NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider caught up with Amiri Baraka, Poet Laureate of Newark’s public school system to discuss Newark politics and the current state of race relations in America.
The election of President Obama for a second terms is an indication of some positive movement in the country when it comes to race and politics, according to Baraka.
“And the fact that my son is running for mayor this year Ras Baraka is a sign because in old politics we had to struggle to even hold poetry readings without having the police look in on us,” Baraka said. “So it’s a sign that there’s some motion but there’s a lot to be done.”
Still, Baraka cautions against complacency about how much has changed, saying “most of America is still very segregated [and] we have work to do.”
Baraka has been an outspoken critic of Newark Mayor Cory Booker. When asked about Booker’s decision to seek a U.S. Senate seat, Baraka says he’s just happy for any opportunity that lures Booker out of Newark.
“We call him the virtual mayor — you can seem him on television, radio and different kinds of trips — but in terms of a hands-on leadership, there’s not been much of that,” said Baraka. “You have these kinds of fantastical ideas like he goes to save a dog or goes to save a woman from a fire, things like that, or he lives in the projects or he’s on food stamps for a week. That’s all sort of what I’d say semi fiction.”
According to Baraka, Booker gets undeserved credit for particular developments in Newark that began with Sharpe James’ administration.
“NJPAC was done before he even got to be a councilman,” Baraka said. “Most of the things I know in this city have not been done by Cory Booker. I don’t want to just fasten on that because I don’t want to stop him from leaving. I think his accomplishments here have been overstated.”
When asked about race relations in the country, Baraka says that the confrontational nature that characterized the movement for change in the past is still necessary today.
“The whole stiff motion in the federal government is because of the struggle between the Republicans, many of whom I think just took off their robes last week and came into Congress, is because they do not want Obama to accomplish anything,” said Baraka. “They have this staunch anti-populist view which was viewed by [Mitt] Romney very clearly. Romney kept talking and talking and talking like it was going to be a slam dunk, but the point is he never understood what a community organizer does. Now, I think he knows.”
As for Gov. Chris Christie, Baraka says Christie’s path to the governorship began when Christie prosecuted former Newark mayor Sharpe James when he was U.S. Attorney. And according to Baraka, Christie’s actions after Hurricane Sandy is another example of the governor’s political adroitness.
“He was smart enough to cuddle up with Obama on the Sandy issue which then shot his numbers way up and shot Cory Booker out of the picture,” he said. “I don’t have a big love for Christie and I think that we’re going to have to fight for the things we need like the whole thing like raising the minimum income that he vetoed. Stuff like that is important in a city like Newark.”