich white people outside Newark, was barely known inside the city.

          Baraka has been consistently critical of the Christie/Anderson “One Newark” plan and his position had become increasingly popular among Newark residents who discovered their children might be transferred to schools across town. Jeffries, a close associate of Anderson, finally did repudiate the plan but it was too late in the race. In any event, the money pouring in from pro-charter school New York financiers gave the lie to Jeffries’ insistence that he did not support Anderson.

                Robert Duffey, a leader of the state Working Families Alliance, a big Baraka supporter, said last night be believed the victory was “the beginning of a surge of resistance” against school privatizers who had gained ground in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York.

             “People from throughout the country were watching this race,” he said.

             Another strong supporter, former New Jersey Gov. Dick Codey, was at the party for Baraka last night, but he was more cautious. Jefffries had been supported by South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross, also a promoter of school privatization.

              “I hope it’s a trend,” said Codey, but he refused to comment on how the race might affect Norcross. “I don’t want to talk about Norcross right now,” he said—an odd thing given the YouTube videos Codey has made excoriating the political boss who has tried to marginalize the former governor’s contribution to the state.

The Baraka victory also was a repudiation of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo who backed Jeffries. DiVincenzo, who once entertained fantasies of becoming governor himself, proved to be  weak  in the race. He betrayed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono last year to back Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican. With Baraka now a power in Newark, Joe D’s grip on the county is loosened.

           The victory celebration turned into a joyful march on nearby City Hall when hundreds of Baraka supporters arrived there among  the honking of horns and the cheers of motorists. Baraka supporters hugged and congratulated each other– but some conceded they knew hard work lie ahead.

          “He is going to have a difficult job and we’re going to watch him every moment,” said Donna Jackson, an activist.

19 comments

  1. Sam

    We have to keep it going. People must Unite and spread the word to political boss machine “NO MORE”

  2. newark teacher

    Wahoo!! I have worked with Raz when I first started teaching in the city. He is passionate about the city and the people in it. I am so happy for him and the Newark residents. Finally…hope is in site. Now just Cami has to ride out of town.

  3. Carrie Stetler

    Nice pice. Wondering though were you got the $3 million figure re: the Jeffries campaign. This is what the Ledger has: “Much of the money spent on the mayoral campaign was not raised by the candidates, but rather by groups making independent expenditures on their behalf. According to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, $2.6 million was spent on campaign ads, mailings and other support by seven groups that targeted the Newark election — the most independent spending every reported in a state local election. More than $1.7 million of that went to bolster Jeffries, with $945,000 spent in support of Baraka.”

  4. jubilee shine

    Wonderful accomplishment. This should lead toward formation of a people’s democratic workers’ party.

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  6. Joe

    Bravo to Ras Baraka for winning. Hopefully he will put a stop to Anderson’s machinations and her plans to close Newark public schools and replace them with charter schools. I wish he would just ban any more charter schools and concentrate on strengthening the actual public schools. Now that Anderson does not have a compliant mayor, maybe she will move on to more lucrative pursuits, a la Michelle Rhee.

  7. Frances R. Irizarry

    As a former resident and educator in the city of Newark, I am pleased to see Mr. Baraka win this serious race for Mayor. He will have a lot of pressure and by Newark schools being state controlled, a bully Governor to contend with. I also wonder why DiVincenzo doesn’t declare himself an Independent or a Republican since he leans so far from the Democratic Party.
    Good luck to the new Mayor and God give him the strength
    and fortitude to succeed.

  8. Mary

    Great news for Newark and Newark’s Public Schools. The Billionaire-backed Charter School Movement may have us beat with dollars but we have the public and the votes on our side.

  9. Steven Delpome

    The students taking the wall st money and running tells you all you need to know about the “reformers.” They continue to underestimate the children of Newark. There are those that may wrong-headed lay call them thieves. NO. They knew the score. What the money was being used for. They evaluated the situation and acted upon it, using those critical thinking skills these faux-reformers would say they lack.

    Congrats, mayor Baraka.

  10. P. Grunther

    I was nervous all day yesterday and was so relieved when I found out that Baraka had won…now we all have to work to support him and to wrest control of Newark’s schools away from the State and back into the hands of Newark’s residents. Thanks to Bob for his continued reporting and truth-telling…we need you!

    Bob Braun: I was, too. The latest internal polling showed Jeffries ahead by a few points. Great credit is due to the young team of professionals and local community organizers who hi the street without the kind of money that Wall Street provided the opposition.

  11. Bill Wolfe

    Congrats and thanks to all who worked to support Baraka – I hope this works for the people of Newark and is a turning pint in rejecting the Neoliberal, corporate, and elite foundation agendas.

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