A onetime school principal who has deep roots in Newark’s Democratic establishment has won the New Jersey city’s mayoral race, beating back a challenge from an attorney who ran on a platform of change.
Ras Baraka, son of the late poet Amiri Baraka, won with strong support from teachers unions and the Working Families Alliance. His opponent, attorney Shavar Jeffries, could not recover from the perception in the city, largely cultivated by a barrage of advertisements, that he was in the pocket of Wall Street and embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post referred to the New Jersey Working Families Party and said Analilia Mejia was its director. The group is called the New Jersey Working Families Alliance.
“We are the mayor!” Baraka said in his victory speech in a hotel ballroom in Newark and, with many exclamation points, on his Twitter account.
Jeffries conceded the election at 10:20 pm in a speech, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
Though neither candidate is as well-known nationally as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, the man they were vying to replace, observers say this election was an important one for a city struggling to stay afloat. Crime is rising and the city is expected to end the fiscal year with a deficit; the star power that accompanied Booker and motivated some of his famous friends to give money to the city has followed him to Washington.
Past leadership hasn’t given residents much reason for hope: The man who served as mayor for 20 years before Booker, Sharpe James, recently got out of prison. Investigations by the Newark Star-Ledger this year revealed that city’s public works director was convicted of drug dealing in the 1990s and that the city’s fire director was being investigated for allegedly giving firearms to people who were not authorized to carry guns. The interim mayor, Luis Quintana, who did not run in this race, has been battling with the state over a number of issues, including his hiring and firing practices.
When he was elected in 2006, Booker pledged to rid the city of its ‘old guard’ of politicians, but ended up battling with them instead; in November 2012, he cast a tiebreaking vote to fill a vacant council seat, which led to a near-riot in the chambers. A policeman deployed pepper spray, and many, including Baraka, criticized Booker for intervening.
But this race may have been more about schools than anything else. Jeffries was involved with the charter school movement, which Baraka deeply opposed. An increasing number of students in Newark are switching to charter schools after decades of turmoil in the city’s public school system. The school superintendent has put forth a plan to consolidate 25% of the city’s schools and turn some schools over to charter operators.
The election of Baraka is a rejection of the charter push, said Analilia Mejia, director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance.
“We got into the race because we saw it as an opportunity to beat back the toxic brand of school reform favored by Governor Christie and by Shavar Jeffries' hedge fund allies,” she said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “After ten years of state-controlled schools in Newark, it seems like the voters have had enough.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times