A labor movement united around his election in the Newark mayoral campaign May 13 is seen as having been a key cause of the victory of Ras Baraka over his opponent, Shavar Jeffries.
Baraka, a city councilman, former high school principal and son of Imiri and Amina Baraka garnered 54 percent of the vote over Shavar Jeffries, a law professor closely identified with former Mayor Corey Booker.
Unions that have differed on candidates in races as recently as the 2013 gubernatorial election in New Jersey came together yesterday to successfully back Baraka's bid for office.. There was no significant organized labor support for Jeffries.
The Communications Workers of America, sent hundreds of canvassers out onto the streets daily in the last weeks of this non-partisan campaign. CWA Local 1037 representative Christian Estevez described for the press how the union canvassers worked hard until the very last minute pulling out the votes. "Nobody comes back early. You knock on doors again and again and again until all of the polls close." Estevez himself dispatched some 150 canvassers on Election Day alone.
The Laborers union, which had endorsed Republican Gov. Chris Christie in his bid for reelection, was also on board yesterday for Baraka's campaign. Wearing the signature orange t-shirts of LIUNA, union members went door-to-door in Roseville and other sections of the city. While some handed out leaflets, others rounded up voters who needed rides. The LIUNA members were in evidence at many of the city's polling places during the day.
"Ras Baraka has the ability to move Newark forward and the right principles to leave no one behind in the process," said Raymond Pocino, Eastern Regional Manager for LIUNA. His union includes many construction workers and has more than 1,300 of its members living in the city of Newark itself.
The teacher's unions backed Baraka not just because of his own personal background (he was a teacher and a school principal) but because of his fierce defense of the public school system itself. Public schools have been under attack in Newark as they have been elsewhere across the country.
Charter school groups spent at least $3.5 million in ads attacking Baraka.
"The election of Baraka is a rejection of the charter push," said Analilla Mejia, director of the New Jersey Working Families Party, in a statement. The party is an ally of the labor movement. "We got into the race because it was an opportunity to beat back the toxic brand of school reform favored by Governor Christie and by Shavar Jeffries' hedge fund allies," said Mejia.
Indications are that Jeffries strong involvement with the charter school movement and Baraka's ability to connect that with the increasingly unpopular governor and the Wall Street hedge funds that benefit from charter schools did indeed play a major role in how people voted.
There were unsuccessful attempts to use the issue of crime against Baraka, with TV ads virtually blaming him for the high crime rates in Newark.
Baraka argued successfully that economic development, and infrastructure repair, not just more police, is the way to begin making headway against crime.
Although, toward the very end of the campaign, the heavy outside spending by groups backing Jeffries narrowed the lead Baraka had held throughout, it was not enough to overcome the strong community and labor support behind Baraka.
Photo: Ras Baraka stands with supporters as he campaigned for mayor of Newark, N.J., May 11, 2014. (via Cidalia Pereira/Facebook)