A large and enthusiastic Newark crowd celebrated the inauguration of its 40th mayor, Ras Baraka, last week at the city’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Gathered in the blazing heat, many sported t-shirts that read in bold and all caps lettering, “I AM THE MAYOR” – echoing the Baraka campaign’s main slogan, “When I become mayor, we become mayor.”
As Baraka took the oath of office, the audience joined him in reciting it in a collective pledge of governance. “It’s a big deal,” said one enthusiastic supporter afterward. “Ras is a consistent progressive.”
Before addressing the crowd, Baraka introduced Newark’s new youth mayor Lucy Lopez, a sophomore at Essex Community College. The youth mayor is tasked with involving young people in civic affairs and giving voice to their vital concerns.
Outspent by over $1 million, Baraka’s message of believing in Newark’s Broad Street not Wall Street won on Election Day. His inaugural address confirmed and illustrated the campaign’s vision and now the administration’s mandate of making the city work for all. “Years from now when we look back on this day, let us say this was the day that we all decided to fight back… Let us say this is the day we did it together, that we sacrificed our right now for a better tomorrow.”
Plagued by over 100 murders last year alone, a budget deficit topping $90 million, state control of the city’s public schools and an unemployment rate twice that of the rest of the state, the mayor elect addressed the problems but didn’t stop there, declaring that Newark needed “A mayor that puts his city first. A mayor that never forgets how he got here. Yeah! We need a mayor that’s radical.”
Baraka pulled no punches pushing back on the One Percent but wasted no breath beating his chest in self-serving sectarianism. Instead he extended a hand in friendship to all residents calling for broader participation in the people’s coalition and public life. He explained, “It’s easy to hate crime. But we all have to hate poverty the same way, hopelessness, and cynicism the same way, unemployment and illiteracy the same way, disease and poor health the same way.”
Baraka went on to invite those who shared these values to buy a home, open a business and invest in a city that supports its working families.
Mayor Baraka did not criticize former mayor, Senator Corey Booker or the recently reappointed, superintendent of public schools Cami Anderson for their role in assisting the corporate drive to dismantle and privatize Newark’s public education system.
Although Booker was given no formal speaking role the audience erupted in boos each time he was recognized from the podium. When both Baraka and Booker served on Newark’s city council, a clear pattern emerged with one fighting for the city and the other using it as a stepping stone for corporate interests.
Mayor Baraka singled out Governor Chris Christie in the ongoing struggle for local control of the city’s schools. “We have a bitter struggle over our schools and a battle over who should lead them. He continued, “Some have chosen dogma over families, expediency over democracy, and even real estate over education.”
SEIU 1199 New Jersey President Millie Silva summed up the feeling of many, “My people need to be at the table as much as anyone who invests in the city or has other interests in the city… And he is creating space for people to come express their views.”
Veteran activists of the black freedom movement said out loud, “We’ve lost Chokwe (the late mayor of Jackson, Mississippi) but we’ve won Ras.”
It wasn’t uncommon to hear “Amiri is with us.” But most powerful of all is the many generations, ethnicities, and races – male and female, gay and straight – ready to rebuild Newark from the bottom up, heeding Ras’ call to “keep pushing.”
Photo: Crowd cheers Ras Baraka’s inauguration. Mel Evans/AP