Newark City Councilman Ras Baraka, son of poet-activist Amiri Baraka, won yesterday’s mayoral election in Newark, New Jersey. Baraka defeated former state assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries. As of last night, Baraka had a 53.14% to 46.66% lead over Jeffries with his South Ward precincts the only ones left to be reported.
Baraka, 45, a single father of three, will replace Mayor Luis Quintana, a city councilman who was temporarily handed the keys to the city after Booker — whose celebrity seemed to define Newark for more than a decade — won a special election last year to fill the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and left for Washington.
Left behind are mounting problems for the new mayor that include a $93 million budget deficit that has led to threats of a financial takeover by the state, the city’s highest murder rate since 1990, and protests over the continued state control of Newark’s still-failing school system.
A major focal point of the election was the debate over the schools and state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson’s controversial “One Newark” school reorganization plan — which calls for the relocation and consolidation of one-quarter of the city’s schools and turning over some neighborhood schools to charter operators.
Baraka said the Jeffries campaign had portrayed him as a thug and a gang member after trying to broker a gang truce in 2004,
“They say I’m a thug, why did they burn my bus?” referring to two Jeffries campaign workers who were charged with setting a fire on Baraka’s campaign bus.
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.
Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, said the outside groups — which do not all disclose where their money comes from — contributed to the no-holds barred nature of the Newark election.
“I’m not saying candidate-based advertising doesn’t get down-and-dirty. But when outside groups get involved — with their high level of anonymity —it takes off the constraints.”
This recent election serves as a huge change coming for Newark. Not only is Baraka a product of Newark, it seems though he has the city’s best interests at hand.